The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered an FIR in connection with an alleged minority scholarship scam worth Rs 144.33 crore.
The amount of the scam, which took place from 2017-18 to 2021-22, amounted to Rs 144.33 crore and involved 830 institutes where fake beneficiaries were identified during the investigation.
The CBI had received a complaint regarding this from the Ministry of Minority Affairs, after Minority Affairs Minister Smriti Irani drew the agency's attention to this issue in July this year.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs has implemented three scholarship schemes -- pre-matric scholarships, post-matric scholarships, and merit-cum-means -- for students from six minority communities - Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Parsis.
These scholarships are provided to the minority students studying in more than 1.8 lakh institutions. Over the last five years ending in 2021-22, an average of 65 lakh students received scholarships annually.
The Ministry schemes are part of a Centre Sector Scheme (CSS), with 100 per cent funds directly disbursed to the students through the direct benefit transfer (DBT) mode via the Public Financial Management System (PFMS) by the Central government.
"Considering the various reports of embezzlement of funds under the scholarship schemes, the Ministry engaged the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) to conduct a third party evaluation of the schemes. Additionally, the Ministry carried out evaluations through the National Scholarship Portal by flagging doubtful institutions/applicants.
"A total of 1,572 institutes were selected for evaluation based on red flags generated on NSP. Out of these, 830 institutions across 21 states were found to be either non-operational, fake, or partially fake," stated the Ministry letter.
The Ministry estimated the approximate loss to the exchequer by calculating financial implications from 2017-18 to 2021-22 for the identified fake institutes. The estimated loss stood at Rs 144.33 crore for these 830 institutes.
"The loss could only be calculated for the period during which the Ministry possessed clean digitised data on the National Scholarship Portal (NSP). Applicants from these institutions may have also received scholarships for years preceding 2017-18," the letter added.
The Ministry provided the CBI with several documents related to the case.
The first document was a self-contained note providing details of findings against 830 institutions, including the modus operandi adopted by unscrupulous elements, and an estimated loss of Rs 144.33 crore for the years 2017-18 to 2021-22.
The second document was a report from the monitoring and evaluation study of NCAER.
The third document contained a list of 830 institutes along with application details and information about officers who approved the applications at the institute and district levels.
The fourth document included a copy of the standard operating procedure (SOP) of the National Scholarship Portal for scholarship approvals.
"The evaluation of data from 1572 institutions resulted in an approximate loss of Rs 144 crore. The Ministry has provided scholarships to students from more than 1.80 lakh institutions, indicating that the actual loss to the government could be much higher.
"This level of fraudulence would not have been possible without collusion between institutions, applicants, institute nodal officers, district nodal officers, and bank officials, as scholarship amounts are directly credited to beneficiaries' bank accounts. A comprehensive investigation by the premier investigative agency is necessary to examine all involved institutions and individuals who have fraudulently claimed scholarships," the letter stated.