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Home > 2024 > Whither Higher Education of Scheduled Castes in Kerala | Shaju V. (...)

Mainstream, VOL 62 No 13, March 30, 2024

Whither Higher Education of Scheduled Castes in Kerala | Shaju V. Joseph

Friday 29 March 2024



This paper examines certain very recent developments going to become detrimental to the educational advancement of the Scheduled Caste communities in Kerala and in India as well. The reference here is to the operations of e-grant system and the adverse conditions laid down in the “Guidelines for Post-matric Scholarships to the Students Belonging to Scheduled Castes for Studies in India (2020 – 21 to 2025-26) or the Scheme of Post-Matric Scholarship for the Scheduled Castes for Studies in India, in short PMSSS published in March 2021 by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India (GoI). Though the PMSSS was published in March 2021 and became operational from the academic year 2021-22 onwards, it received wide attention now only because the adverse effects of the said scheme have started experiencing now by many. The reply furnished by the Minister for development of the SC, the ST and the Backward Classes (BC) to a few questions in the Kerala State Legislative Assembly on the 31st January 2024 triggered a new wave of discussion on the e-grants (The Proceedings of the Kerala State Legislative Assembly, 31/01/2024) .

But all such discussions are silent on the PMSSS, the real villain in this story of e-grant for the SCs. This is because many who responded on the question of e-grant did so only based on the delay experienced by students in receiving their grants. Even then they did not bother to look into the operations (working) of e-grant system. Hence, they got an incomplete picture of the problem. The Ambedkar Progressive Democratic Forum (APDF) made deeper explorations into the problem and it could gather complete understanding of the problem. The present paper, in this context, reviews the e-grant system and the PMSSS with a view to put forth certain suggestions or requests to make the e-grant system more effective.

The system of providing educational assistance to the Scheduled Castes (SC) and the Scheduled Tribes (ST) has been based on the Article 46 of the Constitution of India. This Article reads, “The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation" (The Constitution of India) This Article directs the State to protect the SCs and the STs from social injustice and exploitation of ALL forms, besides promoting their educational and economic interests. The Article does not specify the types of social injustice and forms of exploitation from which these communities require protection by the State. It is silent on any economic criterion while extending educational assistance to these communities. The declaration of the PMSSS is a part of the administrative duty of the GoI under te Article 46. And hence, it is constitutional. But the But the provisions included in the PMSSS stand against the spirit of constitution.

The present paper examines the PMSSS and the system of e-grant management against this backdrop and based on a few pieces of solid empirical and experiential data from Kerala. Thus, the scope of this paper is limited to Kerala.

What is E-grant

The management of educational assistance prevalent in Kerala ever since the adoption of the Constitution of India got digitised from the year 2009 onwards and thereafter it has become E-Grant or electronically administered or managed grant. It means that the grants are not new, but the system of administering the same became new with the support of modern technology. The entire process of grant administration from scrutiny of application for eligibility to the final transfer of grant amount has been made technology-supported and the grant management now takes place without using paper. This is a marvellous idea indeed. This system has been working with usual technical snag and administrative laxity. Still it worked for years and recently, a web-portal by name e-grantz 3.0 was opened. Now all scholarships or educational assistance has been managed through this web-portal which is maintained in Kerala jointly by the SC, the ST and the BC Development departments. It is evident from this fact that educational assistances are extended to these three groups of population in Kerala and disproves the general notion that e-grant is given in Kerala to the SC, the ST and the SCC (OEC) communities only. Educational assistances for pre-matric and post-matric courses are given on an average to 1, 800,000 students in Kerala in a year. Only 700, 000 students on an average among them belong to the SC, the ST and the SCC (OEC) population. Roughly only one third of the recipients of e-grant in Kerala belongs to these three scheduled communities. However, the SC, the SCC and the ST communities are more affected by the problems of malfunctioning of e-grant system. The paper will unveil the reasons for this too.

E-grant and the New Notification

The grant disbursal with the support of e-grantz 3.0 was going on with some amount of technical snag and enough quantity of administrative laxity. Then as insult to injury came the notification in March 2021 on the PMSSS from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The already weak e-grant portal was made the platform for executing the PMSSS. This decision has aggravated the problem of e-grant of the post-matric SC and the SCC (OEC) students. Fortunately, ST students have not been covered by the PMSSS and the OBC communities other than SCC (OEC) are not affected by the situation consequent to the introduction of the PMSSS.

