Sandeep Kaur, a second-year student of MA (Political Science) at Jalandhar’s HMV College, has only received Rs 3,000 in the last five years under the Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme for SC students for which she is eligible. Her father a daily-wager and mother a factory worker, Kaur has been funding her education through social loans since BA first year – loans which she does not know how to repay.
Her siblings, Jatinder Bhatti and sister Priya, students of Bachelor of Computer Application (BCA) at Lyallpur Khalsa College and HMV College, respectively, are also entitled to PMSS scholarship money, but have received zero assistance so far.
The family has over the years spent Rs 70,000 on their children’s post-matric education, hoping that the money would be reimbursed by the government. But like 2.5 lakh students eligible for PMSS across Punjab, their hopes for assistance have been dashed by an apathetic system.
Speaking at a virtual Idea Exchange with The Indian Express, Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh rued that the central government had stopped funding the scholarship scheme. “My state has the largest population of SC students and the Centre’s annual bill for this scheme is 720 crore a year but now they have suddenly told us that till 800 crore you pay… where will I get these funds from,” he had lamented.
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Sandeep is living its consequences. “We are finding it is very difficult to continue our studies. If the government has launched a scheme, it should pay our fee and maintenance amount as promised so that we can continue our studies,” says Sandeep, adding that colleges allow them to pay in instalments, but they cannot be expected to pay beyond that.
Her college, she says, has 1,500 students studying under the scheme, and all of them are in a bind.
Like Sandeep and her siblings, it has been an endless wait for scholarship money for Karanjot Sahota and his sister, Amandeep of Bajuha Khurad village in Nakodar.
“I completed my BTech (Electrical Engineering) last month, while my sister is in third year of BA-LLB course. Both of us are eligible under the scheme, but government has not paid a single penny against our fee,” said Sahota, adding that the fee for his course was around Rs 2.50 lakh and his sister’s course fee is around Rs 3 lakh.
He added: “College officials are now not releasing my B.Tech degree as well as original certificates of Class 10, 12, Aadhar card etc. Their condition is that I first pay the dues. Now I cannot apply for any job as I do not have any certificates.” Karanjot pointed out that their colleges had even taken advance cheques from them to encash when government released money into their account.
According to the Punjab Students Union, there are 2.5 lakh students who are eligible for this scheme and most of them have not received any amount in their accounts since 2016-17. The scheme was fully sponsored by the central government till 2017-2018. But from April 2018, it was revised and now the states have to budget for this scholarship.
Students with family income of up to Rs 2.5 lakh per annum can apply for this scheme. While tuition fee goes to the colleges’ accounts, maintenance of Rs 250 per month for 10 months is given in students’ accounts.
Joint Association of Colleges (JAC) co-chairman Dr Anshu Kataria said that around 1,650 unaided colleges in the state are suffering due to the delay in the release of PMSS funds.
“A sum of Rs 1,850 crore is pending under the scheme since 2016-17,” said Principal Secretary, Social Justice, Empowerment and Minorities, Kripa Shankar Saroj.
The Principal Secretary, Social Justice, said the state received Rs 309 crore from Centre in March and April this year for the years 2015-16 and 2016-17.
He added: “Now, the Centre has revised the scheme from April 2018 and state governments have to bear this liability. But our CM had already written to the Centre that state does not have the means to bear this Rs 400 to 500 crore liability annually and Centre should continue the old policy.”
He pointed out that the state government wants the Centre to pay the entire amount of Rs 1,850 crore pending over several years.
Saroj also said that several private colleges charged tuition fee from students but never returned it to the students even after getting it reimbursed from the government.
“Rs. 210 crore of the total released grant of Rs. 309 crore in March- April this year is meant for maintenance allowance belonging to students but some private colleges wanted to get this sum released in their accounts instead of students’ on the plea that students have already completed their studies and left the colleges . But the state government after several audits is now going to release students’ allowance to them only,” said a senior officer in Social Justice department.
Role of educational institutions
Several private colleges and educational institutions adopted villainous practices such as starting courses of less practical utility in their institutions and lured students in droves by launching active enrolment drives for such courses showing heavy fee structure to fetch PMSS funds from the government. “When they came to know that now the scheme has become state’s liability several private colleges stopped such drive as they know that state could not bear this liability because of which the number of such students has also come down in past two years,” said Principal secretary.
Consequently, the number of students under the scheme had declined from 3 lakh to 2.5 lakh.
Scam shadow over scheme
Amid the clamour for scholarship money by students, there are now allegations that part of funds meant for them have been either allegedly embezzled or distributed in arbitrary manner by the state’s Directorate of Social Justice.
Punjab CM Amarinder Singh Saturday asked state’s Chief Secretary to thoroughly probe this alleged scam .
In a report submitted to the Chief Secretary on August 21, Additional Chief Secretary, Social Justice, Empowerment and Minorities Kripa Shankar Saroj had alleged Cabinet Minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot’s involvement in the scam.
Meanwhile, Karanjot Sahota is worried about his future without any certificates or the degree. “From where will I get the hefty sum to get my certificates back?” he asks.
Suman from the same village has the same predicament. She does not know how to clear dues of over Rs 1.5 lakh she owes for her fashion designing course in order to get her certificates back. Getting her degree and her original certificates depends on paying her fees in full to the college.