More than 3 lakh pre-and-post-matriculate students who are poor and from minority communities in Punjab were deprived of rightful scholarship money. The state government now has to explain why it failed to disburse Rs 95 crore that it took from the union government.
The union ministry of minority affairs has summoned state representatives over the issue. On December 17, at a meeting in New Delhi, officials from the department of welfare of the Schedule Castes and Backward Classes, nodal agency in Punjab for disbursing the scholarship money, will explain to the ministry why the state should not be blacklisted for making it difficult for disadvantaged students to pursue education.
The union government may even divert the grant to another state, sources in the state government apprehend. Many students eligible for the scholarship in the year 2010-11 have completed the course and will be difficult to locate. The Centre sent about Rs 95 crore to the Punjab finance department as scholarship money for the financial years 2010-11 and 2011-12. The department did not release it to the Punjab welfare department for distribution.
"Assembly elections being round the corner, I suspect the money is being siphoned off for other purposes," said a senior Punjab official. "It will affect the future of lakhs of students in the state." The department of welfare of the Schedule Castes and Backward Classes has written many times to the Punjab chief minister, Parkash Singh Badal, and finance secretary, KBS Sidhu, for an early release of the money but nothing moved.
Roshan Sunkaria, secretary for the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes, when asked why the scholarship money had not been disbursed, feigned ignorance of the issue. "On December 9, I was relieved of the charge of the department, so I would not know much about it," said Sunkaria. When told that he had been in the department for more than a month, Sunkaria continued to be evasive.
Finance secretary Sidhu also was elusive. He even didn’t respond to the HT’s text message to seek his comments on why his department was sitting on student money. The matter also came up on Saturday during the meeting of the planning commission steering committee on the empowerment of minorities. "The state government is yet to submit the utilisation certificate for the previous financial year, and hence the Central government will not release the money for the next financial year," said HS Phoolka, senior lawyer in the Supreme Court, who is a member of the steering committee. "No grant will jeopardise the future of lakhs of students."
The scholarship scheme is for meritorious students from poor sections of minority communities, and lets them pursue education from classes 1 to 12. The Centre contributes 75% share, and the state government bears the rest. The Punjab government gets annual instalment of the scholarship money from the Centre only after submitting the utilisation certificate.
The money kept
The union government had released Rs 34 crore for pre-matriculate students for the year 2010-11 but the Punjab finance department is yet to release the amount to the state’s welfare department for distribution, suggest enquiries by HT. The state government has sent a proposal to seek another Rs 42 crore for 2011-12 but it will not get the money until it exhausts the previous amount. Nearly 2.8 lakh students will bear the brunt for the faux pas by the state government.
Under the post-matriculate scheme for 2010-11, the Centre had sent Rs 8 crore into the Punjab treasury and, later, another Rs 22 crore for the financial year 2011-2012. The entire amount of Rs 30 crore lies with the finance department. Nearly 28,000 students are eligible for grant under this category.
The state government also received Rs 23.44 crore for the SC students for 2011-12 but it has not come out of its treasury. Students from Backward Classes are also await scholarship, for which the union government had sent Rs 7 crore to the Punjab regime. "Eligible students are through with the session 2010-11 and the government was yet to give them their admission fee and tuition fee, which poor students require the most," said a senior Punjab official.