It is very strange that the Kerala government had decided to implement the said scheme much before it released an official notification in Malayalam on this scheme. The government of Kerala (GoK) published a Malayalam (vernacular) version of the notification, that too after omitting certain key provisions [1], in January 2023 only, 22 months after the commencement of the scheme in Kerala. This happened after the repeated request of Ambedkar Progressive Democratic Forum (APDF) to that effect. The GoK is always very fast in implementing policies and rules that would hamper the interests of the Scheduled Communities. [2] We will examine below the changes introduced in the e-grant (educational assistances) management system with the commencement of the PMSSS in the context of Kerala.

The Salient Features of the PMSSS

1 . Courses of Study Eligible for Grant

The PMSSS provides an indicative list of courses eligible for grant (Para 3.a to 3.c, p.3). The note on page 3 of the PMSSS states “ … States/UTs may add courses as per laid down standard in the State/UT”. Government of Kerala (GoK) has recognised 37 courses or programmes of study from Higher Secondary (Plus One) level onwards as eligible for grant. This number may change as per the decisions of the GoK. The complete list of the courses currently approved for grant along with the eligibility requirement for the same has been published in the official web-site of the Scheduled Caste Development Department (SCDD) of the GoK. This list includes traditional as well as new generation courses. But the distribution of students into various courses of study shows a lower level of participation of the students belonging to the Scheduled Communities in the new generation courses (replies received to the questions under the RTI Act from the SCDD and various universities in Kerala). This is a serious concern indeed; but it is a challenge on the demand side rather on the supply side of grants. Hence, the solution for this should be addresses at demand side.

2. Institutions eligible for Grant

Students undergoing studies in the above programmes in all types of educational institutions (government, private aided, private un-aided, autonomous, and self-financing) are eligible for e-grant. Even those who secure admissions in management quota in any of these institutions shall also receive grants subject to certain conditions. The distribution of students into institutions by management shows that most of the institutions offering new generation programmes of study were available in the autonomous and self-financing institutions (Reply received from the SCDD). Further, it has been found that he presence of the students belonging to scheduled communities is lower than their population share (Replies from a few universities in Kerala). It is clear from the foregoing narration that grant is not limited or denied to any one on the grounds of programmes of study and types of management of educational institutions.

3 . Eligibility for Grants

Successful completion with requisite percentage of marks in a qualifying programme of study, being a resident of the sates or the Union Territories (UTs), and belonging to a community recognised by the respective state or the UT governments for educational assistance or grant or scholarship have been the eligibility condition till March 2021 i.e., the date of publication of the PMSSS. Accordingly, a pass certificate in the courses which make qualified to the courses to be pursued and certificate of caste issued by a competent revenue officer used to be the essential documents to prove the eligibility.

But, the PMSSS introduced a critical change in the conditions for becoming eligible for grant by making criterion of annual household income to become eligible for grant. The paragraph 5.3 (p.5) of the PMSSS reads as “Scholarships will be paid to the students whose parents’/guardians’ income from all sources does not exceed Rs. 250, 000/- (Rupees Two lakh Fifty thousand only) during the last financial year...” This is the first instance of introducing economic criterion for educational assistance for Scheduled Communities in any part of India. The Article 46 of the Constitution of India cited above does not endorse the clause 5.3 of the PMSSS. Therefore, this clause is against the spirit of the Constitution of India.

The implication of this clause is different at the national level and in Kerala. The number prospective beneficiary household of post-matric scholarship at the national level and in Kerala would be reduced when the beneficiaries are filtered using this income criterion. The equivalent reduction in Kerala would be much higher because upto an estimated 60 per cent of the SC households will be out of coverage of the PMSSS as notified in March 2021. While a miniscule per cent of the SCs having government jobs and other regular employment would be kept out of the grant in other states of India, in Kerala besides such better off group, even those who depend on unskilled manual labour for living would also be out of the grant scheme because the latter group of households earn more than Rs. 850.00 as daily wage [3]. Hence, the future of the SC communities in Kerala is going to be bleaker because whatever modest progress these communities in Kerala has hitherto achieved is resulted by education and consequent government jobs and other regular employment.

