By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 4 Jun: The Social Welfare Department is usually a low profile one that hardly ever is in the news during usual circumstances. Most of its responsibilities are very routine in nature and heavyweight ministers usually are not interested in taking charge of this department. However, in the past few years, this department has been in the news for the wrong reasons. Scams after scams have surfaced. But the governments of the day never took any serious step to stem the rot and corruption. The scholarship scam for which the department is currently in the news is stated to be worth hundreds of crores of rupees. Yet, the SIT, constituted by the government to investigate the scam has not been able to complete its investigation into the scam for more than a year since it was set up. It was a PIL filed by RTI activist and High Court lawyer Chandrashekhar Kargeti that forced the SIT to actively carry on its investigation and some officers and other accused got arrested. The hesitation on part of the State Administration in exposing the scam was evident from the fact that even when the Deputy Director of Social Welfare, Anurag Shankdhar, was arrested for two days, he was not suspended. When the issue got highlighted in the media, the state administration was forced to issue the suspension order to Shankdhar. It is only after the PIL filed by Kargeti and social activist Ravindra Jugran that the inquiry into the scam has again gathered some pace. The SIT is headed by IPS officer Manjunath, who has a relatively clean image, but it is evident that the SIT was under tremendous pressure which made it to go slow on the probe. The reasons are pretty evident. Among the universities, institutes and colleges under the scanner for the scam are those belonging to a brother of a powerful Congress leader from Haridwar district, who is currently an MLA and also Secretary, AICC. One institute belongs to a BJP MLA’s son, and several other politicians from Congress as well as BJP. Now that the court has intervened in the probe that was going nowhere for over a year, the SIT seems to have become active again. Sources in the SIT indicate that some more arrests are likely in the days to come. Sensing this, some senior officers from the Social Welfare Department are also seen running to the courts seeking injunction against possible arrest by the SIT. The Joint Director of Social Welfare Department is one such senior officer. In addition, several directors and owners of private varsities, institutes and colleges are also under the scanner and are also approaching courts for stay against possible arrest. This scam is believed to have started in the year 2012 and continued up to 2016, when a probe by the Vigilance Department in Rajasthan found that 278 so called students belonging to Uttarakhand and allegedly studying in Mewar University in Rajasthan were granted scholarship from Uttarakhand Social Welfare Department. It was found that all the bank accounts to which the scholarships were getting transferred were located in a particular bank in Ghaziabad. The post-matric scholarship scheme is sponsored by the Union 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. When BJP came to power in Uttarakhand, the Trivendra Singh Rawat ordered inquiry and a SIT was formed by the Police. The probe started but when the SIT realised the dimension of the scam and that very powerful persons were also among those allegedly involved in the scam, the probe came to a standstill. The SIT was forced to again carry out the probe earnestly by the High Court while hearing the PIL filed by Kargeti and Jugran. Sources in the Social Welfare Department claim that the scam could be running into hundreds of crores of rupees. The fake lists of beneficiary SC and ST students were being submitted by the academic institutions concerned and the scholarship funds siphoned off every month instead of going to the beneficiaries. However, this could not carry on beyond 2016 as the Direct Beneficiary Transfer scheme was by then launched by the Modi Government. Sources claim that each of the institution concerned benefitted at least to the tune of Rs 3 crores during this period with many of the institutions benefitting to the tune of Rs 15 crores. Many of the beneficiary institutes are not even located in Uttarakhand. Interestingly, as soon as the DBT scheme was implemented and the scam came to light in Rajasthan, the number of scholarship grants reduced significantly with effect from 2015-16. In Uttarakhand, in the year 2014-15, the number of scholarship applicants was 89,000 approximately, out of which over 81,000 were granted scholarships. However, in the year 2015-16, the number of applicants got reduced to 74,000 while actual approvals were granted to a mere 20,000 students. Sources admit that many of the genuinely eligible students were also denied scholarship despite applying for the same. By the year 2018-19, the applicants got reduced to just 51,000 approximately of which only 38,300 were actually granted scholarships. Sources further claim that corruption has taken place in most schemes run by the Social Welfare Department and could not have happened without the knowledge or active involvement of higher ups of the department as well as those from the state administration in charge. A thorough probe and audit is required into release of funds under all social welfare schemes In order to stem the rot and catch the guilty. Of course, after the DBT implementation, the extent of corruption in various social welfare schemes has significantly reduced. It remains to be seen if the SIT is able to lay its hands on the powerful persons and officers involved in the scheme or not!