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Centres keynote skills programme running off key

A few tiny institutions operating from dingy offices ‘trained’ thousands of candidates, RTI filed by HT found

The government says it trained about two million youth under the flagship Skill India programme but an HT investigation has found inconsistencies in the quality of training centers and possible fraudulent enrollment.

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Data from the scheme’s nodal body, the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), showed just 34 institutes – 0.2% of the total – trained almost 40% candidates under the first phase of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana( PMKVY).

But two of the top 10 institutes lacked proper infrastructure and didn’t have enough space to train even a fraction of the claimed number of candidates.

For instance, when HT visited Softdot Institute in a crowded neighbourhood near Preet Vihar Metro Station in east Delhi, it found five small rooms with minimal furniture had been earmarked for training more than 30,000 students in a year.

One of the institutes said it issued sub-contracts to smaller centers spread across the city to achieve the numbers but NSDC issued contradictory statements about monitoring these institutes.

Moreover, the NSDC hasn’t been able to verify the mandatory Aadhaar number of more than 570,000 students a year after the PMKVY-1 ended. This is an indication, experts say, of a large number of nonexistent candidates or multiple enrollments of a single candidate to inflate the total number.

“The data indicates various anomalies in the scheme which the government should seriously get investigated though an independent body,” said Raj Pal Arora, former member of the Construction Skills Development Council.

Other experts say the government was aware of the woeful condition of most training centers and hence slashed the number of certified institutes from 12,181 in PMKVY-1 to just 1,400 in the second.

“It shows that majority of training providers either lacked infrastructure or didn’t have good trainers which overall resulted in poor training in PMKVY – I. Otherwise, why will NSDC reduce the number of training companies in the second phase of PMKVY?” says Colonel (Retd) NB Saxena, a construction skills consultant.

But the NSDC dismissed any speculation of compromise in quality. “We just enhanced the infrastructural requirement in PMKVY – II and till now only 1,400 centres have been able to fulfill the requirement,” said Jayant Krishna, chief operating officer, NSDC.

THE SCHEME

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the much-hyped scheme on July 15,2015 with a corpus of ₹1,500 crore and an aim to train 2.4 million youth. But the first phase saw just 5% placement, that too mostly in low-skill blue-collar jobs.

Despite the problems, the government upped its allocation under the skills training programme in this year’s budget with two new schemes and ₹6,000 crore. The NSDC disbursed Rs 1,000 crore out of the total budget of ₹1500 crore till December 2016.

THE TRAINING CENTERS

NSDC data accessed by HT under the Right to Information (RTI) Act showed an incredible 420,513 candidates – a fifth of the total -were trained by the top 10 institutes – four of them in the national capital region alone.

The fifth-largest of them, Softdot Institute, refused to answer how it managed to train more than 30,000 candidates in a year. But another Delhi-based institute -- Possit Skill Organisation that claimed to have trained 12,955 candidates – provided some answers.

Possit ran an aviation academy in Delhi’s posh South Extension but a receptionist told HT that the centre ran no programme under the PMKVY scheme.

“For skilling, we have only three centres in Saharanpur Road, Loni; Jaitpur Raod, Badarpur and Jamia Nagar in Okhla,” she added.

HT visited the three centres, all inside crumbling buildings on narrow bylanes. The centre at Badarpur had three rooms.

An employee at the centre told HT Possit entered into franchisee arrangement with 50 other institutes, driving the number of total candidates trained to 12,000-plus.

The PMKVY-1 manual allowed such arrangements but mandated the details be uploaded on the skill development management system (SDMS).

THE CONFLICTING RESPONSES

In an RTI reply, the NSDC said it had no role in the arrangements and didn’t maintain a database. “The data of training undertaken by franchises is available with concerned training partners,” said the body. Trainers refuse to share franchise details with HT.

But Krishna gave a conflicting response, saying NSDC maintained “complete data” of “training centers and training partners” but refused to share it.

Saxena said this was an indication that the process manual had been flouted. “Each training provider gets a unique user id and password to access SDMS and upload student details. But training providers shared id and password with multiple franchises that use the same details to upload candidate particulars,” he added.

FRAUDULENT ENROLLMENT?

The other irregularity was found in uploading Aadhaar details of candidates. Under the scheme, a grant of an average Rs 8,000 is directly transferred to the student’s account through the Aadhaar details and bank accounts uploaded by the training providers on the NSDC’s server.

NSDC data showed only 1.4 million people were assessed and awarded certificate while the Aadhaar numbers of 571,880 couldn’t be validated.

Arora said every training provider was aware that a candidate’s Aadhaar number was mandatory to get the grant. “If 5.71 lakh candidates’ Aadhaar details are not available, it means training providers either enrolled non-existent candidates or multiple enrollment of one candidate to falsely escalate total figure,” he said.

Saxena agreed, saying training providers might have engaged in fraud to get a bigger share of the government grant.

Krishna told HT that under PMKVY- II, the Aadhaar ID of all trainees were validated at the time of batch creation to prevent any bogus enrolments.