New Delhi: In a major outreach to the Scheduled Castes (SC) community, the Narendra Modi government has approved significant changes to the centrally-sponsored scholarship scheme for students belonging to the community.
ThePrint has learnt that the Union Cabinet Wednesday approved changes to the ‘Post Matric Scholarship to students belonging to Scheduled Castes (PMS-SC)’ scheme, which is expected to benefit over 4 crore SC students in the next five years.
According to sources, the scheme, which helps students of the poorest SC households to complete their higher education, had faced uncertain times with the current fund-sharing formula and was shut down in many states.
Under the current formula, the Centre provides only funds above the ‘committed liability’, which in effect translates to about 11 per cent of the total cost. This led to many states ending the scheme. The issue was escalated to the Prime Minister’s Office and was discussed at a meeting with Modi, who finally gave a go-ahead to the changes.
The Cabinet has now approved a total investment of Rs 59,048 crore for the scheme, of which the central government will spend Rs 35,534 crore — around 60 per cent of the total. State governments will have to cover the remaining amount.
“This replaces the existing system and brings greater involvement of the central government in this scheme,” said the senior government official.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had recently criticised the Modi government over the issue. “In BJP/RSS vision of India, Adivasis and Dalits should not have access to education. Stopping scholarships for SC-ST students is their way of ends justifying their means,” he had tweeted.
In BJP/RSS vision of India, Adivasis and Dalits should not have access to education.
Stopping scholarships for SC-ST students is their way of ends justifying their means. pic.twitter.com/rnh31gZdmf
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) November 29, 2020
An old scheme
The post-Matric scholarship scheme for Scheduled Caste students has been in existence since 1944 and has helped students to pursue any post-Matric course starting from class 11 onwards, with the government meeting the cost of education.
“Due to this scheme, the Gross Enrolment Ratio (higher education) among the SCs has increased from six per cent in 2002-03 to 23 per cent in 2018-19,” the official quoted above said. “The government is committed to giving a big push and further impetus to this effort so that the GER (higher education) would reach national standards within the five-year period.”
Apart from the funding, the Cabinet has approved a number of revisions to the existing scheme. For instance, a campaign will be launched to enroll students from the poorest households passing Class 10, in the higher education courses of their choice.
It is estimated that 1.36 crore poorest students, who are currently not continuing their education beyond Class 10 would be brought into the higher education system in the next 5 years, the official added.
In addition to this, the scheme will be run on an online platform with cyber security measures that would assure transparency, accountability, efficiency, and timely delivery of the assistance without any delays.
“The states will undertake fool-proof verification of the eligibility, caste status, Aadhaar identification and bank account details on the online portal,” said a second senior government official. “Transfer of financial assistance to the students under the scheme will be on DBT mode, and preferably using the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System.”
“Outcomes of the scheme will be evaluated through conduct of social audits, annual third party evaluation, and half-yearly self-audited reports from each institution,” the official added.