As the Centre and State continue to play the blame game, it is the students who suffer yet again.
Just last week, Shri Andal Alagar College of Engineering in Mamandur, Chennai, prohibited its students – belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes – from entering the examination hall for 30 minutes as a form of punishment. The ‘punishment’ was for their fees not being paid.
Initially, the college authorities denied these allegations; but later agreed that students have often been pulled up for failing to pay their fees, and that they would look into the matter.
Interestingly, however, the students were in no way responsible or expected to pay the fees, as the amount is supposed to be paid directly by the government to the college, under the SC/ST Post Matriculation Scholarship – a centrally sponsored scholarship scheme for the educational empowerment of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students.
But, the state government of Tamil Nadu has not released funds for the Post-Matric Scholarships since June 2017, stating that it was unable to do so because the central government had failed to release its own share of grants to the states for these scholarships.
The state is not lying in its claim about the central government’s tardiness. A report by the Indian Express, dated February 26 2018 corroborates that the central government has indeed, not released PMS Scheme funds for SC students.
The report also states that, according to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the central government is yet to pay up Rs. 7032 crore; while the central government cited inadequate allocations as the excuse for its failure to meet the financial demands of the much needed scheme.
Furthermore, these delays by the Centre in sending funds to the states is not new, and goes as far back as 2015, when the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu had to write a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting his personal intervention to ensure the immediate release of funds for the scholarships. Following this, the Centre released only Rs. 567.34 crore, still leaving a balance of Rs. 1549.76 crore.
Additionally, fiscal matters are not the only area where State(s) and Centre find it difficult to cooperate; administrative disagreements regarding these scholarships show their ugly heads too.
Earlier this year, the Union Ministry Of Social Justice and Empowerment revised and amended the guidelines for the Post-Matric Scholarship for SC students, drawing a negative reaction from the states and affecting around 4 lakh students solely in the state of Tamil Nadu. The revised guidelines say that, “The fees claimed against management quota seats, spot admission seat in any Institution/University will not be reimbursed,” News Click reported.
According to a report by The Times of India, Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister K. Palaniswami also sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi stating that non-reimbursement of fees for management quota seats under the new guidelines “will create a huge setback in achieving the goal of social equity and social justice as it will deny opportunities to the poor SC/ST students in the fields of higher and technical education.”
This is a huge cause for concern because government colleges do not have enough capacity to accommodate all higher education aspirants, driving many students towards seeking admissions in private colleges and universities, which are relatively more expensive. Also, many students are unable to make it into these colleges through the highly competitive merit list, and therefore, rely on the management quota for admissions.
The latest amendment in the guidelines would deprive many students of an opportunity to continue with their education, especially those who are unable to afford expensive tuition fees. Opposition against the amendment also came from the state of Punjab.
There were disagreements regarding the distribution of percentage of fiscal liabilities between the State and the Centre as well.
Despite its disagreements, the Tamil Nadu Adi Dravida Welfare Department, which is responsible for the handling of the PMS scheme in the state, removed SC/ST students, who joined educational institutes through management quota, from obtaining the benefits of the scheme.
However, confusion arose later regarding the terminologies and interpretations of the latest guideline, prompting the Secretary to the State Adi Dravida Welfare department to write to the Centre for clarification.
While the State and Centre bicker about the liabilities and terminologies, the education of many SC/ST students stands on tumultuous ground, facing uncertainties, making them innocent victims of the tug-of-war between these two fronts.