Manish Kumar, a first-year BSc student at S.N. Sinha College in Bihar’s Nawada district, has been applying for the Post-Matric Scholarship for Scheduled Caste students for the past two years.
He never received the scholarship last year. He hopes he gets it this year so he can afford private tuition.
“I’d like to take private tuition as no classes are being held now. But the money is not coming,” Manish said over the phone.
Manish and many other Dalit higher secondary and undergraduate students are being deprived of the Post-Matric Scholarship (PMS) since a rule tweak in 2018 steeply increased the states’ share of the funding and lowered the Centre’s.
This has prompted many states like Bihar to go slow on the scholarship, having received very little or nothing at all from the Centre for the scheme this financial year.
Dalit students whose parents earn less than Rs 2.5 lakh a year are eligible for this scholarship from Class XI till graduation. The monthly stipend varies depending on the course, from Rs 230 (HS without hostel) to Rs 1,200 (professional course).
Manish, being an undergraduate who stays in a hostel, would have expected to receive Rs 570 a month.
An estimated 70 lakh or so Dalit students are eligible for the scholarship across the country, provided they apply with all the necessary documents. Data that the Union social justice ministry provided last year to a parliamentary standing committee showed nearly 60.29 lakh Dalit students as beneficiaries of the scheme.
What this means is that these 60 lakh are registered for the scholarship and have received the stipend in the past. It does not mean they are getting it regularly now, nor that they would be paid the arrears anytime soon — or ever, if they have graduated while waiting for the money to come.
Manish, the eldest of a day labourer’s five children in Chainpura village, is a first-generation learner. His Class X board results won him the Bihar government’s one-time scholarship of Rs 10,000, given to Dalit and tribal students who secure a first division.
He heard about the PMS last year and applied, furnishing all the required documents.
Pancham Kumar Das, a third-year BSc student from Manish’s college, too had applied for the PMS last year. This year he could not submit the documents because the cyber cafes were closed during the lockdown.
“If I get the scholarship on the strength of last year’s application, I shall use the money to get coaching. I’m preparing for a stationmaster’s job with the railways,” Pancham said.
“Payment delays are a regular feature with the PMS for Dalit students,” said Beena Pallical, general secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, a think tank and NGO.
Official data show that the social justice ministry has released Rs 1,028 crore under the scheme this financial year so far although the budget allocation stands at Rs 2,987 crore.
However, only 16 states have received any funds while Odisha, Maharashtra, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir are among those that have received none. Bihar has received just Rs 2.3 lakh.
The then British government had started the scholarship in 1945 following a demand from Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar.
Till the 1980s, the Centre bore a fixed 60 per cent of the cost of the scheme and the states bore 40 per cent
From the ’80s till 2017-18, a variable share was worked out based on a formula. It said that during any five-year plan, a state’s burden would be the total sum spent by it and the Centre on the scheme for its Dalit students in the last year of the previous five-year plan.
This prompted many states to deliberately keep the expenditure on the scholarship very low in the last year of each five-year plan, using very little of the central allocation or its own funds (at the expense of the Dalit students).
When the next five-year cycle started, the state’s share dropped because of this trick. However, with the state reverting to its usual spending on the scheme, the Centre’s burden shot up.
That the Centre’s share of the funding had crossed 70 per cent in most states suggests that these states tended to keep the entire spending on the scheme below 30 per cent of the usual in the fifth year of the plan periods.
So, when the five-year plans were abolished in 2018, the Centre worked out a new fund-share formula for the scheme to get round the problem.
It decided that the highest amount spent on a state’s PMS scholarship for Dalits in any particular year during the 12th plan (2012 to 2017) would be that state’s “committed liability” (share of the burden). The Centre would pay whatever sum the state demanded over and above this “committed liability” in any particular year.
This caused the Centre’s burden to drop to around 10 per cent in many states. And many other states, unable to cough up anything close to their new “committed liability”, were in no position to demand any additional amounts – so the Centre wasn’t obliged to provide them any funds for the scholarship.
With lakhs of students unable to apply this year because of the lockdown, the sums spent on the scholarship in many states were anyway going to be less than their “committed liability”. So, these states were not eligible for any central funds for the scheme this year.
No such problem plagues the PMS for tribal or minority students since the Centre provides 100 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively, of their funding, a government official said.
The parliamentary standing committee on social justice, headed by BJP member Rama Devi, had in a report in September expressed displeasure at the delay in funds release for the PMS for Dalits.
It had asked the social justice department to plug the gaps in securing and utilising funds, in paying the beneficiaries on time, and in clearing arrears.
Pallical said the new funding policy was discriminatory and should be revised.
“When other ministries are bearing the lion’s share of the funds for the PMS for tribal and minority students, the social justice ministry too must do so for the PMS for Dalits,” Pallical said.
R. Subrahmanyam, secretary, ministry of social justice and empowerment, said the government was taking a relook at the funding pattern.
“Our ministry has proposed that the Centre bear 60 per cent of the expenses and the states 40 per cent. It’s under consideration,” Subrahmanyam told The Telegraph.