‘When I asked for the full amount, the authorities said they too had worked hard and needed the money,’ said Class 9 student Zikrul Ansari who got less than half of Rs 5,700 he was entitled to per year
NEW DELHI – The Central government’s scholarship scheme meant for students belonging to minority communities in Jharkhand is not reaching them or if at all reaching it’s not in full. Apparently, a nexus of bank staff, middlemen, schools and government employees is duping the rightful beneficiary.
As part of investigation, The India Express tracked 15 schools across six districts – Ranchi, Dhanbad, Latehar, Ramgarh, Lohardaga and Sahibganj – in Jharkhand and spoke to over 30 students, parents and school authorities to investigate the list of beneficiaries for pre-matric scholarships in 2019-20 sanctioned by the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs through the National Scholarship Portal (NSP).
The Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme is meant to help students of minority communities – Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis – whose annual family income is 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 10,700 a year if they are in a hostel or Rs 5,700 a year if they are day scholars. Most of the corruption is related to these last two categories.
In 2019-20, the Ministry of Minority Affairs disbursed Rs 1,400 crore nationally under this scheme. Out of this, Jharkhand got Rs 61 crore.
Authorities at Madrasa Alia Arabia in Ranchi said all the 102 students listed as hostel beneficiaries in the NSP for 2019 were “fake”. Mohammad Sahabuddin, the head teacher, said the list also included girls, although the madrasa is a residential facility for boys. “If you multiply Rs 10,700 by 102, the amount that has been illegally siphoned off without our knowledge is nearly Rs 11 lakh,” he says.
Gulshan Ara, 47, of Behratoli in Mandar Block of Ranchi, lost her husband in February 2019. “We were going through a tough time when an acquaintance approached us, saying I would get some charity money from Saudi Arabia if I gave him my Aadhaar details and a copy of the bank passbook. In April, I received Rs 10,700. The middleman took half,” she said.
Zikrul Ansari, studying in Class 9 at the Assembly of God Church School, Hutup, Ranchi, says he received Rs 2,700 in May, which is less than half of the Rs 5,700 he was entitled to per year. “When I asked for the full amount, the authorities said they too had worked hard and needed the money,” he said.
At his home made of unplastered walls and an asbestos roof, his father Alim Ansari, a lift operator at a private firm, said: “It is tough managing the family of eight with my monthly salary of Rs 8,000. We were not aware that Zikrul should have got Rs 5,700.” Records show 49 students received scholarships starting from Rs 1,000 to Rs 10,700.
Atiya Firdous was sanctioned Rs 10,700 for Class 6. “But I study in Class 3 and don’t stay in a hostel,” she said. Her family says she received Rs 5,350 from the school, which has about 150 students, although she is eligible only for Rs 1,000.
Records show the full range of scholarships were sanctioned for 157 students, including 72 girls. The school does not have any girl students staying in hostels, or a full-fledged hostel.
Records of Lord Krishna Public School, Ghughri, Ranchi, show Sadiya Parween is a student of Class 7. But producing a state certificate, Sadiya says she never studied in Lord Krishna School and cleared Class 10 from Devendra Nath School (DNS) in Choreyan. “My details were taken last year and this year we received Rs 10,700 in my account. Half the money was shared with an agent, Tauqir, who dealt with the application,” she said.
Records of the same school show Fija Praveen is a student of Class 7, and that she received Rs 5,700 in her bank account. “I study in Class 9 in DNS. Tauqir took us to the bank and I withdrew the money and gave him half. I never studied in Lord Krishna School,” she said. At least 324 students received scholarships, including 213 who got Rs 10,700 each, from the school which has just five rooms in the middle of a field.
Records of Blue Bells School, Gola, Ramgarh, show scholarships were given to 179 students, including 176 hostellers. But the school has no hostel. One beneficiary, Mahvish Parveen, shown as studying in Class 8, stays in Jhumri Telaiya in Koderma district, about 130 km away. “My daughter is a Class 4 student in a government school in Vishrambagh in Jhumri Telaiya. We filled the scholarship form through an agent but have not got any money,” said Parveen’s father Mohammad Javed.
The Express report says at the heart of the corruption lies the process of verification. Students have to submit their applications through the school between August and November. The schools appoint nodal officers to register on the scholarship portal on their behalf and verify the applications. The applications also need to be verified at the district and state level. Once the applications are cleared, the scholarship amount is disbursed usually in April or May — fresh applications have to be filed every year.
“This scam is yet another illustration of the vulnerabilities of the Aadhaar-enabled payment system,” said economist Jean Dreze, whose food security team also received complaints from some students that they were not getting their full scholarships.
“Poor people are regularly robbed of their wages, pensions and scholarships by corrupt business/banking correspondents who take their fingerprint on one pretext or another. We have been trying for years to alert the Reserve Bank of India, the National Payments Corporation of India and others to these vulnerabilities but they seem to prefer not to know,” Dreze said.
Jharkhand Chief Secretary Sukhdev Singh told The Indian Express that the state government “will look into the matter on the basis of inputs made available”.