Senior social welfare department official, 11 others arrested for involvement in multi-crore SC/ST 'scholarship scam' in Uttarakhand

Twelve people, including former district social welfare officer, Haridwar and deputy director of tribal welfare Anurag Shankhdhar, have been arrested over their alleged involvement in a multi-crore SC/ST "scholarship scam" in Uttarakhand.

A Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the case accused Shankhdhar of abusing his power as a government employee to favour private educational institutes and misappropriate scholarship funds earmarked for students belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

 Senior social welfare department official, 11 others arrested for involvement in multi-crore SC/ST scholarship scam in Uttarakhand

Representational image. Reuters

Investigation found that the modus operandi of the alleged scam, which has its origins to when Uttarakhand got statehood in 2000, was to siphon off scholarship funds allocated for SC/ST students by sending a fake list of candidates — belonging to the reserved categories — to the social welfare department. A majority of the institutes found to be involved are located in Haridwar, Udham Singh Nagar and Dehradun districts. The IMS Institute of Technology, Roorkee, is alone alleged to have siphoned off more than Rs 4 crore.

Prior to 2014, scholarships were given to students who were never enrolled in the institute, the SIT found. After 2014, when the process of availing of scholarships moved to the online platform, phantom students became beneficiaries. The funds were transferred to accounts of bogus students in the same bank branch. Additionally, an identical phone number was linked to these bank accounts.

How did the case come to light?

The matter came to light in the year 2016 when the state vigilance department ordered the arrest of officials of Mewar University, Chittorgarh, Rajasthan, on charges on siphoning off scholarships in the names of Uttarakhand students. Soon afterwards, fake documents of 278 SC and ST students — of which 250 and 28 belonged to Kumaon and Garhwal regions respectively — were presented to the social welfare department to claim scholarships.

The vigilance team found that these students, who were said to be residing in university hostels, were working as farm hands in Garhwal and Kumaon. The documents, including marksheets and pictures, were genuine, but these "students" had never enrolled in these institutes. The bank accounts of these "students" were traced to a branch in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh.

After being appointed the chief minister when the BJP government came to power in Uttarakhand two years ago, Trivendra Singh Rawat set up a SIT, headed by IPS officer Manjunath TC, to probe the matter. The panel was asked to submit a report in three months.

A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the Uttarakhand High Court after the SIT failed to make progress in the case till August 2018. “The total scam runs into over Rs 500 crore and had taken root between 2011 and 2015. It is believed to have spread across seven states. Hence, we moved court,” said Ravindra Jugran, a Dehradun-based activist.

What is the case all about?

After Uttarakhand was granted statehood, new private professional colleges mushroomed, which promised commissions to agents for ensuring admissions of students belonging to reserved categories. Soon, the agents fanned out across the state to obtain students’ credentials in lieu of a portion of the scholarship money, according to the PIL. The scam was said to have been perpetuated in connivance with officials from the education and social welfare departments.

Nainital-based RTI activist and advocate Chandra Shekhar Kargeti alleges that many "big fish" are involved in it. He said, “Besides the government department, private agents and bank officials were working in tandem to loot the state exchequer. Data for just two years - 2014-15 and 2015-16 - suggests that 380 institutes in Haridwar, Dehradun and Udham Singh Nagar received scholarship and fee reimbursements worth Rs 106,35,12,149 for 45,701 students.”

Though the SIT has arrested 12 people from Haridwar district alone, it is likely to crack down in other parts of Uttarakhand soon.

What is the scholarship scheme?

The post-matric scholarship scheme is sponsored by the central government and implemented through state governments and union territory administrations. The scholarships are awarded by the state or union territory government to which the applicant belongs. So, even if the student of one state is studying in another state, the scholarship is to be awarded by the state that he or she belongs to.

The social welfare department allots the scholarship as per a district’s demand. It is the responsibility of the district social welfare officer to distribute the amount. The first to receive the scholarship amounts are government institutes of the district. The next are the state-aided institutes and lastly, private institutes and students studying other states.

Updated Date: Jun 02, 2019 22:53:10 IST