The State government finds itself in a tight corner over the latest directive of the Central government to implement the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) scheme with regard to scholarship schemes for Dalit students.
As per the Centre’s decision, students covered under the scholarship schemes will, as a matter of rule, receive the amount directly through their bank accounts.
Recently, Secretary in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment Sudhir Bhargava sent a letter to Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary K. Gnanadesikan, urging him to issue instructions regarding the DBT implementation for all the scholarship schemes of the Ministry in an “effective and efficient way.”
Even though the Centre’s move also covers scholarship schemes meant for the Backward Classes/Most Backward Classes, its applicability to Dalit and Scheduled Tribes students is posing a major challenge to the State government.
After the revamp of the post-matric scholarship scheme in 2012, the number of applicants and the amount sanctioned have risen sharply.
During 2009-2010, about 5.1 lakh students were benefited and the amount of scholarship released was around Rs.170 crore. In 2012, the scheme’s norms were tuned to accommodate students of professional courses liberally. In 2013-2014, the figure of beneficiaries went up about 6.81 lakh students, registering a 25 per cent rise. The amount of scholarship released was around Rs. 898 crore, about 430 per cent increase.
In fact, the State has got cumulative arrears of about Rs. 1,000 crore from the Centre for the scholarship scheme, says a senior official.
The issue does not end with figures. Given the nature of the scheme, there is an element of the State’s share in expenditure. The State government has to absorb about Rs. 353.5 crore every year.
The Central funding comes into picture when the overall expenditure exceeds this amount. The official says it is not practical to segregate the list of beneficiaries for the purpose of cost-sharing. Even if it is done, the release of the scholarship may vary from one group of students to another, causing confusion and anxiety among the student community.
When asked for reaction, a senior official in the Union Ministry says the Centre was conscious of the concerns of the States. A software was being developed by the Department of Information Technology to ensure smooth payment of scholarship to all students, irrespective of the source of funding. The official adds that till now, 22 States have furnished information on beneficiaries and modalities of disbursal of scholarship and Tamil Nadu is not one of them.
The Centre’s decision evokes varied response from Dalit activists.
K. Bharathi, national secretary of the Revolutionary Youth Association, says: “Even now, not all the eligible Dalit students get the assistance and the State government’s orders are not being implemented in toto. It is immaterial as to which government – Central or State – disburses assistance. There should be no hassle for students in getting the assistance.”
M. Bharadan, State organiser of the Ambedkar Kalvi Nutrandu Iyakkam, says his organisation will oppose the Centre’s move towards DBT in the post-matric scholarship scheme. “Nearly one lakh Dalit students pursuing engineering are benefited now, whereas only about 30,000 students were covered earlier. So, the present system should remain and the role of the State governments should not be reduced,” he emphasises.
A software is being developed to ensure smooth payment of scholarship to all students