It is an irony that in Punjab, the Scheduled Caste post-matric scholarship scheme — that is meant to financially enable poor students to pursue higher education and go on to uplift their lives with jobs congruent with their education — has become a hurdle in their way to progress. The multi-crore embezzlement of the scholarship funds has plunged thousands of students over the past three years into an unfairly dark zone as their degrees and detailed marksheets have been withheld, putting their future at stake. Behind the rut that they are stuck in is the unjust stand that their colleges/universities have adopted by tying the release of their degrees with the release of the scholarship money. The government’s delay in releasing the funds has also cost the Dalit students admissions under the scheme: compared to 3.25 lakh admissions in 2016-17, the number came down to around 90,000 this session.
The pupils who overcame odds to pursue studies are caught in a bind as the tussle between the colleges and the government over the release of funds is embroiled in an ugly mess of corruption. The report exposing the scam alleges a deep-rooted nexus of politicians, government officials and bank staffers. The rightful dues of the students and colleges have been apparently diverted to ‘ghost institutions’. That the scheme had such glaring gaps is alarming.
With the scam becoming fodder for political rivals, a heated blame game was played out in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha earlier in August. Shrill cries were made for an investigation, like the one held in Himachal Pradesh, which has also been rocked by a similar racket. It remains to be seen if the big fish fraudsters are made to pay for the misappropriation of funds. Those culpable of cheating the poor students of their dues to study and improve their lot deserve to be dealt an exemplary punishment. At the same time, the process of handing over the degrees and marksheets to the students must be expedited.