As many as 31,613 students belonging to Scheduled Caste (SC) and Nav Boudh (NB) communities were denied rent, meals and travel allowances under Swadhar Scheme following ambiguity in the government resolution (GR) issued by the social justice and special assistance department (SJSAD) between 2016 and 18, according to a CAG report.
The CAG report exposes the lackadaisical approach of the SJSAD leading to underutilisation of funds allocated for welfare schemes meant to help SC and NB students. During 2016-17, against a target of 15,000 students the Swadhar Scheme benefited only 2,562 students. In 2017-18, against a target of 25,000 students, only 5,825 got the benefits, the report says.
The scheme, called Bharat Ratna Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Swadhar Yojana, was started by the state government. It is implemented by the SJSAD.
Under the scheme, financial compensation is given to SC and NB students to pay room rent, meals and meet travel expenses to the extent of Rs 60,000, Rs 51,000 and Rs 43,000 annually depending on the category of metro cities. The scheme was necessitated following growing demand among students after Class X to pursue studies in metros in commercial and non-commercial schools.
The CAG report pointed out that 57,537 applications from students in 2016-17 and 21,269 applications in 2017-18 were not considered for hostel admission. According to the report, out of Rs 148.23 crore released by the finance department to seven regional departments, only Rs 29.02 crore could be incurred on the scheme. The balance Rs 119.21 crore was surrendered.
The underutilisation of the funds which denied admission to thousands of students was an outcome of ambiguity in the GR, according to the CAG. Following CAG’s observations, the SJSAD reissued the GR. However, the CAG noted that the ambiguity in the GR denied the students their right to avail the scheme between 2016 and 18.
Another aspect which exposed the poor working of the SJSAD relates to inadequate basic amenities in the majority of 127 hostels for boys and girls belonging to SC/NB in various districts. “The government hostels for backward class students was mandatory in every taluka as per a 2005-06 policy. However, even after 10 years, government hostels in 128 talukas were not opened. The population norms for opening government hostels in taluka headquarters were not strictly followed. The intake capacity of hostels shifted to new premises was also not revised and sanctioned, resulting in depriving benefits to students,” the report stated.
The CAG, in its recommendation to the government, stated, “There should be a strict monitoring mechanism to ensure completion of residential and hostels projects to accommodate students. The expenditure should commensurate with the requirements and adequate amenities should be provided in hostels and residential schools for students. All talukas should have the facilities.”