An investigation into the Assam scholarship scam has revealed how the pre-Matric scholarship for poor minority students was illegally diverted in the state over the last two years.
The inquiry report—accessed by The Indian Express—unveiled the involvement of operators of Customer Service Points (CSPs), who would receive the amount in bank accounts formed under the beneficiary’s name and linked to their own mobile phones.
Operators opened accounts under beneficiaries’ names; applied for scholarships
TIE reported that operators of CSPs—where bank accounts can be opened and cash withdrawn—purchase SIM cards and mobile phones in bulk.
They apply for scholarships online using a list of eligible students obtained by school principals through middlemen.
They open bank accounts in the beneficiary’s name through fake signatures. The accounts are then linked to the scholarships by operators through their own phone numbers.
Money is withdrawn through OTPs
One-time passwords (OTPs) are generated and the money is withdrawn. This often happens with the knowledge of the local bank staff, the inquiry report by the director of Assam’s minorities development board found, according to TIE.
Here’s an excerpt from the inquiry report:
According to TIE, the report states, “Head Masters without the knowledge of computer applications take help of people with knowledge of computers for entry of all credentials of applicants. The easiest accessible person with computer knowledge in the villages are the Customer Service Points (CSPs)…In most cases, the headmasters and CSP operators take a dishonest way to deprive the students.”
Inquiry conducted in 5 districts covering scholarships over 2 years
Mahmood Hassan, the minorities board chief who is also Assam’s nodal officer for the scholarship, told TIE that the inquiry was conducted in five districts.
Scholarships granted in 2018-19 and 2019-20 were covered by the inquiry.
The report said that while in many cases the money was illegally transferred without the knowledge of beneficiaries, some students received a small portion of the money.
Noticed most bank accounts were opened in other districts: Hassan
Speaking about the inquiry, which went on for three months, Hassan told TIE, “I came to know that most of the bank accounts were opened in other districts.”
Hassan said, “Then, I checked the mobile numbers filled during the application process and found most of them to be inactive or out of service. From there, I started getting leads to the entire scam.”
29 people arrested, including middlemen, school principals, etc.
The Crime Inspection Department (CID) launched an investigation based on the inquiry report.
VV Rakesh Reddy, SP, Assam CID, told TIE, “As of now, we have arrested 29 people. So far, we have found connivance at the local level.”
Middlemen, at least four school principals, CSP operators (linked to local branches of at least two Public Sector Undertaking banks) are among those arrested.
CID registered FIR under charges of cheating, forgery, criminal conspiracy
Reportedly, the CID had registered an FIR on August 28 under various sections related to cheating, forgery, and criminal conspiracy. The probing agency has seized three laptops, 217 photographs, 104 bonafide certificates, 173 application forms, and 11 bank passbooks.
In 2019-20, Assam received Rs. 161 crore under scholarship scheme
Students from Class I-V receive Rs. 1,000 per year under the scholarship. Day scholars in Classes VI-X students receive Rs. 5,700 per year, while hostellers receive Rs. 10,700.
The Union Ministry of Minority Affairs, which manages the scholarship scheme, had disbursed Rs. 161.6 crore to Assam in 2019-20, the second-highest for any state after Uttar Pradesh.
In 2018-19, Assam had received Rs. 60.91 crore.