Indian state probes fraud in scholarship grants for religious minorities

Indian state probes fraud in scholarship grants for religious minorities

Government, bank and school officials withdrew money in the name of fictitious students and schools

Saji ThomasSaji Thomas, Bhopal Updated: December 18, 2020 09:38 AM GMT
Indian state probes fraud in scholarship grants for religious minoritiesHemant Soren takes the oath of office as Jharkhand chief minister at a ceremony in Ranchi last December. His office said the police’s special anti-corruption wing will investigate irregularities in school scholarship schemes.Christians in eastern India’s Jharkhand state have welcomed a government probe into millions missing from funds meant to help the education of poor children from religious minorities.

State Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s office said in a statement this week that the police’s special anti-corruption wing will investigate irregularities in school scholarship schemes that media reported.

“We appreciate the state government initiative for the probe into duping the minorities of their education fund,” said Prabhat Tirkey, the national president of Rashtriya Isai Mahasang, a federation of Christian groups.

Tirkey, based in state capital Ranchi, told UCA News on Dec. 17 that they were shocked to know that “our children’s education grants were siphoned off.”

Media reports said a nexus of government officials, bank employees, school authorities and middlemen pocketed education grants meant for the poor among religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims.

With the help of officials, conmen withdrew the government’s scholarship amount in the name of fictitious students and schools, reports said.

In some other cases, the government grant was sanctioned for actual students and schools but they received only a fraction of the money, said an official on condition of anonymity.

The federal government, according to a report in the financial year 2019-20, had allotted 610 million rupees (US$8.7 million) to the Jharkhand government for the education of minorities.

Under a special scheme introduced in 2008, students from a religious minority whose annual family income is below $1,400 is eligible for a grant if they scored a mark of at least 50 percent in annual exams.

Eligible students up to the fifth grade receive an annual grant of some $14, while students from grade 6-10 get $150 a year if they use a hostel facility. The grant is reduced to half for day scholars in higher grades.

Tirkey said it is not known “how long this swindling has been going on. We are waiting for the investigation to complete.”

The Christian leader wanted the government to ensure exemplary punishment for criminals who had put the education of poor children in jeopardy. “No one should ever think of robbing the future of our children,” he said.

Besides Christians and Muslims, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and indigenous Sarna people are other religious minority groups in Jharkhand.

Christians and Muslims form the largest minority groups and comprise some 19 percent of the population. The Hindu majority form 67 percent of the 33 million people in the state. While Christians make up 4.30 percent, Muslims form 14.53 percent and Sarna people constitute 12 percent. The rest account for less than 2 percent.

The Indian Express, an English-language daily newspaper, began reporting the scam as part of an investigative series.

The paper claimed its reporters stumbled upon documents that proved a similar scam in the neighboring state of Bihar.

Jharkhand was formed in 2000, bifurcating Bihar. Some instances of misappropriation of funds meant for religious minorities have come to light from states like Punjab and Assam as well, the newspaper reported.

The federal Central Bureau of Investigation has started a probe into the scam in Bihar, while state police in Assam have launched an investigation, the newspaper reported.

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