The Punjab Vigilance Bureau (VB) has initiated investigations into alleged misappropriation of central government post-matric scholarships for scheduled caste (SC) students by officials of the department of technical education in connivance with private college managements.
The VB inquiry follows an anonymous complaint against VMS College, Batala, to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The CBI’s discreet investigation found that the college management in connivance with the technical education officials allegedly “pocketed” the scholarship meant for SC students, many of whom continued to pay the college fee.
The college is owned by Congress state legislator from Batala Ashwani Sekhri and is named after his father, Vishwamittar Sekhri. Sekhri is also the All India Congress Committee (AICC) secretary and in charge of party affairs in Gujarat. The complaint submitted to the CBI pertains to alleged misappropriation by the college in 2010-2011.
The CBI in its inquiry note to the VB has elaborated the alleged modus operandi. It states the college management submits a list of SC students along with details of their bank accounts and the scholarship amount to the department of technical education, Punjab. The scholarship amount is to be sent to the students by the Union ministry of social empowerment and justice through the state department.
While giving admissions to the students, the college makes them submit a request that the scholarship amount due to them be deposited to the college management’s account, states the note.
The CBI found that in several cases, while the scholarship amount was routed to the management, the students were unaware of it and continued to pay the college fee (which is in lieu of the scholarship).
The college management, thus, not only pocketed the scholarship amount, but also the fee, found the CBI probe. Majority of these students are pursuing engineering courses, the annual scholarship for which ranges from Rs 60,000 to Rs 1 lakh.
Technical education officials under scanner
The CBI that is probing the culpability of any central government official has failed to find any role of the bank officials concerned in helping the college in this alleged fraud and has referred the inquiry to the state bureau to look into alleged role of technical education officials.
The VB has now asked its Amritsar team to conduct a probe into the complaint against the college and gather details from the department of social welfare about the disbursement of these scholarships to SC students admitted to various technical courses in private colleges in Punjab. Many of these colleges are owned by high-profile people, including politicians.
Highly placed officials said other than the complaint against the Batala college, the VB had received complaints regarding misappropriation of the scholarships meant for students undergoing pilot training courses in some other colleges.
CBI probe invalid, says Cong MLA
Congress MLA Ashwani Sekhri, who owns VMS College, Batala, said the complaint against his institute is false and politically motivated. “There are some leaders within the Congress who want to finish the party’s Hindu leadership. This is part of that (conspiracy),” he said. Calling the CBI probe “invalid”, Sekhri said it was based on an anonymous complaint and no official from the agency contacted the college for information. He, however, said the VB had got in touch with them for the probe. “The working of my college is an open book. I am ready for any inquiry and will cooperate with the VB. However, we have a letter from the Punjab social welfare department (dated September 5), stating that there is no probe pending against us. Our college is giving free education to many students. Regarding the SC scholarship, crores are pending with the state government,” said Sekhri.