AN Aadhar registration drive launched by district officials in Maharashtra’s Jalgaon this month, covering 50 state-aided residential tribal schools, has led to an unexpected discovery: a scam involving institutions that siphoned off crores for students who existed only on paper.
Official records accessed by The Indian Express show that 8,177 out of 25,922 students on the rolls in these Jalgaon schools could not be traced. Many on the rolls were found to be students in Madhya Pradesh or in neighbouring districts, according to a report submitted by the district administration.
The report has prompted the Maharashtra government to launch a statewide verification of student rolls, officials said, with early surveys suggesting that 30-40 per cent of the 2.4 lakh tribal students enrolled in the 559 such schools may be “bogus entries”.
According to officials, Maharashtra spends more than Rs 325 crore every year on these residential schools or ashramshalas. Allocated from the state government’s Tribal Sub-Plan, the funds include Rs 225 crore for a monthly allowance of Rs 900 per child for ten months a year and Rs 100 crore for salaries of teaching and non-teaching staff — staff strength is linked to the number of students.
Officials said the “bogus entries” detected in early surveys would mean that the government exchequer has suffered a loss of at least Rs 67.5 crore last year in student allowance alone.
Officials in Jalgaon told this newspaper that the management of many of these institutions in the district are controlled by political heavyweights, including a former minister.
Sources said that last month, the state’s tribal development department, which had received complaints regarding bogus enrollments, had asked all District Collectors to carry out a verification drive.
But Jalgaon Collector Rubal Agrawal told The Indian Express that her office had stumbled upon the scandal during a parallel Aadhar registration drive.
“The Chief Secretary had directed all District Collectors to intensify the Aadhar registration drive across the state. We held week-long camps in the 50 residential schools, starting August 13, for registering students when we noticed the discrepancy in the rolls. A second drive in the following week confirmed the fraud,” said Agrawal.
According to the district administration’s report, “In almost each of these schools, the rolls contained names of students who reside and study in Madhya Pradesh. We also came across cases where tribal children enrolled in ashramshalas in the neighbouring Nandurbar district (and) other districts were included in the rolls.”
Agrawal said that her office confronted the management of these institutions regarding the discrepancies, but received “vague replies” to justify the abnormally high percentage of missing students.
“They (the managements) argued that the students had been sent home either due to sickness or for spending time with their families in the festive season. Relocation of families was another popular reason cited,” said Agrawal.
But, she said, a scrutiny of student registers revealed a different picture. “Government norms require such schools to keep an up-to-date record of students who had gone home. On scrutinising these records, we realised that there weren’t many genuine cases,” said Agrawal.
When contacted, Rajagopal Devara, principal secretary, tribal development department, confirmed that he had received Agrawal’s report.
He said that similar discrepancies in the rolls were being reported from other districts, too. Devara said that the government has decided to halt funding for students who cannot be accounted for.
“We are waiting for the submission of similar reports from other districts. Once that happens, we shall take further action against errant institutions,” said Devara. He said that his department has already launched a drive for linking the disbursal of allowances and grants to these schools with the Aadhar cards of students.
Maharashtra’s Tribal Development Minister Vishnu Savara was not available for comment despite repeated attempts to contact him.
In 2011, a similar bogus enrollment scam was unearthed in state-aided schools funded by the school education department. The then Congress-NCP government had promised to take strict action against the errant institutions, but they were later let off the hook.
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