The GoK bears the full amount of educational assistance of the students hailing from household with annual income more than Rs. 250, 000.00. The acute financial crisis being faced by the GoK makes it increasingly difficult for it to pay its share to the grants for SC students even as per the provisions of the PMSSS. That amount itself has become due as this paper examines in a later section. This amount of additional grant to those students not covered by the PMSSS adds to the burden of the GoK [4]. The arrears will get accumulated and finally the GoK would reach at a situation, sooner or later, to comply with the clause 5.3 of the PMSSS. This is an imminent threat.

4. Funding of the Scheme

The PMSSS is a centrally sponsored scheme which is being implemented by the sates.and the UTs. The scheme offers limited autonomy for the states in implementing it. As per the guidelines of the scheme, the share of the GoI shall be 60 per cent of the total amount of scholarship and the rest 40 per cent shall be the share of the GoK (or state and UT governments). The share of the GoI had been 50 per cent till the introduction the PMSSS and along with the introduction of this scheme the state governments lost their autonomy in implementing the post-matric scholarship schemes for the SC population. This has contributed to the delay in releasing scholarships to students, at least in Kerala, a point to which we shall return later in this paper. The share of the GoI shall directly be remitted to the students only after 15 days of remittance of the share of the GoK (or states and the UTs) to the bank accounts of the students. The schedule of remittance of shares of both the GoI and the GoK (or the states and the UTs) has been given in para 11. 3 (P. 11-12) of the guidelines of the PMSSS. The non-compliance of the states and the UTs with the schedule given on the page 12 of the guidelines shall cause either delay in releasing the scholarship to students in time or in the complete denial of scholarship to them. Students shall be victimised for the failure of GoK (or the states and UTs). This is what is happening now in Kerala. Consequently, Kerala shall lose equivalent central share under this scholarship scheme. Thus, the failure of the GoK has led to shortfall in central assistance that is due for it.

5. Release of Scholarship to Students

The PMSSS proposes one time [5] release of scholarship (both academic allowances and compulsorily non-refundable fees) to students directly as part of Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system in four stages (not four instalments) depending on the receipt of applications. This schedule of release of scholarship amount has been given on page 12 of the guidelines. If everything goes smoothly as envisaged in the guidelines, the release of scholarship shall be hassle-free.

However, because of the involvement of multiple actors (students, institutions, officers of the SCDD, the state finance department etc.) in releasing grants delay or non-compliance with the schedule suggested in the guidelines has been a regular feature, at least in Kerala. The release of scholarship by both the Union and the state governments is proposed to be made through the public financial management system (PFMS) for schemes of the GoI, which can also be used for state schemes. The PFMS is a transaction-based system to provide real time utilization of funds released from consolidated fund of India. This enables the GoI to receive the information online about the release of scholarship to students by the GoK as soon as it happens and within 15 days of the receipt of such information, the GoI shall remit its share to students. But when asked under the Right to Information (RTI) Act for the details of the grant received by Kerala from the GoI as its share of scholarship as laid down in the PMSSS, the SCDD of Kerala informed that such information is not available with it. This is an indication of something wrong being happened with sharing of this crucial piece of information with the public. The data released by the GoK on the release of grants and the arrear of the same cannot be ascertained without such corroborating data. That apart, it would be difficult, without that piece of crucial information, to understand the quantum of fund lost from the GoI on account of the post-matric scholarship for SCs in Kerala.

6. Academic Allowances and Non-refundable Fees

The scheme defines non-refundable fees as the “fee payable for enrolment/registration, tuition, games, Union, Library, Magazine, Medical Examination and such other fees compulsorily payable by the scholar to the institution or University/Board, but does not include Refundable deposits like caution money, security deposits will however be excluded”. (para. 3.e, P. 3) For the purpose of this paper and for the sake of brevity, this is referred to as “fees payable by students”. Academic allowances means the money released to students for their personal expenses and includes lump-sum grant, monthly stipend or pocket money, and other reimbursable expenses that a student may be incurring towards an activity or programme that is part of curriculum. Academic allowances are given at different rates for different groups of programmes of study and the rates as well as the items may vary from state to state. This component is, for the purpose of this paper is named as amount admissible for the individual use of the student.

