Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has taken up the issue of “more than 5 lakh scholarships” to SC/ST and other minority groups not being disbursed, in some cases for over a year. In a note to Chief Secretary M M Kutty on the issue on June 30, the CM said the files in this regard were “never put to my minister” during the entire period from 2015 to 2017 and “the elected government was kept in the dark”. Kejriwal mentions an inquiry by the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi (DDC), ordered by him in the matter. “(Its) report alleges that more than 5 lakh scholarships are yet to be disbursed in Delhi due to complete abdication of responsibilities, apathy, insensitivity & dereliction of duty by the seniormost officials” of the Delhi Government.
The DDC examined 34 files pertaining to 12 schemes (seven Centrally sponsored and five of the state) implemented by the Delhi government and found that four of the state-sponsored schemes had “collapsed” in 2015-16 and “thousands of students” who had applied were yet to receive their scholarship, a delay of “more than 16 months”, by March 2016. By 2016-17, it said, “almost all the 12 schemes collapsed” and around “5.57 lakh scholarships” were awaiting disbursal by March 2017.
While the Delhi government has since been attempting to get the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs to “reopen the portal for both new and renewal applications”, a May 12 note in a file examined by the DDC, by Secretary Rakesh Bali, says that “the GOI (Government of India) has made it clear… that the schemes are budget driven therefore the slots have already been reassigned at the end of the financial year to other states/UT that had completed the verification process”.
Kejriwal says in his letter to Kutty that he first came to know about SC/ST and minority students not getting their scholarships during his daily public meetings, and had set up by the probe by the DDC. He has asked the officers indicted by the report to submit a “personal explanation” by July 5 and said “immediate action” needs to be taken to ensure that scholarships are disbursed by July 15.
At the heart of the non-disbursal of scholarships for Centrally sponsored schemes, incidentally, is a digital platform called the National Scholarship Portal 2.0 (NSP 2.0), which was set up by the Narendra Modi government as a part of its flagship Digital India scheme. Its aim was to achieve “timely disbursal of scholarships by expediting the entire process from student applications, vericiation and sanction”.
After the Centre issued guidelines on July 15, 2016, for the NSP 2.0 to start in all states, Kejriwal cleared setting up of two state-level committees in November 2016. While the State Level Steering Committee was to be chaired by the Chief Secretary, the State Level Project Management Committee was to be headed by the secretary of the SC/ST Department.
Applications were invited for seven schemes (five Centrally sponsored and two state-sponsored) between July and November 2016, and “a total of 66,882 applications received”, says the DDC report.
In the next few months, the Delhi government sought several changes “in the work flow and in the portal”, which were finished and communicated to the Delhi government by the Government of India by February 20, 2017. But when the portal was closed on March 23 for scholarships, 21 days after the initial deadline, the report says, “officials practically did nothing”. “Out of the 66,882 applications, only 293 applications were verified”.
In this entire period, says the DDC report, the committee chaired by the Chief Secretary didn’t “meet even once”, while the other panel met only twice before 20th March. “Almost no activity took place during the critical period between February 20 and March 23,” it adds.
Further, the report claims, after “requisite modifications had been done in the software” by the Centre, the Chief Secretary and secretary, SC/ST Department, “didn’t even communicate to the nodal officers… that the software was ready”. Further, the Chief Secretary had “declined the proposal to utilise state funds for pending applications under NSP”, without consulting the CM, says the report.
According to the DDC report, as many as 77,745 students were also deprived of the scholarships under the seven state-sponsored schemes, to be disbursed by March 2017, in the year 2016-17, due to a repeated change of of platforms.
In August 2015, a decision was taken to digitally process the schemes, and in October 2015, the Centre for Good Governance, a Telangana government undertaking, was cleared for the portal. But on January 8, 2016, says the DDC report, “suddenly the original proposal was dropped and a new proposal to get the software developed from Axis Bank” started, after the company said they would do the work for free. “No reason is given on file” nor was any approval from the minister “sought or granted”, says the report.
The proposal went back and forth between the Departments of SC/ST and Finance between February 22 and June 15, 2016.
Then, in July 2016, after the secretaries at the department changed, Axis Bank was dropped and NIC, an undertaking of the Department of Electronics and Information Technology, was selected to develop the portal, says the DDC report. “No approval from the minister-in-charge was sought and none granted. The elected government was completely kept in the dark,” it adds.
“What followed was endless chaos and utter confusion, which continues to last till date… As a result, the scholarships of 77,745 needy students are yet to be disbursed.”
The DDC report slams “the complete adhocism, lack of application of mind and absence of planning by two successive secretaries of the SC/ST department”.
Apart from these scholarships, the report adds, 29,395 applications for scholarships under four Delhi government-sponsored schemes for the year 2015-16 are pending with the SC/ST Department due to an ongoing inquiry into alleged fraud related to applications submitted by a public school. Further, it adds, “three MCDs, NDMC and Delhi Cantonment Board have failed to upload data of their student on PFMS (Public Financial Management System) portal, “because of which over 2 lakh students are yet to receive scholarships for the year 2016-17”.
In spite of repeated attempts, the Chief Secretary and secretary of the SC/ST Department of Delhi couldn’t be contacted for comment.