Rs 58 crore post-matric scholarship siphoned off in Odisha, finds CAG

It spotted lapses in implementation, deficiencies in scheme guidelines, lack of planning and irregularities in disbursement of funds.
Comptroller and Auditor General of India. (File photo | PTI)
Comptroller and Auditor General of India. (File photo | PTI)

BHUBANESWAR: After large-scale irregularities in scholarships disbursement in Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Punjab, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has now detected fraudulent payments to the tune of Rs 58.79 crore under the post-matric scholarship (PMS) scheme in Odisha.

The performance audit found fraudulent payments made between 2016-17 and 2020-21 by manipulating the direct benefit transfer (DBT) mechanism. It spotted lapses in implementation, deficiencies in scheme guidelines, lack of planning and irregularities in disbursement of funds. Apart from pointing to loopholes in the implementation of the PMS scheme leading to suspected fraudulent drawal of scholarships by ghost institutes, the audit found diversion of scholarships by institutes from the bank accounts of the students to accounts of the institutions.

As per the CAG report, scholarship funds of Rs 15.79 crore were granted to 5,185 beneficiaries from 15 non-existing/ineligible institutes in six sampled districts registered in PRERANA, an online portal for Odisha scholarships during 2016-20.

Even as the DBT is pitched as a major reform of the government to ensure timely delivery of welfare to the right beneficiaries, as many as 2,996 students of 22 sampled institutes in six districts were paid PMS amounting to Rs 7.36 crore during the 2017-21 period even after their discontinuance of the courses.

The audit found shortcomings in the identification of beneficiaries, deficient control measures in IT systems, failure in the seeding of Aadhaar numbers, duplication of beneficiaries and disbursement of funds in the name of dropped-out students.

An institute in Mayurbhanj district was successful in getting the scholarship funds credited to the bank accounts of discontinued students amounting to Rs 2.36 crore and subsequently, transferred the same to the institute’s bank account through suspected fraudulent means, the audit revealed.

It was also found that 11,880 students had been granted both PMS (Rs 6.91 crore) and Medhabruti (Rs 6.80 crore), contrary to the guidelines of both scholarship schemes. Although 56 nursing students of Jharsuguda, Kalahandi and Mayurbhanj districts got scholarships under the National Health Mission amounting to Rs 32.97 lakh during 2018-21, they were also paid PMS of Rs 35.18 lakh during the same period.

Similarly, 1,668 students who had pursued different courses at the same stage in four sampled districts had been granted PMS amounting to Rs 3.71 crore during 2017-20 due to a lack of validation controls in PRERANA software.

The audit observed that the institutes utilised documents of the students for siphoning off the scholarship amounts and district welfare officers the departments concerned had not exercised due diligence while disbursing PMS.

The CAG has recommended an investigation of reasons for suspected fraud in the payment of PMS and fixing of responsibility on the defaulting officials besides suitable action for recovery of the funds. The CAG report was tabled before the state assembly on Tuesday.

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