These two i.e., “Academic Allowances and Compulsorily Non-refundable Fees” constitute components of the scholarship. (para 7.1., P. 8). The upper limits of the amounts of academic allowances payable to students are given in para 7.1.ii (P.8) of the scheme. However, the scheme provides for two modification to these academic allowances. The first is that academic allowances shall be linked to the consumer price index (CPI) for industrial workers and increment shall be effected every year (para 7.3, P 9). That the state governments are free to top up academic allowances (para 7.4, P.9) is the second modification. The stated system of annual increment is indeed a welcoming aspect of the PMSSS because these scholarships used to be enhanced once in ten years or so. The GoK has never effected any increment to academic allowances since 2019, two years before the introduction of the PMSSS. While this increment was introduced in 2019, it was indicated that the next round of increment would be after five years in the notification published by the GoK. That means the increment of the academic allowances to the students belonging to the SC, the ST, and the SCC (OEC) is due in 2024. But the Kerala state budget for 2024-25 has not made any mention of that. The provision of Rs. 73 [6] crores made in the Kerala state budget for 2024-25 towards the share to central scheme of post-matric scholarship for SCs is inadequate to meet the normal annual requirements, leave alone the increment.

The aspect that has become most critical and causing difficulties to students in this regard is the decision to remit both academic allowances and fees directly to the bank account of the student. Prior to the PMSSS, the fees were directly paid by the government to the institutions or the University or the Board concerned, as the case may be. The problems associated with the non-payment of fess were never reported by students in those days. This change in the arrangement of disbursal of fees has put students into real troubles and trigger dropout.

7. Free-ship Card

This is a new arrangement introduced under the PMSSS to enable all eligible students to take admission in the institutions without pre-payment of any fees. This free-ship card shall be (expected to be) issued by the governments of states and the UTs (para. 8.1, P. 9). All eligible students can apply for free-ship card well before the declaration of the results of the qualifying examinations by providing information on the programme of study and the institutions proposed for study along with certain personal and family particulars. Along with the application for free-ship card, students shall submit (upload) an affidavit stating that they would submit all fees due to the institutions or the Board or the University within seven days of the receipt of their grant. The application for free-ship card is to be submitted online on the e-grantz portal along with the certificates to prove caste, income and address. It is not required to submit marksheets or pass certificates. Students themselves can download the free-ship card from the e-grantz portal. In case students get admission in another institution and or for another programme of study, they can edit those fields of information and generate a new free-ship card. The GoK has included this provision as clause G (P.4) of the Malayalam version [7] of the PMSSS published on 05/01/2023. The responses from the students indicate that they were ignorant of this provision.

Students are expected to register separately online for scholarship even though they hold free-ship cards. The advantage having free-ship card is that the holders such cards cannot be forced to make payment of fees. Even otherwise too, the GoK has issued order not to collect fee from SC students at the time of admission or at any time during the course of study. Though these options are available, most of the students in Kerala do not avail this facility owing to their ignorance. Educational institutions do not disclose this information to students because it is easy and convenient for them to collect fees from students at the time of admission. Once students get registered online for scholarship the rest of the process including the release of grants will be taken care of by the grant portal. The renewals will automatically be done by the portal. When this system fails, students will not be released their grants on time. The students failing to remit fees owing to the non-releasing of grant amounts are either disallowed to sit for their examinations or their transfer certificates are withheld. Many students drop out because this reason. The dropout rates of SC students in higher education in Kerala was nearly 21 per cent and the percentage of SC students who pass out in the higher secondary sector in Kerala was reported to be less than 60 [8] according to a sample survey held by an agency of the GoK in 2022. After implementing the PMSSS, increase in the dropout rates in higher education and decreased pass rate in higher secondary sector is expected in Kerala.

Lethargic and indifferent departments (SCDD, STDD, and BCDD) are either ignorant of the provisions in the PMSSS or least bothered about this measure because they are not directly hit by holding or non-holding of free-ship card. Students remain unguided and are kept in dark making them easy victims of the ploy of illegal fee collection of educational institutions. It is surprising to note that even the institutions managed by government also do the illegal act of fee collection from the SC students despite there prevails instructions from the directorate of collegiate education not to collect fee from these students.

