A scam worth at least Rs 67 crore has been uncovered in Maharashtra, in which non-existent students were allegedly enrolled in a school programme, the Indian Expressreported on Friday. An Aadhaar registration drive in Jalgaon region revealed that 8,177 out of 25,922 students on the rolls were untraceable. These students of the tribal schools existed only on paper, the report said.
The Aadhaar registration drive covered 50 state-aided tribal schools. Some of the on roll students were found to be students in Madhya Pradesh or in neighbouring districts, according to a report submitted by the district administration.
According to the district administration’s report, “In almost each of these schools, the rolls contained names of students who reside and study in Madhya Pradesh. We also came across cases where tribal children enrolled in ashramshalas in the neighbouring Nandurbar district (and) other districts were included in the rolls.”
The Maharashtra government has launched a state-wide verification of students on roll. An early survey suggests that as many as 30-40 per cent students of the 2.4 lakh tribal students enrolled in 559 schools could be fake entries.
According to the officials, the Maharashtra government spends Rs 325 crore per year on the eduction of tribal children. This fund, which comes from state government’s Tribal Sub-Plan, includes Rs 225 crore for a monthly allowance of Rs 900 per student and Rs 100 for salaries.
The government exchequer might have suffered a loss of at least Rs 67.5 crore last year in student allowance alone due to the fake entries of students, according to the officials.
Officials in Jalgaon told the Indian Express that many of the schools are controlled by political heavyweights, including a former minister.
State’s tribal development department had received complaints about the fake entries and asked to launch a verification process. But, the Jalgaon Collector Rubal Agrawal told The Indian Express that her office had stumbled upon the scandal during a parallel Aadhaar registration drive. She said her office received vague replies when they confronted the head of these institutions.
“The Chief Secretary had directed all District Collectors to intensify the Aadhaar registration drive across the state. We held week-long camps in the 50 residential schools, starting August 13, for registering students when we noticed the discrepancy in the rolls. A second drive in the following week confirmed the fraud,” said Agrawal.
Rajagopal Devara, principal secretary, tribal development department, confirmed that he had received Agrawal’s report. “We are waiting for the submission of similar reports from other districts. Once that happens, we shall take further action against errant institutions,” said Devara.