Scholarship scam spreads to Bihar, ropes in school from Punjab too

Updated 05th November 2020 | 11:05 IST

The Scholarship scam, during which money meant for poor minority students is siphoned off, isn’t limited to Jharkhand but has crossed state borders.

Investigating entries, district by district, on the National Scholarship Portal (NSP) and matching them with beneficiary bank accounts within the Public Finance Management System (PFMS), The Indian Express has found several cases of the pre-Matric scholarship being illegally diverted by middlemen in Bihar also.

In a remarkable parallel with the scam in Jharkhand, records show that Manu Indian Public School in Gaya’s Banke Bazaar Block has as many as 134 beneficiaries, including 128 who stay during a hostel thereby being eligible for the very best scholarship slab of Rs 10,700 per annum.

But The Indian Express visited the varsity to seek out a partially painted two-storey structure during a deserted field — it had been locked. About 2 km away, school owner Rajiv Kumar scrolled through the list of beneficiaries and said all were “fake”, which the varsity didn’t have a hostel.

“There are 150 students within the school but only seven from minority communities. I even have never verified any scholarship application. Someone had called last year, asking me to fill the forms for a student scholarship. I didn’t agree. we’ve been cheated,” Kumar said.

About 20 km away, at Binda village in Barachatti Block, The Indian Express tracked down two of those beneficiaries, listed in records as Class 7 students who received Rs 5,700 each for 2019-20. one among them is Mohammad Arshad Ansari, 20, an apprentice barber at an area salon. the opposite is his neighbour Shaiyma Parveen, 16, who may be a Class 10 student during a government school.

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“I never studied in Manu Indian Public School, and that i don’t know who this scholarship is for. I cleared Class 10 from a government school two years ago. I got the cash this year after the shape was filled by an area person on my behalf. a number of my neighbours also filled the forms, but they need not received any money,” Mohammad Ansari said. He claimed that he didn’t pay any money to the middleman.

Parveen showed her ID card from Indira Kanya Ucha Vidyalaya, a government school nearby. “I received Rs 5,700 this year. an educator came to our college and took down our names. that’s how I got the cash,” she said.

PMFS records show that a 3rd beneficiary within the village, Manual Ansari, received Rs 10,700 this year. Speaking on his behalf, his father Imteyaz Ansari said: “The middleman took half the quantity. My son works as a tailor and passed Class 10 a couple of years ago.” The records don’t list the school’s name.

In Saharsa district, scholarship records show a beneficiary from St Mathews SSS in Puritan. But there’s a catch — Purhiran is in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur. The beneficiary is identified as Atul Singha, who has been shown as a Muslim and therefore the son of “Rahman”.

William Tell, owner of St Mathews SSS in Purhiran, told The Indian Express over the phone that the varsity has no branch outside Punjab. “I can’t understand how Purhiran figures in Saharsa. Also, there’s no student named Atul Singha in our college. We didn’t fill any scholarship form for 2019 or 2020. this is often clearly an enormous scam,” Tell said.

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The scholarships are meant for minority students from families with an annual income of but Rs 1 lakh and who scored a minimum of 50 per cent in their class exams. Applications got to be verified first by designated nodal heads in schools who are registered with district welfare officers. they’re checked by the district and state nodal officers before being sent to the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs, which verifies and uploads them on the NSP before disbursal through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT).

When contacted, Jitendra Kumar, Minority Welfare Officer, Gaya, said: “Last year, 52,000 applications had come and that we weeded out several fake ones. Only 6,000 were cleared from my side. If some cases have escaped scrutiny, it’s alarming.”

In Saharsa, Shamshad Khan, the District Welfare Officer in 2019 when the verification process was conducted at the local level, declined to comment saying that he has retired from service.

Under the scheme, launched by the UPA Government in 2008, students from Class 1 to five receive Rs 1,000 per annum, and students of sophistication 6 to 10 receive Rs 5,700 a year if they’re day scholars or Rs 10,700 if they’re during a hostel.

During a month-long investigation in Jharkhand, The Indian Express tracked 15 schools in six districts to seek out that middlemen with the assistance of banking correspondents, and in several cases school staff, stole IDs and passwords to access the NSP and dupe gullible students, and make fake beneficiaries, to pocket a piece of the scholarship money.

READ | Jharkhand CM orders probe into scholarship scam: ‘action soon’

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The Centre had allotted Rs 61 crore to Jharkhand for the scholarship in 2019-20. and therefore the findings of the investigation, published by The Indian Express during a series of reports over the last four days, prompted the Jharkhand government and therefore the Centre to announce probes.

On Wednesday, Rajiv Arun Ekka, Principal Secretary to Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, wrote a letter to the state’s Secretary, Welfare Department, to organize all files associated with the scam for the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), which can take hold of the investigation.

Meanwhile, the BJP, which was in power in Jharkhand till December last year, claimed that its government had conducted “various checks in several parts” of the state after the then Chief Secretary received a letter from the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs warning of “repeated attempts to subvert” the NSP.

“The beneficiary schools were reduced from 41,000 to 3,100 last year. The Raghubar Das government acted swiftly. The Soren government is playing politics and has done nothing curb corruption,” BJP spokesperson Pratul Shahdeo said.

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