Updated: November 18, 2020 6:48:46 am
POLICE IN Gaya Monday registered their first FIR in the illegal siphoning of the Centrally funded pre-Matric scholarship meant for poor minority students by an alleged nexus of middlemen, bank correspondents, officials and school staff in Bihar and Jharkhand, which was revealed in an investigation by The Indian Express.
The move comes three days after the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs, which administers this scholarship — Rs 1,400 crore last year nationally — decided to ask the CBI to investigate the nexus that also roped in schools from Punjab and Assam.
In Assam, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) said Monday that it has arrested 21 people, including four headmasters and a teacher, on charges of fraud and forgery during its investigation into the scam based on a complaint lodged by the state’s nodal officer in August.
In Bihar, the FIR was registered at the Civil Lines Police Station in Gaya under IPC sections 468 (forgery for cheating), 471 (dishonestly using a forged document) and 420 (cheating). It names one accused, identified as Babar Ali, for allegedly submitting forged verification documents to the district welfare officer while posing as nodal officer of Manu Indian Public School to illegally divert the scholarship.
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Speaking to The Indian Express, Amir Subhani, Additional Chief Secretary of Bihar’s Minority Welfare Department who also handles the Home portfolio, said: “Based on The Indian Express report, an initial inquiry was conducted and today, an FIR was registered in Gaya.”
On November 5, The Indian Express reported that Manu Indian Public School in Gaya’s Banke Bazaar block has as many as 134 scholarship beneficiaries, including 128 who stay in a hostel thereby being eligible for the highest slab of Rs 10,700 per year.
But the school turned out to be a locked, partially painted two-storey structure on a deserted field. Its owner Rajiv Kumar said the beneficiaries were “fake”, and that the school did not have a hostel. “There are 150 students in the school but only seven from minority communities. I have never verified any scholarship application,” Kumar said.
About 20 km away, at Binda village in Barachetti block, The Indian Express tracked down two of these beneficiaries, listed in records as Class 7 students who received Rs 5,700 each for 2019-20. One of them was Mohammad Arshad Ansari, 20, an apprentice barber, and the other his neighbour, Shaiyma Parveen, 16, a Class 10 student in a local government school.
Ansari said he had never studied in Manu Indian Public School, and that he had cleared Class 10 from a government school two years ago. He confirmed that he got the money this year after “a form was filled by a local person on my behalf”. Parveen showed her ID card from a government school and confirmed that she had received the money after a teacher “took down our names”.
The Indian Express found that the nexus stole IDs and passwords to access the National Scholarship Portal (NSP) to dupe students and set up fake beneficiaries, while genuine poor minority students were left out or were given only a portion of the money.
The FIR states: “From Manu Public School, one person was given the user ID and password… However, as per the published report (in The Indian Express) there was no KYC documents submitted, which is a matter of investigation.”
The applications need to be verified first by designated nodal heads in schools who are registered with district welfare officers. They are checked by the district and state nodal officers before being sent to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, which verifies and uploads them on the NSP before disbursal through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT).
The FIR states: “Ansari and Parveen accepted that they were not students of Manu Indian Public School…The owner of the school also gave in writing that these two, including 133 students, are not his students and also Babar Ali does not hold any post in the school.”
Apart from Gaya, The Indian Express found that scholarship records show a beneficiary in Bihar’s Saharsa district from St Mathews SSS in Purhiran, which is in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur. The beneficary, identified as Atul Singha, has been shown as a Muslim and the son of “Rahman”. William Tell, the school owner, said the institution has no branch outside Punjab, and that there was no student by that name.
Besides, this newspaper found at least 39 beneficiaries across six districts in Bihar from the Kendriya Vidyalaya at Nazira in Assam’s Sivasagar. They are all fake, the KV’s principal said.
In Assam, the arrests were spread across four other districts — Goalpara, Darrang, Kamrup and Dhubri — after the FIR was lodged on August 28 by Mahmood Hassan, who is the state’s nodal officer for the scholarship.
The CID said that a case has been registered under IPC sections 120(B), 406, 409, 419, 420, 468 and 471, which deal with fraud, cheating and conspiracy, for alleged misappropriation of the scholarship’s funds for 2018-19 and 2019-20.
“We received several complaints that eligible applicants were not getting the money. Middlemen were scamming the process…Fake mobile phone numbers and SIM cards were used,” said Hassan, who is also director of the state minority development board.
The modus operandi mirrors those found by The Indian Express in Jharkhand and Bihar. “In one model, the head masters had got the students to fill the applications. After that, they manipulated the bank details with the help of owners of Customer Service Points (CSPs) of banks, and middlemen,” said Surendra Kumar, IGP (CID), Assam.
“In another, middlemen had fraudulently obtained the login credentials of the school without any knowledge of the headmaster and were verifying the applications,” he said. The CID have also seized three laptops, 217 photographs, 104 bonafide certificates, 173 application forms and 11 bank passbooks.
As part of its investigation, The Indian Express matched entries, district by district, on the NSP with beneficiary bank accounts in the Public Finance Management System (PFMS) to find several cases of the scholarship being illegally diverted — first in six districts across Jharkhand and then in Bihar.
This Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme, launched in 2008 by the UPA Government, 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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