Scholarship scam: Fake beneficiaries in Bihar, KV in Assam used as a front

The Indian Express investigated entries on the NSP and matched them, one by one, with bank accounts in the Public Finance Management System (PFMS) to find at least 39 beneficiaries under this school’s name across Bihar.

From Ranchi in Jharkhand to Saharsa in Bihar to Nazira in Assam, the scholarship scam stretches far and wide.

Data on the National Scholarship Portal (NSP), for the Centre’s pre-Matric scholarships for poor minority students, show that Kendriya Vidyalaya Nazira is listed under six districts of Bihar. In reality, it is just one school — and it is located in Assam’s Sivasagar district.

The Indian Express investigated entries on the NSP and matched them, one by one, with bank accounts in the Public Finance Management System (PFMS) to find at least 39 beneficiaries under this school’s name across Bihar.

They are all fake, the school’s principal, Akhileshwar Jha, told The Indian Express over the phone. Nazira is known mainly as an ONGC outpost.

An investigation by The Indian Express has found several cases of the scholarship being illegally diverted by middlemen in Bihar. The newspaper also tracked 15 schools in six districts of Jharkhand to find that middlemen, with the help of banking correspondents and school staff, stole IDs and passwords to access the NSP and dupe students, and created fake beneficiaries, to pocket a share of the scholarship money.

For Kendriya Vidyalaya Nazira, records for 2019-20 show beneficiaries in Darbhanga (14), Muzaffarpur (13), Madhubani (7), Purnea (2), Bhagalpur (2) and East Champaran (1).

But the school principal is clear. “Our teachers have checked this list and these names cannot be found in our register. We will raise this at the highest level. We did not verify any of these scholarship forms last year,” Jha said.

During this year’s verification process too, Jha said, the school received a mail from the Assam District Welfare Officer. “Many applicants were registered as our students for 2020-21. When we checked, they were not our students although the entries mentioned our school and the contact person listed was our computer teacher. This needs to be investigated,” Jha said.

Scholarship records for the school show that a Class 8 beneficiary and Muzaffarpur resident, Hasina Begum, received Rs 10,700. According to records of Bihar’s Welfare Department, which is the verification authority in this case, Begum’s address is “Kurhani, Muzaffarpur” and the pin code 834551 — this pin code does not exist; Kurhani’s code is 844120.

Officials in Bihar said inter-state applications are rare at the pre-Matric stage as they are mostly done by students who leave their homes to study in another state. In such cases, they said, the verification is done by the district minority welfare officer in the applicant’s domicile state.

“But in the case of this Kendriya Vidyalaya, if the principal says those listed are not their students, it is very alarming,” Rizwan Ahmad, District Minority Welfare Officer, Darbhanga, said.

“This year, I rejected many applications that listed the school as KV Nazira. The forms claimed the applicants were residents of Darbhanga but the entries were blurred. The copies of bank passbooks, too, had no substantial balance or record. Only the IFSC code was visible. In one passbook, I zoomed in to check the address and it was North Dinajpur in West Bengal,” he said.

Asked how the 14 applications from KV Nazira were verified in Darbhanga last year, Ahmad said: “I was not posted here then.”

In Muzaffarpur, where 13 students from KV Nazira are mentioned as beneficiaries for 2019-20, District Minority Welfare Officer Ravi Shankar said: “It is rare that in pre-Matric scholarship schemes, students apply from a different state. This type of verification usually happens for post-Matric schemes where students go outside the state for further studies.” However, he declined to comment on the verification process last year for applicants from KV Nazira.

At the heart of the issue, officials told The Indian Express, is the lack of a clear Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to verify inter-district or inter-state applications.

“In pre-Matric applications, when a student fills a form, say from Maharashtra, and his domicile is Bhagalpur, the form should be verified through the login ID of the domicile District Welfare Officer, i.e., Bhagalpur DWO. But how can this DWO verify the application of a student in Maharashtra?” said a minority welfare officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Officials said the only way is to check applications uploaded on the NSP, but the details are often not clearly visible. “In some cases, where the bonafide details are visible, the phone numbers will be of different persons. In other cases, we are able to weed out fake applications by checking the veracity of the bank’s IFSC code or pin code,” said an official.

“In another case, it was found that photocopies of the same Aadhaar card were submitted for two individuals — the details were the same except that the card’s two sides had different numbers. When I went for verification, I found that the school listed did not exist. Without a clear SOP, problems will remain,” the official said.

“We have been conscious of the possibility of misuse in such cases and further measures will be discussed in a meeting of minority welfare officers on November 12. We will also send suggestions to the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs to plug the loopholes,” said Amir Subhani, Additional Chief Secretary of Bihar’s Minority Welfare Department who also handles the Home portfolio.

Centre’s pre-Matric scholarships are meant for minority students from families with an annual income of less than Rs 1 lakh and who scored at least 50 per cent in their class exams. Applications need to be verified first by designated nodal heads in schools who are registered with district welfare officers. They are checked by the district and state nodal officers before being sent to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, which verifies and uploads them on the NSP before disbursal through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT).

Under the scheme, launched by the UPA Government in 2008, students from Class 1 to 5 receive Rs 1,000 per year, and students of Class 6 to 10 receive Rs 5,700 a year if they are day scholars or Rs 10,700 if they are in a hostel.

For 2019-20, records show, Rs 82.43 crore was disbursed in Bihar under the scheme for 2,45,662 students from 5,79,887 applications.

The findings of the The Indian Express investigation, published in a series of reports over the last five days, prompted the Jharkhand government and the Centre to announce probes. In Bihar, they have been sent to District Magistrates for follow-up action.

Courtesy INdian EXpress