IN A move that will make many more Scheduled Caste (SC) students eligible for government scholarships, the Centre proposes to raise the income eligibility criteria for such schemes. Under the ‘Top Class Education Scheme’, the Centre provides scholarships to SC students who are pursuing higher education at IITs, IIMs, NITs, commercial pilot training institutes, medical/ law/ media and other reputed institutes. According to the current eligibility criteria, their parents’ annual income shouldn’t exceed Rs 4.5 lakh. This figure is now proposed to be revised to Rs 6 lakh per annum. The funding, available in 175 notified top institutes, covers much of the expenses incurred towards fees, living expenses, books and computer.
For pre-matric scholarships for SC students, the annual income is proposed to be revised from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh, on par with the eligibility criteria for post-matric scholarships. Officials from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE), which administers scholarships for SC, OBC and economically backward students, said the two proposals have already been discussed by the Expenditure Finance Committee.
“The basic eligibility criterion for our National Overseas Scholarship for SC students is that their parents’ annual salary should not exceed Rs 6 lakh. We wanted to ensure that students who pursue their higher studies in reputed institutions within India should also get similar benefits,” said a ministry official.
This is a part of the plans for ‘rationalisation of all scholarship schemes’, to correct the wide variation in income criteria, said officials. The ministry is also looking at revising the varying income criteria, as well as the scholarship amount, for other schemes for students from SC, OBC, and economically backward communities.
For instance, post-matric scholarship for SC students, last revised in 2010, specifies that the parents’ annual income should not exceed Rs 2.5 lakh. But for OBC pre-matric scholarships, only students whose parents earn less than Rs 45,000 per annum are eligible.
“The schemes were started at different times, and various income limits were specified each time. In trying to revise the income ceiling, and in some cases increase the scholarship amount, an enhanced budget would be required as the number of students who will become eligible would be very large. Hence, we are examining the financial implication of this proposal,” said the official.
While this move will widen the net of eligible students, data from the ministry shows arrears of over Rs 5,500 crore in the popular post-matric SC scholarship scheme, with a majority of students not having received any money for two years now. The scheme, which catered to 46 lakh students in 2016-17, has seen a marginal increase in allocation from Rs 2,791 crore last year to Rs 3,347 crore, which is not even enough to cover the pending dues.
For the pre-matric scheme, budgetary allocation this year has been slashed to Rs 50 crore, a tenth of the Rs 500 crore that was being allotted over the last few years. According to data studied by The Indian Express, since the inception of the pre-matric scheme in 2012-13, when Rs 931 crore was released as central assistance, the number of beneficiary students has steadily reduced. The numbers are down to a third now, from 40 lakh students in 2012-13 to 13 lakh in 2016-17 when only Rs 344 crore was released. This year, with the funds being reduced to Rs 50 crore, the number is expected to show a sharp fall.
Officials from the ministry said the decrease in allocation is because as per scheme guidelines, the states are expected to pool in funds. “However, many states have complained that they do not have the resources, and the Centre should continue with the same allocation as before,” said the official.
As for the arrears, officials blamed it on the steep fees charged by many private institutions.
The two schemes provide 100 per cent centrally-sponsored financial assistance for Dalit students, as required by the government under Article 46 of the Constitution for promoting educational and economic interests of SCs and STs. The pre-matric scholarship is aimed at minimising the incidence of Dalit students dropping out in Class IX-X, while post-matric assistance is meant to enable such students to complete their higher education.