The Uttar Pradesh government has unearthed a multi-crore racket in disbursement of scholarships to Scheduled Caste students in educational institutions in the state.
The racket involves hundreds of engineering, medical, dental and management colleges that have mushroomed over the past few years in several parts of the state.
The racket was unearthed following an inquiry ordered by Principal Secretary (social welfare) Balwinder Kumar into a complaint alleging refusal by a Lucknow-based college to refund the fees paid by a Scheduled Caste student even after the government had reimbursed the amount to the institution.
"Once we probed the case of Ram Swaroop Engineering College, we discovered that several other professional institutions were indulging in similar malpractice and were pocketing at least Rs.400 crore every year in this manner," Kumar told the news agency.
"While we have already initiated criminal proceedings against Ram Swarup Engineering College, we are shortly going to probe into the account books of large number of engineering and other professional institutions.
"After all, the government gives away hundreds of crores every year to ensure free professional education to Scheduled Caste students," Kumar said.
While government-run institutions are entitled to full reimbursement against the Scheduled Caste students enrolled with it, private colleges receive an equivalent of the fees prescribed for government institutions. The balance is to be shelled out by the students.
In addition to Scheduled Caste, the scholarship is also available to poor upper caste students whose family income is less than Rs.100,000 per annum.
"We have a budget of more than Rs.500 crore for higher education scholarship and I would not be surprised if we end up discovering that nearly Rs.400 crore out of this was pilfered," Kumar pointed out.
"Major defaulters were suspected to be in the National Capital Region of Noida, Ghaziabad and Meerut," he said.
Referring to the case of Ram Swarup College, Kumar said the college was found to have cheated both the beneficiary students and the government.
According to him, the college has a total of 230 Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students against whom it drew a sum of Rs.60 lakh from the social welfare department during the last academic session.
He said: "Each SC student was charged Rs.20,000 more than the prescribed fee and when one of them sought a refund, the college refused to do so, following which a complaint was made by a ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) legislator, opening a pandora's box of irregularities."
There were as many as 689 such private professional schools in the state. These include 280 engineering colleges, 64 dental colleges and four medical colleges, besides a host of management and other technical education schools.
In sharp contrast, there are only seven government-run engineering colleges, besides the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur. While the number of state-owned medical colleges are also seven, other than the central government run medical institutes in Aligarh and Varanasi and the state run Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Lucknow, four new state-run medical colleges are in the pipeline.
"Bulk of Uttar Pradesh's private professional institutions have come up in the last five years. These have gone a long way in throwing open the doors of higher professional education to children who had to go all the way to southern states to pursue their academic quests," says Vrinda Sarup, state principal secretary (technical education).
However, she declined to comment on the quality of education being imparted at these so-called centres of learning, which many feel have turned into teaching shops that were churning out professional graduates armed with ornamental degrees that do not land them anywhere.