SC students hit in Punjab as govt’s fee waiver scheme for higher education in doldrums

SC students hit in Punjab as govt’s fee waiver scheme for higher education in doldrums

SC students hit in Punjab as govt’s fee waiver scheme for higher education in doldrums

Punjab: Since the 2017-18 session, Dalit students in Punjab haven’t been able to seek benefits under a centrally sponsored scheme, forcing many students to drop out.

According to the Post Matric Scholarship Scheme for Scheduled Castes, the government is supposed to waive 100% of the tuition fees of Dalit students, but the intended benefits have not reached the eligible beneficiaries since the Centre put the maximum burden to fund the scheme on state governments. Apart from it, there is a direct payment of monthly maintenance charges, Rs 1,200 for hostellers and Rs 550 for day scholars. 

Punjab is already battling fund crunch and couldn’t manage the scheme’s financial burden as the fee waiver bill of the Punjab private and government institutions crossed over Rs 1,850 crore for imparting free education to approximately 2.5 lakh beneficiaries in the last four years. 

Rashpinder Jimmy, a member of Punjabi University student union, said the public-funded universities and government institutions are still not denying fee waiver to the SC students, but the situation is not the same in private institutions. 

He alleged that a number of private colleges have denied fee waivers to Dalit students despite their eligibility under the scheme.

One such student Gurvinder Singh from Ferozpur, who had enrolled in a local private college in the Bachelors of Science course in the 2017-18 session, said that despite eligibility, the college didn’t waive off his tuition fee. 

He had to do jobs to earn his tuition fee since his father being a daily wage labourer couldn’t afford his fee, he added.

Surinder Singh from Dhuri town in Sangrur district stated that he got the fee waiver during his diploma in electronics from a private college in Sangrur between 2014-2016, but he didn’t get a similar waiver to pursue further studies as the college authorities said that they are not getting funds from the state government. 

Parasdeep Namol, a final year student of Bachelor in Arts from the government college in Sangrur, said that although his annual tuition fee was not charged, the college continues to charge exorbitant parent-teacher association funds on regular basis. Then, there has been no reimbursement of the maintenance charges despite the state government’s commitment under the scheme, he added. 

Gurvinder Bhagat, press secretary, Punjab radical students union, told 101Reporters that there is a big struggle even to apply for the scheme. 

He explained that while students have to obtain an income certificate, the officials take weeks for the same. Many students weren’t able to procure an income certificate in time owing to which they could not be enrolled under the scheme, he pointed out.

He added that there are several students, whom he knows, who were forced to drop their education at private colleges since they stopped this scheme. 

Centre-state tussle 

The scheme has been considered a great social equaliser, helping SC students to get higher education and then secure jobs in the private and public sector, experts say.  

As per the 2011 census, Punjab has the highest percentage of SC population among all the states of the country. As far as the literacy rate is concerned, the literacy rate of 65% for SCs in Punjab is lower than the state's literacy rate of 76%. 

Former registrar of Patiala-based Punjabi University, Manjit Singh Nijjar, who retired on July 5, told 101Reporters that the scheme ran smoothly till the 2016-17 academic session since maximum funding for the scheme was centrally sponsored. However, he pointed out, the problem began when the Centre made revisions in the funding pattern in 2017 under which the maximum part of the financial burden was put on state governments. 

He said Punjabi university and its 11 constituent colleges gave admission to approximately 20,000 students during the last four years but hasn’t received in return from the state government despite spending Rs 67 crore. 

The state government must release funds under the scheme since the state social welfare department has verified the beneficiaries, he said. 

In 2019, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment proposed a new fund-sharing pattern under which the Centre would bear 60% and the state governments would bear 40% of the scheme‘s financial burden.

However, Punjab is stuck to its demand to the restoration of old funding pattern as indicated in Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s official statement in which he rejected the Centre's proposed funding sharing pattern as inadequate and demanded the restoration of the old funding pattern, under which states had to finance about 10% only (about Rs 75 crore per annum) while 90% responsibility was upon on the central government.

Earlier this year, the state submitted a blueprint to the Centre seeking funds as per old fund sharing pattern but the Centre has not responded positively so far. There is also no approval to social justice’s ministry’s proposed funding at 60:40 ratio too, said sources in the state government. 

The Centre in March this year released Rs 309 crore to Punjab against the pending dues till 2016-17 session before the revision of its rules. However, it’s grossly insufficient against the state's mammoth arrears.  

According to Hindustan Times, Kirpa Shankar Saroj, additional chief secretary (social justice, empowerment and minorities), stated that it’s not possible for the state government to clear all the arrears from its resources. “It is primarily a central scheme and therefore we have taken up the issue with the central department for settlement of payments,” he said. 

Speaking to 101Reporters, Devinder Singh, director, department of social justice, empowerment and minorities, stated that they have written to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment numerous times, but they won’t budge from the 2017 guidelines.  

He said the ministry has fixed the state's committed liability of Rs 780 crore per annum, which was the total annual expenditure spent under the scheme for the 2016-17 session.  

He said that the Centre will pay them if the annual expenditure of the scheme crosses Rs 780 crore. But the entire execution of the bill would come under the state government as the annual bill is usually Rs 600-700 crore.

Private institutes likely to discontinue scheme for next session

As the state government isn’t committing to anything to clear the present arrears and the Centre’s proposed fund share pattern is not decided, the prevailing situation is likely to snowball further in the coming admission session, experts say.

Rajinder Singh Dhanoa, secretary of Joint Action Committee, an association of 1,650 private colleges, stated that there are chances that unaided colleges might discontinue this scheme from the 2020-21 session, unless the state government releases pending dues.

There were still engineering, management colleges that were imparting free education to the beneficiaries despite a rising backlog of dues, he added. However, things have reached a stage where our existing finances have made it difficult to continue giving them free education when neither the state nor the Centre is paying us, commented Dhanoa. 

He mentioned that in the Bachelor of Education, Industrial Training Institutes and Elementary Teacher Training courses, the state government has already capped the fees and it’s impacting a number of Dalit students. 

A rough estimate released to media on July 5 by Punjab Unaided Colleges Association (PUCA) & Federation of Self-Financed Technical Institutions (FSFTI) revealed that the state government owes a Rs 1,850 crore to educational institutions, both government and private, since the 2016-17 academic session. It includes Rs 415 crore for 2016-17 sessions, Rs 567 crore for 2017-18; Rs 437 crore for 2018-19 and 2019-20 session. 

Dr Anshu Kataria, president of the PUCA & FSFTI, urged the Centre and Punjab government to release the dues to the educational institutions. He pointed out that states like Maharashtra and Rajasthan have already paid the dues under the scheme despite the Centre’s revised funding sharing pattern. 

Many students have completed their studies and colleges are still waiting for their dues from the Punjab government, he added.

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