India

Two years after the pre-matric scholarship scam broke, 16 FIRs have been registered, all in the Dhanbad district, while none have been filed in the remaining 23 districts

Almost two years after the Jharkhand government initiated an investigation into a scam exposed by The Indian Express involving Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme funds intended for poor minorities, only one of the 24 districts has filed a criminal complaint. The police in the remaining 23 districts are either awaiting the list of beneficiaries or related information from the authorities concerned, it has been learned.

Jharkhand’s DGP responded to a communication from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) seeking an action taken report (ATR) and other details regarding the misappropriation of funds, highlighting the slow pace of the investigation. According to the Jharkhand Police, 16 FIRs have been registered in the Dhanbad district, while action is pending in 23 other districts. The Indian Express has reviewed the communication sent by the CBI as well as the response provided by the state police.

The Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme is intended to assist students from minority communities, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, and Buddhists from families with incomes below Rs 1 lakh per year. In order to qualify, students must score at least 50 per cent on their class exams. Students in classes 1 to 5 receive Rs 1,000 per year, and students in classes 6 to 10 receive Rs 10,700 if a hosteller or Rs 5,700 if a day scholar.

During the investigation by the Deccan Era, funds meant for minority students under the Centre-funded pre-matric scholarship scheme were siphoned through an alleged nexus of middlemen, bank correspondents, and school officials.

The Deccan Era investigated entries, district by district, on the National Scholarship Portal (NSP). It matched them with beneficiary bank accounts in the Public Finance Management System (PFMS) to determine why a direct benefit transfer scheme was being undermined by corruption in spite of Aadhaar card, fingerprint, and school verification checks.

The CBI had in May this year written to Jharkhand DGP Neeraj Sinha that they had registered a Preliminary Enquiry on the basis of the complaint dated November 10, 2020, from the Under Secretary, Ministry of Minority Affairs, against anonymous public employees and private individuals for misappropriating funds from the pre-matric scholarship program. Furthermore, the letter enclosed newspaper reports alleging that the funds meant for the beneficiary candidates of 14 schools, ten of them from Jharkhand alone, had been siphoned off.

I would appreciate it if you would please provide details of the FIRs/Enquiries registered in the matter of misappropriation of funds…in the state of Jharkhand. “Copies of the FIR and actions taken by the various state forces/state vigilance bureau/anti-corruption bureau may also be provided to this office for further action at our end,” wrote the head of the central investigation agency (AC-1, New¬†Delhi), DIG Nitin Deep Blaggan.

It was only on September 12 that the Jharkhand Police informed the CBI that the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) was investigating the case. The police reported that the then secretary of Minority Affairs in Jharkhand had written to all deputy commissioners in order to make the details available to the ACB, and later in February 2021, the ACB requested that all 24 district welfare officers provide information regarding all beneficiaries between 2017 and 2020 along with the amount received by each beneficiary. A district-level committee was also formed to investigate the alleged diversion of funds, according to the letter.

The letter reported that in Dhanbad, 16 FIRs were filed against various schools involving the statements of five persons. In West Singhbhum district, investigators received only one statement from a student who stated that she had not received the Rs 25,000 as it appeared on the portal. Other districts are still in the process of verification or their files are pending with the district welfare office. Further, the letter indicated that some investigators had retired or had been transferred, which may have contributed to the slow progress.

According to a senior government official, the investigation has been delayed as a result of the pandemic.

The investigation into the scholarship scam is being conducted by ACB’s Deputy SP Vijay Shankar, who stated that the district welfare officers have not responded to our requests despite the fact that we have repeatedly requested a list of beneficiaries and other information. ADM (L&O) through CO had already registered FIRs in Dhanbad, which makes it a unique case. Therefore, we have moved forward in our investigation.”

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