Central government approves Rs.59,000 crore for the Post Matric Scholarship scheme for Scheduled Caste students

Published : December 29, 2020 13:34 IST

The Post Matric Scholarship scheme is expected to benefit more than four crore Scheduled Caste students in the next five years. Photo: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

After four years of under-funding the Post Matric Scholarship (PMS) scheme, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, on December 23, approved an investment of Rs.59,000 crore for it. Pressure from the Dalit community apparently forced the Narendra Modi government to restore the scheme and the new funding is expected to benefit more than four crore Scheduled Caste students in the next five years.

Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power the scheme has received little to no funding, leading to fears that the separate PMS schemes for the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, the Other Backward Classes and minorities would be replaced with a single scheme with a budget of just Rs.7,000 crore.

“If the scholarship to pay their hostel fee is stopped, SC/ST students will be forced to stop their education. This is nothing but an effort to deny education to Shudras and the casteless Scheduled Castes, in accordance with Manusmriti,” said Thol Thirumavalavan, founder of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi.

According to the Manusmriti, the ancient divine code of Hindus, , education is the preserve of Brahmins. In a Hindu Rashtra that the BJP avowedly wants to establish, there would be no place for educated Shudras, proponents of the Hindu Rashtra have often reiterated, while burning copies of the Constitution which guarantees equal rights to all citizens.

The Central scheme, one of the largest in the country for Dalits and Adivasis, is a lifeline for lakhs of students from marginalised communities. It provides financial assistance of Rs.18,000 per annum to the poorest of the poor Scheduled Caste students, whose annual family income falls below Rs.2.50 lakh.

The scheme was introduced in 1943 by Dr B.R. Ambedkar when he was a Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council. It was devised as an open-ended scheme with the motive of bridging the socio-economic gap. The concept of open-endedness is one where the government is committed to provide whatever funds are required, even if it is in excess of the outlay in the Budget Estimate, and the additional outlay is then formalised in the Revised Estimate.

Until 2018, the Centre and the States used to share the responsibility of the funding in the ratio of 60:40 respectively under “committed liability”. The total expenditure incurred in the terminal year of the Five Year Plan under Centrally sponsored Schemes of Scholarships is the committed liability of the States/UTs for every year of the subsequent Five Year Plan. This means the States/UTs must fulfil this amount each year in order to receive further funding from the Centre. Using this, the Centre slowly transferred the burden of financial sharing on to the States with successive Five Year Plans.

By the end of the twelfth Five Year Plan in 2017, the Centre-State sharing on the scheme reached 10:90. With non-release of the funds from the Centre, many States, including Bihar, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Telangana and Uttarakhand, expressed their inability to continue implementing the scheme. The scheme nearly shut down in as many as 14 States.

But some States launched their own versions of the Dr B.R. Ambedkar Post Matric Scheduled Caste Scholarship Scheme. In Punjab, for instance, under the scheme Scheduled Caste students get a 100 per cent fee waiver. In Odisha, facing protests from the opposition and students, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced that there would be no change in the PMS scheme.

P.S. Krishnan, the relentless crusader of Dalit rights who passed away last year, was one of the many who kept pushing for the restoration of the scheme. Two years after the BJP came to power, Krishnan had written to the then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley pointing out the need to release arrears. He said the delay in timely disbursement of PMS to S.C. and S.T. post-matric students hampered the full achievement of the purpose of inclusive and fuller development of India’s human resources, for which this scheme was intended.

Beena Pallical of the National Confederation of Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) welcomed the announcement of the increase in funding and termed it a “great move”.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the NCDHR had earlier said: “States have not reimbursed the scholarship amounts to students since last two years after 2018-19 onwards and are attempting to fund this with their own resources. Many States have been requesting the MSJE [Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment] to release the pending due amount at the earliest. In this Pandemic year, stopping this scheme will however have serious impact on the career over 6 million students making them to drop out of education for a generation of SC/ST students. This will have irreversible impact on the SC/ST communities as a whole. We therefore demand that the Central Government continue this Post Matric Scholarship scheme with a 60:40 Centre State sharing allocating not less than Rs 10,000 crore to meet the current need to cover all eligible students in the country. We also demand that the this scheme be made an entitlement right to all eligible SC/ST students and make the disbursal in a timely manner with a strong grievance redressal mechanism.”

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