Other States

Irregularities in Punjab’s Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme in the spotlight yet again

Representational file image.

Representational file image. | Photo Credit: Akhilesh Kumar

As Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit sought a report from the Punjab government on several students from the Scheduled Caste (SC) category dropping out of colleges owing to non-payment of scholarship amounts by the State government, the issue is yet again in the spotlight. Meanwhile, the government asserts to take any decision on pending amounts only after a ‘comprehensive audit’.

The State government has made it clear that while the Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme for SC students is running smoothly in the State from 2020-21, any decision surrounding the pending amounts for disbursal under the scheme for SC students, which pertains to years between 2017 till 2020, would be taken after doing a comprehensive audit.

According to the government data, for the years between 2017-18, 2018-19, 2019-2020, the pending amount for disbursal of Post-Matric Scholarship for SC students is ₹1,563.77 crore. In the 2022 State Assembly election, the delay in disbursing the scholarship amount had become a key political issue with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) pushing the previous Congress government to the wall.

“The centrally sponsored Post Matric scheme for SC students had come to an end at the twelfth five-year plan in 2016-2017. Following this, there were no funds given by the Centre in the year 2017-18, 2018-19 till 2019-2020. In 2020-21, the scheme was again started with a sharing ratio of 60:40 between the Centre and the State, and it has been running smoothly since then,” Ramesh Kumar Ganta, principal secretary, Social Justice, Empowerment and Minorities told The Hindu on Friday.

“The problem pertains only to the years between 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-2020… And the current government of Punjab is very clear that a comprehensive audit would be conducted pertaining to these years and any decision would be taken thereafter,” Mr Ganta added.

The State government in the budget 2022-23 allocated ₹649 crore under Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme, for providing scholarship to 2.50 lakh students approximately in Punjab.

Violation of constitutional rights

On July 21, Punjab Governor, after taking cognizance of reports that more than two lakh SC students are being forced to drop out of colleges due to non-payment of scholarships by the State government to these colleges, had written a letter to the Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, seeking a comprehensive report on this matter at the earliest. Mr. Purohit wrote, “If it is correct, it would be a most reprehensible violation of constitutional rights of SC students and grave injustice to them.”

Punjab Governor wrote the letter a day after the National Commission for Scheduled Caste (NCSC) chairperson Vijay Sampla stated that close to two lakh SC category students dropped out of colleges in Punjab as the Punjab government didn’t pay the scholarship amount to them. The NCSC has sought a reply from the Punjab government by July 27 about the non-payment of dues to the colleges.

Mr. Sampla pointed out that in 2017, there were close to three lakh SC students who benefited from the scheme, and in the year 2020, the number of beneficiaries has come down between 1 to 1.25 lakh.

Key issue in 2022 State polls

The alleged irregularities in disbursement to the tune of several crores of Post-Matric scholarship in Punjab was a key issue in the 2022 Assembly election.

In 2020, the then additional chief secretary Kirpa Shankar Saroj (social justice) indicted the then cabinet minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot in the Congress government in the multi-crore scholarship scam. Mr. Saroj in a report had pointed out that an amount to the tune of around ₹18 crore, which should have been recovered by the department from some private technical colleges was instead paid to them, causing a financial loss to the state exchequer.

Also, he had mentioned that records pertaining to around ₹39 crore were missing. Later, the then Chief Minister Amarinder Singh asked the then Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan to conduct a probe into the alleged scholarship case, following allegations of around ₹64 crore misappropriation in the SC scholarship fund. The Chief Secretary report, based on the findings of the three-member panel of officers, however, exonerated Mr. Dharamsot, asserting no irregularities were found in inquiries conducted into allegations of scam in SC scholarship.

Mr. Dharamsot, who also had the portfolio of Forest Ministry, is currently in judicial custody after he was arrested last month by the Vigilance Bureau on charges of corruption related to the illegal felling of trees, etc. during his tenure as the Minister in the previous Congress government.

On July 13, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann announced a probe into the irregularities in the Post Matric Scholarship Scheme. The Chief Minister stated this probe will be a threadbare analysis to ascertain every lapse and embezzlement of public money under the scheme.

Call to finish audit at earliest

Pointing out that the magnitude of students who have suffered due to scholarship scams is humongous, Paramjit Singh Kainth, chief of National Scheduled Castes Alliance, an organisation working on Dalit rights, said that they had been raising their voice in protest against the irregularities within the scheme and the corruption therein, and had also met the Governor in January this year to request a CBI investigation into the matter.

“We have also demanded that the current Punjab government quashes the cabinet decision made by the previous regime regarding sparing of liabilities and punishments on guilty colleges and universities under the Post Matric Scholarship scheme. NSCA members protested day and night for 28 days in January 2021 to highlight these irregularities. We welcome the decision of the NCSC and the Governor of Punjab, who have taken notice of the widespread corruption in the Scholarship scheme,” he said, adding that the government should complete the proposed audit at the earliest in a time bound manner, otherwise lakhs of students would continue to suffer.

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Printable version | Sep 4, 2022 10:52:55 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/irregularities-in-punjabs-post-matric-scholarship-scheme-in-the-spotlight-yet-again/article65671290.ece