Grave irregularities have been found in 13 out of 22 educational institutions which are on the radar of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the Rs 250-crore scholarship scam, agency sources said.
Investigations revealed that these 13 institutions took scholarships in the name of about 2,000 fictitious students, sources in the CBI said. The accounts and other documentation of the remaining institutions are yet to be checked, they added.
Scrutiny of documents, accounts and data procured from computers and other related material of these institutions located in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh by the CBI revealed that scholarship fund was siphoned and scholarship was taken in the name of students who either did not exist or had left the institutions, sources added.
These institutions bagged a major chunk of the scholarship amount.
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The scam started in 2012-13 when the scholarship for pre-matric and post-matric students belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes under 36 schemes were not paid to eligible beneficiaries.
The scam remained hidden for almost five years as the person who created the online portal for disbursement of scholarship was also responsible for transferring the amount. The matter came to light in 2018 following reports that students of government schools in tribal Spiti valley in Lahaul and Spiti district had not been paid any scholarship for the past five years.
Investigations had pointed out that fake letterheads to show false affiliation were used by some institutions to mislead the education department which failed to ensure physical verification of infrastructure and strength of students.
The other discrepancies included non-submission of Aadhaar numbers of students by institutions, use of same Aadhaar accounts to withdraw scholarships of multiple students who did not exist and opening of fake accounts in nationalised banks.
In order to grab the scholarship money, the institutions allegedly used the blank cheques and vouchers submitted at the time of admission, allegedly in connivance with some employees of nationalised banks which opened the accounts without Aadhaar verification.
The management allegedly gave their own phone numbers as registered numbers of students so that they receive SMSes regarding transactions and withdraw the money.
More than Rs 28 crore of post-matric scholarship money for SC/ST/OBC students was disbursed to nine fake institutions in Una, Chamba, Sirmaur and Kangra districts running under one name without affiliation from the competent bodies.
The key accused, the then Superintendent Grade-II of the Department of Higher Education (dealing with disbarment of scholarship), was arrested and it was found that his wife had 33 per cent stakes in these institutions.
The CBI had registered a case under sections 409, 419, 465, 466 and 471 of the IPC for criminal breach of trust, forgery and cheating here on May 8, 2019. During the course of investigations, it was found that 80 per cent of the scholarship money was paid to private institutions.
So far four charge sheets have been filed in the case against more than 16 people, including directors of the erring institutions, employees of the education department and bank staffers.