Jharkhand scholarship scam: Dhanbad FIRs pin the nexus, of principals, officials, mastermind

This is the nexus against which the first set of 11 FIRs have been filed in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad, following an investigation by The Indian Express into the illegal diversion of the Centre’s pre-Matric scholarship for poor minority students.

Two officials of the district welfare office whose job is to screen scholarship applications, a mastermind and his two associates, five school principals who have been accused of creating fake beneficiaries, a local advocate — and a mother of two who has gone missing.

This is the nexus against which the first set of 11 FIRs have been filed in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad, following an investigation by The Indian Express into the illegal diversion of the Centre’s pre-Matric scholarship for poor minority students.

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The FIRs state that the accused allegedly “lured innocent people” to become “fake beneficiaries”, “submitted fake KYC documents” at the welfare office and bypassed verification with help from officials to get schools registered on the National Scholarship Portal (NSP).

They name a woman, who has been identified as an agent in Dhanbad, as part of the nexus based in the state’s Chatra district with operations in Bihar as well.

The FIRs have been filed under IPC sections on cheating and forgery, including 420, and criminal conspiracy. No arrests have been made yet.

Nine people figure among the key accused: Vinod Paswan and Ajay Mandal, who are staffers in the District Welfare Office; Nilofar Parveen, an agent; Pratap Jaswar, Jharilal Mahato, Kalim Akhtar, Santosh Vishwakarma and Abdul Hamid, who are school owners or principals; and, Ghulam Musatafa, an advocate at the Dhanbad court.

The FIRs name Chatra resident Mohammad Sadiq as the alleged kingpin, and his associates Abul Faisal and Amjad. They also name 96 schools, including three investigated by The Indian Express in the district: Colonel Public School, Daffodils in Dumra and Indira Gandhi Memorial High School in Nawagarh.

Dhanbad was among the six districts in Jharkhand, apart from Ranchi, Latehar, Ramgarh, Lohardaga and Sahibganj, where The Indian Express found that a nexus colluded to dupe gullible parents and students, and set up fake beneficiaries, while genuine applicants were left out.

The Indian Express matched entries on the NSP with beneficiary bank accounts in the Public Finance Management System (PFMS) to find several cases of the scholarship being illegally diverted in Jharkhand and Bihar. It found that the scam also roped in schools from Punjab and Assam.

The FIRs in Dhanbad are based on a report submitted by a team, led by the ADM (Law and Order), which conducted a probe that followed up on the The Indian Express investigation.

They state that the local link is Parveen whose husband is in Saudi Arabia and who stays with their two children in Nichitpur Township, around 20 km from the city.

When The Indian Express visited Parveen’s two-bedroom apartment, neighbours said she had left with her children a few days ago. They said Parveen is in her 30s and used to host several visitors carrying laptops.

One of the neighbours, Pappu Khan, who identified himself as a family friend of the accused, said Parveen used to ask women in the locality for their Aadhaar cards and promised them help in getting “stipend money” from the government. He alleged that she “took commission after the amount received”. Parveen could not be contacted, and a relative said she had “left Jharkhand”.

The FIRs include a statement from Parveen, which was recorded in an inquiry report prepared by the ADM-led team, that reveals how the scam was carried out. “Sadiq, Fazal and Amzad used to get User IDs and passwords from many schools. Once the scholarship money was credited in fake accounts, Sadiq used to give cheques to many middlemen, school principals, etc.,” it states.

Apart from Sadiq’s role, it says Faisal allegedly handled the money for “field operations” that involved school authorities. Amzad is a computer operator, it says, and allegedly “made” KYC forms for applications and filled the forms on behalf of school authorities.

Under the scholarship, students from Class 1 to 5 receive Rs 1,000 per year, and students of Class 6 to 10 receive Rs 5,700 a year if they are day scholars or Rs 10,700 if they are in a hostel. Most of the corruption, The Indian Express found, is related to these last two categories.

According to Parveen’s statement, Sadiq allegedly claimed that “he had contacts in the district and state level”. It states that Parveen’s role was to submit copies of KYC documents at the Welfare office for verification after which school authorities would obtain User IDs and passwords and hand them over to Sadiq. “Sadiq operated in Ranchi, Sahibganj and Dhanbad in Jharkhand, and Aurangabad and Arrah in Bihar,” it states.

The FIRs detail the alleged role played by the other accused, as listed in the probe report:

*Ajay Mandal, computer operator, District Welfare Office: He allegedly registered schools on the NSP without the signature of District Welfare Officer Satyanand Dubey. Dubey told the probe team that at least 12 such registrations were done. Mandal’s phone was switched off and he could not be reached for comment.

* Vinod Paswan, official, District Welfare Office: He was in charge of scrutinising files, and was allegedly paid Rs 80,000 by Parveen and Sadiq. Paswan’s phone was switched off and he could not be reached for comment.

* Mohammad Harun, principal, Gyan Jyoti Academy: He allegedly paid Paswan Rs 30,000 to get schools registered on the NSP. Harun could not be reached for comment.

* Pratap Jaswar, principal, Genius Public School: He allegedly worked with Parveen and others to generate User IDs and passwords from schools and register fake beneficiaries. Jaswar could not be reached for comment.

* Ghulam Mustafa, advocate: He allegedly worked as a middleman along with Welfare officials. When contacted, Mustafa said: “I have no role to play in the scam.”

After The Indian Express published a series of reports on the scam, the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs, which administers this scholarship, decided to ask the CBI to investigate. Police in Bihar’s Gaya have also registered an FIR.

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