Maharashtra minister’s daughter gives up govt scholarship after controversy
Besides the minister’s daughter, the list also included social justice secretary Dinesh Waghmare’s son, Antariksh Waghmare, and joint director, technical education, Dayanand Meshram’s son, Sameer.mumbai Updated: Sep 07, 2017 23:21 IST
Under pressure after allegations of conflict of interest, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister Rajkumar Badole’s daughter, Shruti Badole, decided to give up her state government scholarship to study abroad. But her inclusion, along with that of the son of the secretary of the social justice and special assistance department has raised questions over the structure of the scheme and the selection process.
The social justice and special assistance department, which is under Badole, allots the scholarship, instituted in 2003, to a maximum of 50 students a year from Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Dalit backgrounds for post-graduate and PhD degrees in any of the world’s top 300 universities, according to the internationally accepted QC World University rankings.
For 2017-18, the state government received 178 applications for the scholarship, of which 35 were chosen. The chosen applications included that of Badole’s daughter, Shruti, who plans to pursue a PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics from the University of Manchester, UK.
Besides Shruti, the list also included social justice secretary Dinesh Waghmare’s son, Antariksh Waghmare, and joint director, technical education, Dayanand Meshram’s son, Sameer.
Significantly, the selection was at the discretion of the government.
Following the allegations, Shruti sent a letter to the state government saying she wants to give up her scholarship although she won it on merit. Antariksh and Sameer, however, intend to go ahead with it.
While Badole and the Waghmare maintain they had nothing to do with the selection process and that a chief secretary-led panel was in charge, government officials say the final list of beneficiaries was ultimately drawn up by the social justice department.
A senior government official, on condition of anonymity, said, “The social justice department determines the various categories of courses for which scholarships have to be given and even fixes the number of seats for each category. The selection committee only had one meeting. The role of the members is to verify the courses the applicants are seeking the scholarship for and if the nomenclature of the courses qualifies for a scholarship, according to the state government’s eligibility criteria.” He said the committee members simply forward their remarks on the applications, after checking the nomenclature of courses, to the social welfare commissioner.
“It is the social welfare commissioner’s office that ultimately decides the eligibility of the candidates and makes recommendations for selection,” the official said, adding the commissioner works as part of the social justice and special assistance department. The state government does not interview the candidates involved and makes decisions simply based on the applications.
Besides the chief secretary, the selection committee includes the additional chief secretary of higher and technical education, the medical education secretary, directors of medical education and technical education and the social welfare commissioner.
The scholarship scheme does not state any condition barring government employees or ministers from applying. Moreover, the scheme earlier necessitated the annual family income of the applicant to be lower than Rs6 lakh in order to be eligible. However, the BJP-led state government, through a June 2015 government resolution, waived this criterion for students, who have secured admission in the top 100 universities, according to QC world rankings.
Twenty nine of the 35 students chosen for the scholarship this year have secured admission in the top 100 universities, which means the income criteria was applicable only for the other six.
Chief secretary Sumeet Mullick said, “There have to be clear rules. If anything, the rules have to be changed, but having said that we cannot deny students who can be chosen on merit.”