Updated: November 14, 2020 10:04:41 am
THE JHARKHAND High Court has listed for hearing this month a petition urging it to take suo motu cognizance of the findings on an investigation by The Indian Express, which revealed how a nexus of middlemen, banking correspondents, school staff and government officials illegally diverted funds disbursed under the Centre’s pre-Matric scholarship for poor minority students.
Submitted by Advocate Mohammad Shadab Ansari, who practices in the High Court, the plea also seeks directions from the court for the state DGP to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) comprising senior officers to probe the scam. The court listed the plea, emailed Wednesday by Ranchi-based Ansari, for hearing on November 27.
Addressed to High Court Chief Justice Ravi Ranjan, the plea stated: “It is to bring to the notice of your Lordship that… The Indian Express published an investigative report… (on the) large scale of corruption and siphoning of Minority scholarship fund. In this embezzlement and siphoning of scholarship funds, many government agencies/officials (at state level as well as district level), school authorities, middleman, bank officials, etc., are involved.”
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The plea stated it is “pertinent to mention here that in this corruption, Aadhaar card authentication is also misused by the accused persons and payments were made to persons who are not even students”.
It pointed out that due to corruption, many “deserving poor students” did not get the benefit of the scholarship while many “non-eligible persons” got the amount. “It is therefore requested that your Lordship may take suo motu cognizance… and direct the registry to lodge a PIL so that the case may be monitored,” Ansari wrote in the plea.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Ansari said “government officials from top to bottom” are allegedly involved in the “big scam” that has “affected thousands of poor students”. “It is likely that the investigation will be compromised, which is why I approached the Honorable High Court to intervene in the matter so that every culprit is caught and punished,” he said.
During its investigation, The Indian Express matched entries on the National Scholarship Portal (NSP) with beneficiary bank accounts in the Public Finance Management System (PFMS) to find how the direct benefit transfer scheme was being derailed by corruption — despite checks like Aadhaar cards and fingerprints, and verification from school to state level.
After this newspaper published a series of reports from October 31 on the scam, stretching from Jharkhand to Bihar and also involving schools in Punjab and Assam, the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs, which administers the scholarship, decided to ask the CBI to investigate.
Subsequently, police in Bihar’s Gaya registered an FIR, and the CID in Assam arrested 21 people, including four headmasters and a teacher, on charges of fraud and forgery after a separate investigation into the scam.
In Jharkhand, where Rs 61 crore was disbursed under the scholarship for 2019-20, the Dhanbad district administration filed FIRs against more than 105 people, including middlemen and local officials. A 59-page probe report prepared by a team led by the Additional District Magistrate (Law and Order) referred to the findings of The Indian Express and quoted several suspects as naming state and district staff, school authorities, and even some politicians.
This Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme, launched in 2008, 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. 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. Most of the corruption, The Indian Express found, is related to these last two categories.
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