The scheme is meant for the benefit of financially deprived Scheduled Caste students who can pursue their dreams of studying abroad if they are admitted to the top 100 QS-rated universities. In the past few years, minister’s children as well as those of officials have taken advantage of the scholarship after the income limit for the scheme was done away with in 2014.
In all, 54 candidates have been selected in 2020. The entire bill for studying abroad is paid by the state, which includes tuition, living expenses, airfare, and ancillary charges like purchases of laptop, books, etc, with no upper limit.
This year, Gatha Shambharkar, daughter of Solapur collector Milind Shambharkar (annual declared income Rs 23.6 lakh), is among the beneficiaries. She is set to join Stanford University’s post graduate programme in science. Another recipient is Arush Tagde, son of Shyam Tagade, principal secretary of social justice and special assistance department (annual declared income Rs 38 lakh). He intends to pursue a master’s in information technology at the University of Sydney.
The selection of two students, whose fathers are senior officials, has raised questions on whether candidates from the privileged class, even if from a backward caste, should avail of government grants. “My son had applied for the scholarship before I joined this department. I had also informed the government about the clash of interest and hence I was not on the interview panel that spoke to aspirants and decided as to who should be selected,” Tagde told TOI.
Shambharkar did not respond to calls or messages.
In May, the social justice department was looking at amending the scheme to introduce an annual income ceiling of Rs 6 lakh. However, after a few protests, the decision was stayed.
In 2017 too, Maharashtra social justice minister Rajkumar Badole’s daughter Shruti had figured on the list of beneficiaries along with sons of two senior bureaucrats. However, eventually Shruti turned down the offer of financial aid.
Experts often question the scheme’s objective as universities abroad offer merit-cummeans scholarships to those who make the cut meritoriously but cannot afford the fee. “Why should the financial scheme be need-blind? Also, these students who get government’s assistance, can work part-time as teaching assistants as per visa rules and recover their living expenses,” said a senior IAS officer, on condition of anonymity.
The scheme, aimed at SCs and neo-Buddhists, was introduced in 2003 for PG and PhD programmes in universities that have a QS world ranking of at least 300. Students who take up the government’s offer have to sign a bond and provide their expertise to the state.