Five NGOs, working for victims of the 1984 poisonous gas leak here, have complained to the Anti Corruption Branch of the Central Bureau of Investigation alleging massive fraud in a government scheme to impart vocational education and training to gas survivors.
The NGOs surveyed 380 persons listed under the economic rehabilitation scheme under which 22 agencies were engaged to provide 133 vocational courses to more than 12,000 people affected by the gas tragedy. Of the people surveyed, only around 6 per cent were found to have received stipend due to them.
“One-fourth of the names of beneficiaries were false and more than half of the appointment letters were forged. Through an RTI we have obtained the false job offer letters which were submitted by the agencies to obtain funding,” said Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
The scheme is funded by the Rs. 104 crore grant from the Union government to Madhya Pradesh’s gas relief department. Of this, Rs. 26 crores was earmarked for the training and employment programme, in which reputed institutions such as the Central Institute of Plastics Engineering and Technology, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Vedic University and the Bhaskar Foundation have participated. The payment is staggered and the final instalment of 25 per cent is only paid. The agency is able to find jobs for three fourths of the students.
Gas relief commissioner R.A. Khandelwal told this paper that he was willing to investigate any charges and cooperate with the CBI. “We only engaged agencies with five years of experience in the field and at least Rs. 30 lakhs annual turnover. These criteria prevented some agencies from participating due to which questions are being raised. But we will take action against anyone found to be indulging in any malpractice,” he said.
He added that of the 12,355 beneficiaries under the scheme, 4,700 have got employment and 6,580 are still undergoing training. Around Rs. 17 crores have already been spent. “We will further strengthen the norms and demand bank statements from agencies before making final payments,” he said.
A health department source told this paper that the scheme has led to an unhealthy competition between various NGOs perceived as being close or distant from the ruling party. “The verification process will be strengthened and some of the objections raised are legitimate. Their estimate [6 per cent] may not be accurate but this can only be verified by a probe,” the source said.