New Delhi: As the political slugfest in Andhra Pradesh over former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu’s arrest early on September 9 morning continues, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) on Tuesday set up a website that it claims reveals the truth about the alleged skilled development scam.
Launching the website, apskilldevelopmenttruth.com, state TDP president Kinjarapu Atchannaidu said, “One can easily understand how Chandrababu perfectly designed the project to take the youth to greater heights.”
He said the party would put forth the facts of the case every day and claimed that there was no corruption involved.
Among the details that the website lists is that Andhra Pradesh established one of the highest numbers of clusters and trained the highest number of candidates among all the states that had similar schemes. After AP started the project, other states started emulating the hub and set up training centres, the website claims.
Andhra Pradesh was also ranked first in the country in the India Skills Report 2018 and 2019 because of the efforts of the then TDP government, the website claims.
Naidu was arrested at RK Function Hall in Nandyal on September 9. According to the AP Crime Investigation Department (CID), the case against Naidu and others involves funds allegedly being routed through hawala transactions through a network of shell companies, non-adherence to procedures, a disregard for observations regarding the project’s viability, and the questioning of over 140 witnesses.
What is the alleged scam?
The alleged murky deal revolves around the AP State Skill Development Corporation (APSSDC), a government agency established shortly after Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) secured victory in the elections in 2014. It also involves Siemens Industry Software (India) Pvt Limited and DesignTech Systems Pvt Limited, a Pune-based company tasked with supporting the project.
The CID described Naidu as the “principal architect of the scheme”. They contend that the APSSDC was formed without the state Cabinet’s nod. Naidu, the CID claimed, along with then minister K. Atchannaidu, “fraudulently” projected to the AP government that the two companies would support the project, work to create six centres of excellence (CoE) and 36 technical skill development institutes. All of this was to be achieved at a cost of around Rs 3,281 crore. The CID claims that this is an inflated amount.
While the state was to invest 10% of this cost, the remaining 90% would come in the form of grants-in-aid from the two companies. Subsequently, the former chief minister established the Skill Development Entrepreneurship and Innovation Department. In an apparent effort to exercise greater control over the skilling project and avoid bureaucratic oversight, Naidu allegedly designated the APSSDC as an agency within this department. It was noted that a civil servant, who is the wife of a Siemens director, was appointed as the deputy chief executive officer of the APSSDC.
According to the CID, contrary to the agreement, a tripartite memorandum of understanding (MOU) was prepared with a clause stipulating that the AP government would release Rs 371 crore as a grant to Siemens and DesignTech to set up skill development institutes. The CID remand report of Naidu’s arrest submitted before the special judge for SPE and ACB cases in Vijayawada notes that “a project which was conceived to be primarily funded to the extent of 90% by Siemens and DesignTech was illegally converted into a full government-funded project”.
The CID alleges that the Rs 371 crore was disbursed to DesignTech even before the establishment of the skill development institutes. It further accuses staff members of both Siemens and DesignTech of misappropriating these funds. The remand report dedicates a significant portion to file notations, with particular emphasis on the notations made by certain civil servants who expressed concerns about releasing funds to DesignTech.
In what came as a double whammy, the Enforcement Directorate too launched a probe over money laundering. It provisionally attached properties belonging to DesignTech worth Rs 31.20 crore and previously arrested Siemens’ former managing director Soumyadri Shekhar Bose, DesignTech’s managing director Vikas Vinayak Khanvelkar, former financial advisor to Skillar Ent Mukul Chandra Agrawal and Suresh Goyal. The Income Tax Investigation wing in Mumbai also launched its probe.
The investigation is said to have revealed that a total of Rs 279 crore was misappropriated through shell companies. These allegedly did no work and raised “bogus invoices”, routed through entities and individuals. Per the CID, of the Rs 371 crore, Siemens received only Rs 58.80 crore from DesignTech.
Bose, a key accused who was arrested, recently sought to rubbish the case before the media and described the developments over the past few days as a matter of conjecture. He maintained that the Central Institute of Tool Design vetted the project and there was appreciation for the project. Bose claimed that despite there being no scandal, charges were framed against him.
However, a day prior, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy broke his silence at a public meeting and underscored that the ED had thrown light on Naidu’s alleged involvement. Investigation showed, Reddy said, that the former CM’s signatures were available on several files. Attacking Naidu, Reddy said that the ED termed the former CM as the kingpin in the scandal.
Note: This article was originally published at 6:37 pm on September 19, 2023 and republished at 11:30 pm on the same day.