Itís all relatives

HRD ministry favours NGOs close to the ruling party. Yet again, favourites become the most deserving

Jan Shikshan Sansthans are district-level resource support agencies aimed at imparting skill development and vocational training. They have the potential to transform the life chances of target groups, including the newly literate, given that the programme dates back to 1967, when they were launched as Shramik Vidyapeeths, and each centre receives substantial grants from the government: by today's budgets, up to Rs 50 lakh for recurring and non-recurring expenditure, in addition to a one-off Rs 20 lakh building grant. It would appear, however, that politicians and their friends and relatives are particularly galvanised by the transformative potential of the scheme. Or why else would it be that, as an investigation by this newspaper has revealed, of the 215 Jan Shikshan Sansthans cleared since 2000, at least 52 have been allocated to NGOs associated with them?

It matters little which party it is. In a period spanning four years of BJP-led rule at the Centre, and nine of Congress-led rule, 17 NGOs to benefit were connected to the BJP and 30 to the Congress. This, perhaps not accidentally, was the time of ambitious expansion of the programme. It could be, it may have been argued, just a mysterious case of the well-connected being particularly well-intentioned. But this paper's investigation further shows that eligibility criteria were not fully advertised while inviting applications, giving those in the know an advantage. Indeed, the human resource development ministry has been in such a tearing hurry to sanction Jan Shikshan Sansthans that when Kapil Sibal assumed charge of the ministry in mid-2009, he could not license a single one, as his predecessor had cleared the quota stipulated in the 11th Five-Year Plan. Like the case of petrol pump allotments ó also brought to light by this newspaper a decade ago ó this suggests once again how easily discretion becomes the handmaiden of favouritism. It is an indication of the system's ability to flout regulatory guidelines and magically render the favourites the most deserving.

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