Gadchiroli police have arrested two top government officials in the multi-crore scholarship scandal that rocked the district, along with other places in the state.
The arrested are Social Welfare Department Assistant Commissioner Tukaram Barge and clerk Vijay Bagde and former Project Officer of the Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP) Digambar Mendke (currently posted at Nagpur) and clerk Sanjay Satpute. They were remanded in police custody till February 28.
The two departments were responsible for issuing scholarships for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students. Since 2011-12, many of these scholarships had been granted to fictitious or ineligible people shown as students by many technical institutes running short-term courses. This was allegedly done by submitting forged papers to the department, pocketing crores of rupees across the state.
Many Gadchiroli institutions have defrauded the government to the tune of Rs 18 crore, according to Investigating Officer Police Inspector Ravindra Patil. Total arrests have reached 16, Patil said.
“These officials sanctioned scholarships despite obvious cases of frauds where one photograph was pasted on four different forms with different names, details of female claimants were given on forms that had photographs of males, etc, which made their involvement clear,” Patil said.
The arrested include many institutional heads and staffers.
Patil added: “The institutions’ proprietors appointed candidates who passed Standard X or XII as principals and got them to enrol fictitious students to claim scholarships.”
These institutions sprang up all over the state after a Gandhian organisation from Wardha Rashtrabhasha Prachar Samiti, set up by Mahatma Gandhi to promote Hindi, tied up with Indian Knowledge Corporation, Pune, to run a Union HRD Ministry-run technical course.
Together, they formed Dnyan Mandal that tied up with many institutions to run courses in Hindi.
After initial reports of fraud from Gadchiroli were confirmed, many of the 262 such institutions in the state were found to indulge in similar corrupt practices.
Now, the government has set up a special investigative team (SIT) to probe the matter.
Anantram Tripathi, a Gandhian who was member of the Dnyan Mandal and is secretary of the Samiti said, “We had a tie-up with a Pune organisation headed by one Umesh Borkhede. Later, I don’t know what happened since I wasn’t part of any deliberations.”
Chandrashekhar Dharmadhikari, former Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court and a veteran Gandhian was Chairman of the Samiti and an ex-officio chairman of Dnyan Mandal till 2013. He said, “I became Chairman in 2012 and quit in 2013. These courses were being run since the time of late Madhukarrao Chaudhary, former Speaker of the state Assembly. I don’t think the Samiti is linked with this fraud. We had a working arrangement with the Pune company since we didn’t have the wherewithal to run the programme. The Dnyan Mandal was supposed to get only 10 pc of fees the institutions were collecting. As far as scholarship is concerned, the mandal is in no way concerned since the scholarship was being deposited directly in accounts of students.”