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Scholarship scam: Jharkhand High Court asks state to file detailed affidavit

An investigation by The Indian Express had 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.

In Jharkhand, where Rs 61 crore was disbursed under the scholarship for 2019-20, the Dhanbad district administration filed 11 FIRs against 105 people, including middlemen and local officials.

Taking suo motu cognizance of The Indian Express investigation on Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme in Jharkhand and stating that prima facie there is a ‘scandal’, the High Court turned a letter into a PIL – Court on its Own Motion – and asked the state to file a ‘detailed affidavit’ into the matter.

The court had earlier listed the matter after a letter was sent to Chief Justice Ravi Ranjan by Ranchi-based lawyer Mohammad Shadab Ansari to take suo motu cognizance on the findings of Indian Express investigation. The investigation had 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.

The Indian Express investigated entries, district by district, on the National Scholarship Portal (NSP) and matched them with beneficiary bank accounts in the Public Finance Management System (PFMS) to find how a direct benefit transfer scheme was being derailed by corruption — despite checks like Aadhaar cards and fingerprints, and verification from school to state level.

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On Friday, a bench of Chief Justice Ravi Ranjan and Justice Sujit Narayan Prasad said that a ‘detailed report was published in The Indian Express’ on the siphoning of money. CJ Ravi Ranjan read out the headline: “Many Ways to dupe a poor student: steal IDs, lie about source of funds, pocket most of it–all officially.”

Justice Ranjan said: “The Indian Express investigation is very exhaustive…It is a very serious matter and we want a detailed affidavit on this.”

Explained |What is Jharkhand’s pre-matric scholarship scam?

Advocate General for the State of Jharkhand Rajeev Ranjan said that he will get the affidavit filed. The matter has been fixed for December 18 as the next date of hearing.

Justice Ranjan also added that the Indian Express report was from various places and that the scam has been going on for many years. “The government has also taken some action as per the report…please file an affidavit,” he told the Advocate General.

After this newspaper published a series of reports from November 1 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 29 people, including four headmasters and a teacher, CSP operators on charges of fraud and forgery during its separate investigation into the scam.

In Jharkhand, where Rs 61 crore was disbursed under the scholarship for 2019-20, the Dhanbad district administration filed 11 FIRs against 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.

Read | Scholarship scam: Jharkhand changes process, physical checks must for all schools, applicants

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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