A possible racket around one of the Nitish Kumar government’s flagship schemes —post-matriculation scholarships for Dalit students for technical education — has begun to unfold in Nawada district of Bihar.
Of 60 students given scholarships in 2015 for the session 2012-13, only one was found genuine by probe by the district administration following the intervention of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. And of 12 technical institutes in Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Punjab and MP where the students are supposed to have studied, five could not be traced, said the probe report of Nawada’s deputy development commissioner (DDC), accessed by The Indian Express.
The amount disbursed was Rs 1.03 crore. State-wide, the scheme costs the government about Rs 50 crore annually. The SC and ST department pays an annual tuition fee, usually in the range Rs 1.5 lakh-Rs 2 lakh per student. District welfare officers invite applications with documents and a screening committee finalises the students. On an average, about 2,500 SC students get the scholarship, often flaunted by Nitish as one of two dozen schemes for Mahadalits.
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A complaint about irregularities by a Nawada resident, Subodh Paswan, led to the national SC panel raising the matter with the state SC/ST department’s secretary last August, followed by the DDC’s probe.
The probe report said the DDC asked district welfare officer Dinesh Kumar Pandey for details of names, addresses and cheques issued between February and March 2015.
After the probe, the SC/ST department’s deputy secretary wrote to the joint secretary alleging that five Dehradun institutes to which Pandey issued cheques — the highest was Rs 26.42 lakh — either could not be located at the given addresses or did not exist at all. Five institutes were in Bhopal and one each in Bhattal and Bengaluru.
The Nawada DDC report said that of the 60 beneficiaries, the only real student was from Akbarpur. And none of the 60 named, real or fake, was mentioned in the verification list of block development officers.
State SC/ST welfare secretary S M Raju told The Indian Express a separate probe by his department found scholarships issued to 50 students. “The department has suspended the DDC and the nazir,” he said, adding an FIR was lodged against the district welfare officer.
“We are now making payments through RTGS, only after students furnish applications” (with papers). He felt it should not be called a “scam”. Asked if there would be a state-wide probe, he said: “We have put a system in place and must not make rules too stringent; it could discourage Dalit students. Most of them are unfamiliar with rules.”
The BJP plans to make an issue out of it in the budget session. BJP legislature party leader Sushil Kumar Modi said: “The Nawada case looks like the tip of the iceberg. There seems to be a well-entrenched racket involving Bihar government officials and those running fake institutions. The Nitish Kumar government should immediately order a probe for all districts. Government benefits not reaching Dalits is as much a concern as the amount being swindled.”