An investigation by a leading news agency may have discovered a huge scam in Jharkhand with a combined involvement of brokers, bank officials, school staff and state government employees cheating poor students and their families of centrally funded pre-matric scholarship. When schools were reached out to in Ranchi, Dhanbad, Latehar, Ramgarh, Lohardaga and Sahibganj, students and their families, school staff and officials of the Jharkhand State Minorities Finance and Development Corporation (JSMFDC) spoken to, it was found that the direct benefit transfer scheme, meant to remove corruption was itself being affected by corruption. The data was also matched with data on the National Scholarship Portal (NSP) with beneficiary bank accounts recorded in the Public Finance Management System (PFMS).
During the last financial year, the Ministry of Minority Affairs had disbursed Rs 1,400 crore nationally under this scheme out of which Rs 61 crore was given to Jharkhand. Experts say the scholarship has helped increase in minority enrolment in Classes IX and X from 8 per cent in 2014-15 to 12 per cent in 2017. Especially in Jharkhand, where minorities form about 19 per cent of the population, the amount disbursed has gone up from just Rs 9.46 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 61 crore this year. More than 84,000 of the 2 lakh students who applied last year got the scholarship.
The verification process is where corruption seems to have taken root. Students submit their applications through schools which then appoint nodal officers to register on the scholarship portal on their behalf and verify applications. The applications are also verified at district and state level. Once applications are cleared, scholarship amount is disbursed. The process seems to have failed in Jharkhand at multiple levels. For example, at a Madrasa in Ranchi, more than 100 students listed as living in hostel were discovered to be fake. The list was found to have girl student names when the madarsa was a boy-only institution. Considering Rs 10,700 per student, the amount could be close to Rs 11 lakh. Several students, interviewed from six districts in Jharkhand had their Aadhaar cards and fingerprints taken, and scholarships disbursed in their names, but only a fraction of the amount and some received nothing.
The Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme is given to students of minority communities – Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists – from families with annual income below Rs 1 lakh. Students need to score at least 50 per cent in their class exams to be eligible for the scholarship. Students from Class 1 to 5 receive Rs 1,000 per year while those from Class 6 to 10 receive Rs 10,700 a year if they are in a hostel or Rs 5,700 if not in a hostel – highest cases of corruption are in last two categories. With the scholarship amount low, a lot of students, at time fake, were used by scamsters. Poor people have been not given scholarship amounts meant for their children’ studies by corrupt correspondents who get hold of their fingerprint by duping them. Jharkhand government officials however said that they will look into the matter.