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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Explained: What is Jharkhand’s pre-matric scholarship scam?

In several districts of Jharkhand, minority students are being duped of a Centrally funded scholarship by a nexus of bank staff, middlemen, school and govt employees, an investigation by The Indian Express has found.

Written by Abhishek Angad , Edited by Explained Desk | Ranchi | Updated: November 2, 2020 7:01:31 pm
Jharkhand's pre-matric scholarships scam, Jharkhand school scam, Jharkhand scholarship scam explained, direct transfer benefit, school scholarship, govt scholarship, school scholarship scam, indian expressDaffodils Public School in Dumra, Dhanbad is among the schools named in the scam (Express Photo: Abhishek Angad)

An investigation by The Indian Express has revealed that bank staff, middlemen, school and government employees have allegedly colluded to siphon off money meant for poor students under a Centrally funded scholarship scheme in Jharkhand.

What is this pre-matric scholarship scam?

The Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme is meant to help students of minority communities: Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists from families with annual income below Rs 1 lakh. To be eligible, students need to score at least 50 per cent in their class exams. The scholarship is given in two tiers every year: students in class 1 to 5 receive Rs 1,000 per year and students of class 6 to 10 receive Rs 10,700 if a hosteller or Rs 5,700 if a day scholar. However, middlemen, school-owners, banking correspondents and government officials in connivance with each other siphon most of the scholarship money. Although the amount is small, the scale of it is what matters.

In Dhanbad, the Indira Gandhi Memorial High School has three rooms, 80 students and no hostel. But according to the official portal, scholarships have been disbursed to 323 hostel students for 2019-20. (Express Photo: Abhishek Angad)

What is the process of applying for the scholarship and when is the money credited into the account?

Eligible students need to register at the National Scholarship Portal (NSP) and submit educational documents, bank account details and Aadhaar number among other documents. The scheme for minorities is open every year from August to November ie., it has to be applied every year—this year the window is open till November 30. The scheme is online only and one can apply for a fresh or renewal scholarship on the NSP or through a mobile application of NSP. The disbursement of the scholarship happens once a year, usually in April or May. One can track the payments through Public Finance Management System software online through their bank account number or application ID. Since most of the students are unaware of the process, the school fills up their application–and in some cases middlemen.

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What is the National Scholarship Portal?

NSP is a “one-stop” solution through which various services, starting from student application, application receipt, verification, processing, and disbursal of various scholarships to students are facilitated. The website defines: “National Scholarship Portal is taken as Mission Mode Project (MMP) under Digital India. This initiative aims at providing a Simplified, Mission-oriented, Accountable, Responsive and Transparent ‘SMART’ System for faster and effective disbursal of Scholarship to eligible applicants directly into their account through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) without any leakages.”

Blue Bells School in Ramgarh is among the schools named in the scam (Express Photo: Abhishek Angad)

Has the Direct Benefit Transfer been derailed?

In this case, yes. Middlemen, in connivance with bank staff, open accounts of students and the Aadhar-enabled transaction is done through their fingerprints. But the students don’t even come to know about the actual amount they received in their accounts. They are just handed over a fraction of the sum in cash. Development Economist Jean Dreze says: “This scam is yet another illustration of the vulnerabilities of the Aadhaar-enabled payment system. Poor people are regularly robbed of their wages, pensions and scholarships by corrupt business correspondents who take their fingerprint on one pretext or another. We have been trying for years to alert the Reserve Bank of India, the National Payments Corporation of India and others to these vulnerabilities but they seem to prefer not to know.”

Aren’t there any steps for verification?

Yes, there are several steps to verify eligible beneficiaries. In order to enable a student to apply for the scholarship, the institute/school will have to appoint a Nodal Officer and that Nodal Officer should register herself/himself on the NSP portal. The application must be verified at school/institute level and then at domicile district or domicile state level. The Ministry of Minority Affairs will release the scholarship amount only if the application is verified and approved by all verification authorities. In case, the application is rejected by any of the concerned authorities due to any reason, the applying students will not get the scholarship. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Direct Benefit Transfer is direct siphoning of school scholarship The Lord Krishna Public School in Ghughri, Ranchi, has just five rooms but records show 324 students received scholarships for 2019-20, including 213 ‘hostel’ students. (Express Photo: Abhishek Angad)

Is the money siphoned from students only?

No. There are fake students, older people who too receive the amount. The narrative is that the money is coming from Saudi Arabia. The deal is to give half the money to the middlemen.

How much money is disbursed by the Minority Affairs Ministry to Jharkhand?

In 2019-20, the Ministry of Minority Affairs said that it disbursed Rs 61 crore to Jharkhand under the pre-matric scholarship scheme. Around 203,628 ‘students’ applied and 84,133 ‘students’ got the scholarship, as per the Ministry’s data. In 2018-19: Jharkhand received Rs 34.61 crore and 166,423 students applied, only 50,466 students got the scholarship. In India, for the academic year 2019-20, Rs 1423.89 crore was disbursed for Pre-Matric Scholarship.

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