Jharkhand pre-matric scholarship scam: Two years on, 16 FIRs registered, all in Dhanbad district, none in remaining 23

More than two years after the Jharkhand government initiated a probe into a scam exposed by The Indian Express involving Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme money meant for poor minority students, only one of the 24 districts has initiated action in the form of registration of FIRs. In the rest 23 districts, the police are either waiting for the list of beneficiaries or related information from the authorities concerned, it is learnt.

The slow progress in investigation came to the fore recently when the Jharkhand DGP responded to a communication from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) seeking an action taken report (ATR) and other details about the misappropriation of funds. The Jharkhand Police in its response said that 16 FIRs have been registered in Dhanbad district, while action was pending in 23 remaining districts. The Indian Express has viewed the communication sent by the CBI as well as the state police’s response.

The Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme is meant to help students of minority communities: Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists from families with annual income below Rs 1 lakh. To be eligible, students need to score at least 50 per cent in their class exams. The scholarship is given in two tiers every year: students in class 1 to 5 receive Rs 1,000 per year and students of class 6 to 10 receive Rs 10,700 if a hosteller or Rs 5,700 if a day scholar.

The Indian Express investigation had revealed siphoning of funds meant for minority students under the Centre-funded pre-matric scholarship scheme through an alleged nexus of middlemen, bank correspondents, officials, and school authorities.

The Indian Express investigated entries, district by district, on the National Scholarship Portal (NSP) and matched them with beneficiary bank accounts in the Public Finance Management System (PFMS) to find how a direct benefit transfer scheme was being derailed by corruption despite checks like Aadhaar cards, fingerprints, and verification from schools concerned.

The CBI had in May this year wrote to Jharkhand DGP Neeraj Sinha that they registered a Preliminary Enquiry based on the complaint dated November 10, 2020, from Under Secretary, Ministry of Minority Affairs, against unidentified public servants and private persons for misappropriation of funds of the pre-matric scholarship scheme. The letter also enclosed newspaper reports wherein it was alleged that the funds meant for the beneficiary candidates of 14 schools, 10 from Jharkhand alone, were siphoned.

“It is requested to kindly inform the details of the FIRs/Enquiries registered in the matter of misappropriation of funds…in the state of Jharkhand. The copies of FIR and action taken by various state forces/state vigilance bureau/anti corruption bureau may also be provided to this office for further necessary action at our end,” wrote head of central probe agency’s (AC-1, New Delhi), DIG Nitin Deep Blaggan.

It was only on September 12 that the Jharkhand Police wrote back to CBI stating that the anti corruption bureau (ACB) is investigating the case. The police informed that then secretary of Minority Affairs in Jharkhand had written to all deputy commissioners to make the details available to the ACB, and later the ACB in February 2021 had also asked all 24 district welfare officers to provide details of all beneficiaries along with the amount received by them between 2017 and 2020. The letter says that district-level committees were also formed to look into the alleged fund diversion.

The letter said that in Dhanbad, statements of five persons were recorded in the 16 FIRs registered against various schools. From the West Singhbhum district, the investigators received only one student’s statement who said that she had not received Rs 25,000 as it was being shown on the portal. Rest of the districts were still in the process of verification or files are pending with the office of district welfare officers. In addition, the letter said that some investigators had retired or were transferred, apparently as a reason for the slow progress.

A senior government official said the pandemic had delayed the investigation.

ACB’s Deputy SP Vijay Shankar, who is the investigating officer in the scholarship scam, said: “The problem we are facing is that district welfare officers have been very slow in responding to our queries even though we have been constantly asking them for list of beneficiaries and other details. Dhanbad is a unique case because the FIRs were already registered at the instance of ADM (L&O) through CO…. hence we have moved further in our investigation there.”

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