FIVE YEARS after it was launched, the Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS), aimed at providing educational opportunities to Kashmiri youth outside the state, has lost much of its appeal.
This year, only about a quarter of the people selected for the scholarships took it up, with students citing fear of violence against them as well as the government’s failure to pay the scholarships to the selected students as deterrents.
Under the scheme, launched in 2010, 5,000 scholarships are announced every year. According to official numbers, this academic year, 11,155 students competed for the scholarships, and 3,742 students were selected for different courses — 1,629 students for engineering and 2,113 for general courses. But only 941 of the selected students took up the scholarships — 728 for engineering, and 213 for other courses.
Students who The Indian Express spoke to gave two main reasons for not taking up the offer of fully-paid higher studies outside the state — one, the attacks on Kashmiri students in colleges outside the state; and two, the government’s failure to release scholarships to hundreds of students last year.
“I was ready and keen to move out of the state for my higher education,” said Abdul Momin, a student from Srinagar. “But my parents didn’t allow me. My mother, specifically, prevented me from going citing the attacks on Kashmiri students.”
In March 2014, several Kashmiri students were injured in a scuffle with local students at Swami Vivekanadna Bharti University in Meerut when they supported the Pakistan cricket team during a match with India. The college administration rusticated 60 Kashmiri students and police booked them for sedition. The sedition charge was dropped later. The same month, Kashmiri students were attacked at Mewar University in Rajasthan leading to clashes.
In May 2014, Kashmiri students were attacked and forced to raise pro-India and anti-Pakistan slogans at Noida International University in Uttar Pradesh. Soon after, there was an attack on Kashmiri students at Swami Parmanand College of Engineering and Technology in Mohali. Eight Kashmiri students were seriously injured in the attack.
“My son had applied for the scholarship without my knowledge,” says Abdul Rashid Bhat, a resident of Sopore. “When he was selected, he told me about it. I sought advice from some college professors and they advised against it. They gave me many reasons like hostile environment, lack of quality education and inadequate infrastructure and faculty in the colleges.”
The students also blame the Central government for failing to release scholarship funds. “I had applied for the scholarship programme but decided not to join after a relative dissuaded me,” said Abid Rashid, a student from Baramulla. “He told me how he was thrown out of the college and lost one year because the government didn’t release the course fee to the college.”
Under the PMSSS, students admitted in colleges outside are paid course fee, hostel fee and cost of books during the course of study. Students enrolled for general courses are paid Rs 30,000 per year while students pursuing engineering and medical sciences are given Rs 1.25 lakh and Rs 3 lakh respectively. Students are also paid hostel fee and incidental charges up to Rs 1 lakh each year.
Students for the special scholarship scheme are enrolled through their respective colleges. “We received only 250 applications this year,” said Nisar Iqbal, the Nodal Officer for Baramulla Degree College.
“There are multiple reasons for the poor response from students. What happened in Meerut University (where Kashmiri students were beaten) is one of the main reasons. The others include lack of quality education, unavailability of good courses and lack of proper coordination between various constituents. We have examples where students were selected for a particular course in a particular college. But when they went there, they were told that this college doesn’t offer that particular course,” Iqbal said.
Before colleges were entrusted with the screening process and selection, students were selected by NGOs. “A large number of students were duped by these NGOs. They took money from the students and colleges and admitted students in colleges which didn’t fall under the scheme. The result was that a large number of students had to withdraw as the Centre didn’t pay their fee,” a senior officer in the higher education department said. “A case in this regard is already before the Crime Branch.”
J&K Minister of Higher Education Nayeem Akhtar says though it was a “very good” scheme, it was “half-baked” and there were problems of implementation. “We are on the path of reform and we are hopeful it will pick up,” Akhtar told The Indian Express.
“There were a large number of courses that are not usually taken by our students. Also, there were limited seats for professional courses. We are rationalising the courses and more and more professional courses will come in it.”
While only 38 students enrolled for the first batch in the 2011-12 academic session under the PMSSS, the number swelled to 3,300 and 3,700 in 2012-13 and 2013-14.
From 2014, the Centre made AICTE the nodal agency for the programme while degree colleges of the state were made nodal centres. However, it was the time when attacks on Kashmiri students began and though AICTE allotted seats to more than 2,000 students, only 1,700 students availed it. This year, the number dipped to 941.