# Operators of Customer Service Points (CSPs), where bank accounts can be opened and cash withdrawn, purchase SIM cards and mobile handsets in bulk.
# Using a list of eligible students provided by school principals through middlemen, they apply online for scholarships.
# With fake signatures, they open bank accounts in the name of beneficiaries, mostly in other districts to avoid scrutiny.
# They link the scholarships to these bank accounts using their own mobile numbers.
# OTPs are generated and money withdrawn, often with the knowledge of local bank staff.
In five steps, this is how the Central Government’s pre-Matric scholarship for poor minority students was illegally diverted in Assam over the last two years, according to an inquiry report by the director of the state’s minorities development board.
Official records show that the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs, which manages the scholarship scheme, disbursed Rs 161.6 crore to Assam in 2019-20, the second-highest after Rs 246.4 crore to UP. The state received Rs 60.91 crore in 2018-19.
The inquiry report, accessed by The Indian Express, triggered an investigation by the CID. “As of now, we have arrested 29 people. So far, we have found connivance at the local level,” V V Rakesh Reddy, SP, Assam CID, told The Indian Express. Those arrested include middlemen, at least four school principals and CSP operators — the report links these operators to local branches of at least two PSU banks.
The contents of the probe report mirror the findings of an investigation by The Indian Express, which found that a similar nexus illegally diverted the pre-Matric scholarship for 2019-20 in Jharkhand and Bihar, and also roped in schools from Punjab and Assam.
“Head Masters without the knowledge of computer applications take help of people with knowledge of computers for entry of all credentials of applicants. The easiest accessible person with computer knowledge in the villages are the Customer Service Points (CSPs)…In most cases, the headmasters and CSP operators take a dishonest way to deprive the students,” says the report.
While detailing the modus operandi, the report says that in many cases the money was siphoned off without the knowledge of beneficiaries, and in others, the students were given a small portion of the money.
Under the scholarship, students from Class 1 to 5 receive Rs 1,000 per year, and students of Class 6 to 10 receive Rs 5,700 a year if they are day scholars or Rs 10,700 if they are in a hostel.
According to Mahmood Hassan, the minorities board chief who is also Assam’s nodal officer for the scholarship, the inquiry was conducted in five districts, and covered scholarships granted in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
These are some of his key findings:
Karimganj: For 2018-19, 280 beneficiaries from four schools included 45 non-minority and 63 fake entries. Admitting to oversight, the Junior Assistant of the District Elementary Education Officer said he verified the applications since the DEEO was engaged in NRC duty.
Goalpara: For 2019-20, Rs 67 lakh was disbursed to 632 beneficiaries from three schools. One head master said he distributed only Rs 2,000-3,000 to each student. “All accounts are opened through CSP operators…through ‘fake signatures’ in connivance with the Head Master… It appears that bank authorities were directly involved in this irregularity as the withdrawal of the money took place even without the knowledge of account holders… that the accounts were opened outside the district proves foul play,” the report says.
Dhubri: For 2019-20, 1,087 fake beneficiaries received a total of Rs 1.14 crore via DBT. All the bank accounts were opened in Kamrup district. Dhubri’s District Nodal Officer said the beneficiaries in three schools “are fake and no genuine students…applied for scholarship”.
In Darrang district, 744 beneficiaries received payment of around Rs 53 lakh through DBT while five schools were used for fake payments in Barpeta.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Hassan said his inquiry, prompted by a number of complaints, spanned three months. “I came to know that most of the bank accounts were opened in other districts. Then, I checked the mobile numbers filled during the application process and found most of them to be inactive or out of service. From there, I started getting leads to the entire scam,” he said.
Based on Hassan’s complaint and report, the CID registered an FIR on August 28 under various sections related to cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy. The CID also seized three laptops, 217 photographs, 104 bonafide certificates, 173 application forms and 11 bank passbooks.