A probe into allegations of swindling of government scholarships meant for backward class students has revealed that hundreds of institutes across the state pocketed several thousand crores by adopting different ploys since 2010. The probe report was submitted by a panel chaired by Nagpur Commissioner of Police K Venkateshan to the state government last month. The panel set up by the state government in February last month comprised two IAS members Ranjit Singh Deol and Piyush Kumar.
The panel checked audit records of 1,382 institutes and those of departments of Social Welfare and Tribal Development, which released the scholarships for SC, ST, OBC, VJ and NT categories of students. “Irregularities were detected at both the ends and the total amount defrauded in these checked institutes was Rs 2,174 crore. The state has 12,679 institutes benefitting under Social Welfare and about 11,000 institutes benefitting under Tribal Department scholarships. If records are checked for all of them, the size of the scam could be several thousand crore more,” sources told The Indian Express.
The panel has recommended a detailed and in-depth probe into the matter by state CID (Crime).
The panel has found that while the proprietors of these institutes carried out the fraud at their level, those officials in charge of scrutiny of the whole process and of keeping a tight leash on misappropriation had turned a Nelson’s eye towards the goings-on despite being fully seized of them. The two departments release total scholarship worth over Rs 3,000 per annum. This means over the past six years , the money released was in the range of Rs 18,000 crore.
The modus operandi was to register fictitious students either directly or by using duplicate transfer certificates (TCs) of students to register same student in various courses, many of which only existed on paper. Scholarships were disbursed even for non-eligible courses. The scholarships meant for students undertaking professional courses were bifurcated in two parts. Ninety percent of the amount meant for training and other fees were deposited in the institute’s account and the remaining 10 per cent was deposited in the students’ accounts for their daily expenses. “Many of these institutes were being run from a single-room facility providing more than one courses,” the probe report has mentioned.
The panel also found out that in many cases, scholarships were pocketed twice a year by bifurcating yearly courses in two semesters.
Shockingly, in the age of Digital India, the entire system was being operated manually on paper instead of on a fool-proof computer software.
What makes the oversight at the government scrutiny level curious is that many 10 per cent student’s components returned to the two departments since those students never existed in reality and yet no red flags were raised. Sources said, “the panel has pointed out that this could be due to complicity of the officials and staffers concerned in the whole affair.”
Disbursals, however, came down drastically since the time the probe was instituted, according to sources.
Incidentally, the probe panel, in its interim report six months ago, had recommended initiation of criminal action in 70 “very obvious” cases of frauds. The government hasn’t moved in a single case so far.
The panel has called Rs 2,174 as “recoverable amount”. “Part of it is the 10 per cent meant for student’s personal expenses that has returned to government coffers, amount attributable to cases where audit papers were not shown to the panel by the errant institutes and amount releases to ineligible students and courses. And till date only Rs 64 crore have so far returned to government coffers,” sources added.
The panel has also suggested some measures to check future swindling of scholarship funds. They include, biometric registration of students’ attendance, payments be linked to attendance and all rules and regulations be implemented by way of incorporating the system into a computer software.