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Jharkhand Scholarship Scam: State govt makes physical verification mandatory to prevent irregularities and embezzlement

After 11 FIRs were filled in the Jharkhand scholarship scam, the state government has now ordered its officers to ‘physically verify’ all schools and applicants seeking to avail scholarships under the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs for 2020-21.

In a letter dated November 19, and sent to all Deputy Commissioners, Welfare Secretary Amitabh Kaushal also directed that necessary steps be taken to recover the scholarship disbursed to fake beneficiaries in previous years.

A detailed investigation into the matter had found that the scholarship meant to help students of minority communities, was being siphoned off by a nexus of middlemen, school staff and district officials.

As per the modus operandi, either fake beneficiaries were set up or students were duped into letting them apply on their behalf and pocket a share of the money.

After the scam came into limelight, the state government has now said that physical verification will be needed to prevent ‘recurrence of irregularities and embezzlement’.

The latest order says, ‘During physical verification, it should be made clear whether that student is from the institute concerned and if they are eligible.’

‘It should be also checked whether or not the institutes applying for hostels have hostel infrastructure,’ the Welfare Secretary’s letter stated.

However the Minority Affairs Ministry, which administers the scheme, has not mandated a physical verification as of yet.

The Centre had disbursed Rs 61 crore to Jharkhand under the pre-Matric scheme for 2019-20. More than 2 lakh students applied for it and more than 84,000 got the scholarship.

But The Indian Express tracked hundreds of applications from 15 schools in six districts and found how multiple layers of verification, from the school to the state level, failed to detect the scam despite checks like Aadhaar IDs and fingerprints.

Norms for the scheme state that applications need to be verified first by designated nodal officers in schools who are registered with District Welfare Officers. The applications are then checked by the district and state nodal officers before being sent to the Minority Affairs Ministry, which verifies and uploads them on the National Scholarship Portal (NSP) before disbursal through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT).

However it was found that in several cases, these norms were not followed. Middlemen either convinced school owners or nodal officers to provide the NSP login IDs and passwords or used fake school letter pads to obtain them.

Then, they involved banking correspondents to open accounts of prospective beneficiaries using their Aadhaar cards and fingerprints before applying on their behalf with help from district officials.