The PM's special scholarship scheme for J&K students, which funds their studies outside the State, has run into hurdles in its implementation

Not in his wildest dreams would Bashir Ahmad Khan, a village mason from Kuzwera village in Kashmir’s Budgam district, have thought his son Zubair could study further after completing a diploma in Civil Engineering. His family’s financial troubles had prompted Zubair to enrol in a technical course after class X, to secure a job as soon as possible. Thanks to the Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme for Jammu & Kashmir students, Zubair was admitted with a full scholarship to an Engineering College in Haryana. Zubair is not alone; there are hundreds of boys and girls whose merit and need have been recognised by the PM’s Scholarship Scheme, paving the way for their higher education.

The scheme was initiated in 2010. In August that year, when the ‘anti-India’ agitation in the Kashmir Valley reached its peak, the Prime Minister constituted an expert group with a view to enhancing employment opportunities in the State and formulating a jobs plan involving the public and private sectors. The Expert Group suggested the Union government offer 5,000 fresh scholarships each year over the next five years for J&K students to pursue higher studies outside the State.

The scholarship covers tuition and hostel fees, cost of books and other incidental expenses of J&K students, who, after passing Class XII or an equivalent examination, can secure admission in government-recognised colleges or institutions located outside the State.

Out of the 5,000 scholarships offered each year, 4,500 scholarships are allotted for general degree courses, and 250 each for engineering and medical studies. If the number of students opting for general degree courses that year falls short of 4,500, the balance may be given to students in engineering or medical degree programs, subject to the overall limit of 5,000.

Lack of awareness

Nevertheless, only 38 students could avail the benefits of this scheme in 2011, its first year of implementation. Reason: there was no response due to the lack of awareness about the scheme.

Last year, a massive awareness campaign was launched across the State by some civil society groups. Thanks to the this, as many as 5,008 students secured admission in various professional and career-based courses across States in India last year.

Government inaction

However, all is not rosy in the operation of this scheme. Due to inaction on the part of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and, particularly, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the designated nodal agency for the Scheme’s implementation, a portion of the scholarship money for 2012 is yet to be disbursed to 2,000 students. This has led to confusion among the J&K students who are studying in various colleges across India. College authorities have been ringing up parents and sending them letters demanding they deposit tuition fees. The AICTE and MHRD authorities need to adopt a pragmatic approach and disburse the scholarships to the remaining students.

“Some of the students have even been asked to vacate from their institutions, because the managements of these institutions had not been taken into confidence by AICTE. Till date, the MHRD has only disbursed scholarship money to approximately 3,000 out of 5,000 students — this kills the essence of this scheme,” said Syed Nasarullah Shah, Chairman of J&K Peoples Forum, a Srinagar-based NGO which has been working for the awareness and implementation of various centrally sponsored schemes.

Unfulfilled promises

Mr. Shah further said some hurdles in the Scheme’s implementation have been removed thanks to the HRD Minister Pallam Raju’s intervention after his recent visit to Kashmir. Even so, there has been no change with regard to the problems in disbursing scholarship money. Even the Chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities, Wajahat Habibullah, and other Kashmir-based civil society groups, have raised this issue several times with the Union Minister of State for HRD Shashi Tharoor, but to little avail. An MP from Kashmir, G.N. Rattanpuri, raised this issue in the Rajya Sabha during the budget session of Parliament, receiving Mr. Tharoor’s assurance that all scholarships would be disbursed by March 31 this year — this promise remains unfulfilled. The Kashmiri people are thankful to CPI (M) leader P. K. Biju, MP from Kerala and Member of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Human Resource Development, for raising this matter in Lok Sabha and other forums.

The Prime Minister of India and his government must urgently consider this issue and ensure proper implementation of the scholarship scheme. For the first time, the youth from Jammu & Kashmir have been provided a healing touch in the form of PM’s Special Scholarship Scheme.

If the Government fails to win their hearts, it will aggravate Kashmir’s problems, which in turn will further widen the gap between Srinagar and New Delhi.

It is high time that the Prime Minister intervened personally to ensure the hurdles in this scheme are removed: he should also impress upon the AICTE to enhance the scope of this scheme, both in terms of scholarships offered and courses (post-graduate) included. It is important that poor and marginalised people like Bashir Ahmad Khan come forward to avail the benefits of this scheme for their children.

(The author Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat is a Kashmir-based Right-to-Information/social activist. Email: muzaffar.rti@gmail.com)

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