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Jharkhand scholarship scam: Middleman’s diary shows nexus– phone numbers, passwords

Several entries in the notebook — names and details of schools — mirror data tracked by The Indian Express during its month-long investigation into the list of beneficiaries from 15 schools in six districts of Jharkhand.

Written by Abhishek Angad | Ranchi | Updated: November 4, 2020 6:47:35 am
Sunrise Public School at Tangar in Ranchi, where three tribal students were shown as Christians. (Express photo: Abhishek Angad)

At the heart of the scholarship scam targeting minority students from poor families in Jharkhand is a nexus of middlemen, bank correspondents, school staff in some cases and, of course, gullible parents — or unwitting victims. How their IDs and fingerprints are stolen and the Central scholarship money siphoned off is, in itself, an operation carefully planned and documented, according to a middleman’s diary accessed by The Indian Express.

This ruled notebook lists numbers, contact details of schools, user IDs and passwords that allow a school secure access to the National Scholarship Portal (NSP) — most of the entries are in black ink, some scratched out in blue. The notebook bears the mark of Santosh Shramik School in Ranchi, and is titled “Password”.

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A source who showed the notebook to The Indian Express said it belonged to the school’s owner Dinesh Sahu, who has been identified by staff of several schools as an alleged middleman in the scam. Sahu had earlier denied allegations that he was a “middleman”.

Several entries in the notebook — names and details of schools — mirror data tracked by The Indian Express during its month-long investigation into the list of beneficiaries from 15 schools in six districts of Jharkhand. Reacting to the investigation’s findings, the state and central governments have announced probes into the scam.

A page in a notebook with details of Adarsh High School in McCluskieganj, where a list of 54 beneficiaries were found to be fake. (Express photo: Abhishek Angad)

Consider some of the key entries in the notebook:

*Adarsh High School, McCluskieganj: “Pass ho gaya (It has passed),” says a line, along with the names of the school and its former principal, Lakhan Sahu. At the top right corner of the page is the entry: “54”. The Indian Express found a list of 54 beneficiaries from this school in scholarship records for 2018-19. Lakhan Sahu said the entire list was “fake”.

One of the beneficiaries shown as a Class 9 student turned out to be 21-year-old homemaker Sarjun Khatun from Ranchi’s Behratoli. Khatun said she was told by middlemen, who took her Aadhaar and bank details, that she would get “charity money” from Saudi Arabia. She received Rs 5,700 in her account, with the middlemen taking half.

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“In 2018, two people approached me and said there is a scholarship for minority students. I thought the students would be better off with this money. They took the Aadhaar details of ten students. But no one got any money and I was unable to contact the two later,” said Lakhan Sahu, who is now a member of the school’s management committee.

* Sunrise Public High School, Tangar, Ranchi: The notebook shows the school’s U-DISE (Unified District Information System for Education) code, which is needed to obtain the User ID and password on the NSP. It also contains the name of the principal, Munsaf Ansari, and two mobile numbers.

The Indian Express found that two girl students who were given half the annual scholarship amount of Rs 5,700 each were not aware of bank accounts opened in their names. Three tribal students were shown as Christians. Ansari said “all students” were given the scholarships but some students were given lesser amounts because they had “not paid their school fees and the money was adjusted”.

The list goes on and on.

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At least 20 schools feature in the notebook. The source told The Indian Express that the notebook was used to “keep track of entries and follow all the details”.

One of the schools mentioned in the notebook is Pramod Mishra Balak Balika High School at Rajendra Nagar in Daltonganj. The notebook contains the name of the principal, the school’s User ID and password.

The Indian Express visited the school located in the middle of a field. Local residents said it has been deserted for the last five years. “We see a few people visiting once a while,” said a resident.

Records show that out of 218 beneficiaries in Daltonganj district for 2019-20, 126 were from this school. The Indian Express contacted the number provided in records for school principal Anita Kumari. A woman who answered the phone declined to comment, or even identify herself.

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