Minority bank staff, school and government employees and middlemen across districts in Jharkhand allegedly siphoned off pre-matric centrally funded scholarships for poor minority students for the years 2019-2020, revealed an Indian Express investigation.
Calling it a matter of grave concern, Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Sunday ordered a probe in the case and said the matter would be looked into thoroughly.
The Union Ministry of Minority Affairs sanctions the scholarships through the National Scholarship Portal (NSP). Multiple instances of fraud and corruption were revealed across the state - from beneficiaries in school who never applied to students whose religion was changed in the records, in the name of distribution of the scholarships.
The media tracked 15 schools across six districts of Jharkhand and contacted over 30 students, parents and school authorities.
The people involved in the scam obtained Aadhaar Card details of the students, hijacked their bank accounts and siphoned off the money. In many cases, they faked the availability of hostel for some schools to dupe the money provided for the hostellers.
In one of the cases reported from Ranchi, records of a Class 10th student, Rohit Kujjur of Sarfaraz Development Academy Mission High School showed that he received ₹10,700 in his Jharkhand State Cooperative Bank account.
Rohit said that he had given his fingerprints and Aadhaar details but didn't know that an account had been created in his name. There is no hostel facility available in the school, and he did not even receive any money which was deposited in his name.
Schools records showed that it gave scholarships to 174 students, including 148 including 48 'hostel' students. The owner of the school, Sarfaraz Ahmad, said that around 40-50 students stayed in the hostel before the lockdown. However, he did not provide any details about the hostel's location or provided details about students who received scholarships. "My computer operator handles these details," he said.
In Dhanbad, the Indira Gandhi Memorial High School that has just three rooms, 80 students and no hostel. However, according to the official record, scholarships have been disbursed to 323 hostel students.
Pre-matric Scholarship Scheme
The scheme helps students from minority communities: Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists, families with have less than ₹1 lakh as their annual incomes. In addition, a student should score at least 50 per cent in his/her class exams to avail the scheme.
Students in class 1 to 5 receive ₹1,000 per year and students of class 6 to 10 receive ₹10,700 if a hosteller or ₹5,700 if a day scholar.
Process Of Applying For Scholarship
Eligible students then need to register online at the National Scholarship Portal (NSP) and submit the required documents, including bank account details and Aadhaar number. The registration is open between August-November every year, and the distribution of scholarship takes place in April or May.
The amount received can be tracked through Public Finance Management System software online through their bank account number or application ID. Considering many students and parents are unaware of the process, the school or a middleman fills up the application on their behalf.
People involved in the scam duped most of the scholarship money and in some cases, middlemen even asked for a half. They faked provisions of the hostel in some of the schools to dupe the money provided under that tier.
Misuse Of Direct Transfer Benefit
Middlemen, in connivance with bank staff, open accounts of students and complete Aadhar-enabled transaction through their fingerprints. Students are unaware of the actual amount they receive in their accounts and are given just a fraction of the sum.
In one of the cases reported from Ranchi, a class 8 student, Sanaa Parween of St Anne's Girls School told the media that she was asked to fill a form in 2018 to attain scholarship and once it's done, the government will send money. In 2019, when the money came, the middlemen told the family to give them half.
Development Economist Jean Dreze told the media that this scam was another illustration of the vulnerabilities of the Aadhaar-enabled payment system. "Poor people are regularly robbed of their wages, pensions and scholarships by corrupt business correspondents who take their fingerprint on one pretext or another."
Dreze said that this was brought into attention to the Reserve Bank of India, National Payments Corporation of India and many other financial bodies, but no significant step has been taken.
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