8. Programme Approach

As the title of the PMSSS and the statement of its objective clearly indicate, this is a project with fixed duration of five years, i.e., from 2020-21 to 2025–26. “The objective of the scheme is to appreciably increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of SC students in higher education with a focus on those from the poorest [9] households, by providing financial assistance at post-matriculation or post-secondary stage to enable them to complete their education” (para 1.1, P.1) [10]. The PMSSS is meant for studies in India and for the resident Indian SCs only. Like any other project, the PMSSS has been proposed to address a very specific problem which is hinted in the objective stated above. That is lower GER of SCs at the post-matric (post-secondary) level of education of SCs in India is the problem that the PMSSS proposes to address.

This problem has been elaborated in para 6.1 on P. 6 of the guidelines. It reads “… still the GER of SCs in higher education (23.0%) lags behind the national average (27.0%). It is the endeavour of the Government to raise the GER of the SCs from 23% to the national average in the next five years. Similarly, the GER in Senior Secondary education of SCs has to increase from the current 56% to the national [11] average in the next five years”. This is the real statement of the objective of the PMSS.

This aspect of the PMSSS requires a little deeper exploration because this is connected with the very purpose of the PMSSS and this has the potential to undermine the overall progress hitherto achieved by SCs. The irony is that the PMSSS has been introduced with a stated purpose to improve the educational situation of SCs in India.

Serious and disastrous point of departure: Converting post-matric scholarship for SCs into a project is a serious as well as disastrous point of departure. Extending educational assistance to the SC and the ST communities in India is a continuous and ongoing effort. It is mandatory for any government and is supported by the Constitution of India. And such efforts should continue till social injustice and exploitation are removed from Indian society. There is no reference to a time frame in the Article 46 cited above. Hence, a programme (long-term) approach is implied in this Article. This aspect of project approach is the most dangerous one because the Article 46 cited above does not mean a project approach and nor does it insist on a programme approach. Therefore, what matters is the administrative will reflected in the decision of introducing the PMSSS. Here lies the real crux of the problem. The Article 46 being part of the directive principles of state policy, it can neither be challenged nor be enforced by the intervention of a court-of-law. The GoI has cleverly utilised this loophole to effect a change in the most important constitutional protection for the SCs. That too in a subtle manner and without the support of sufficient hard data to substantiate this decision.

Unconstitutional content and undemocratic process of introducing: If at all, the GoI had wished to effect a big shift in the manner of implementing protection scheme for the SCs and the STs, it should have notified the proposed move in advance and should have done so on the strength of hard data to prove that the time reached to introduce the proposed change. The PMSSS in draft form should have been circulated among the law making and programme implementing team within the government. [12] The GoI has not followed this democratic and objective manner in introducing the PMSSS. The GoI should stop implement the PMSSS because it is anti-constitutional, undemocratic and anti-Dalit as the foregoing narration clearly indicated.

Shifting from Caste based reservation and protection: The PMSSS is a sample dose for removing the caste criterion for social protection schemes first and then move on to reservation in employment and finally the political reservation. As long as the affected communities remain silent, the next weapons in the anvil of the rulers will make appearance one after another. Hence, this move has to be stopped immediately.

GER is only one indicator: GER is of course a reliable indicator of educational achievement. But it is not the only indicator of educational achievement and it has certain limitations too. It does not give the rate of those who complete higher education. When a student gets enrolled in Plus One class (starting point of higher education) the GER will be increased. It does not mean that this particular student has successfully completed higher education, not even Higher Secondary education. Similarly, GER does not help one to know if or not a student has got an employment. The GER will not help one to understand the equity aspect of enrolment, i.e., the enrolment rates with reference to the share of a particular community in population. GER will go on increasing for the SCs and general population as well. After five years, value of the GER of the SCs in India might become that of the current GER for the others. But by that time the latter will again go up leaving intact the gap in GER between the SCs and the other communities. Hence, measurement using net enrolment ratio (NER) will be more useful. This is fundamental theoretical flaw of the PMSSS.

Shaky premise: Low level of educational achievement reflected in (relative) lower rate of GER of SCs in India has been the premise on which the objective of the PMSSS or the entire PMSSS was built. But the PMSSS goes on to state, “ All the SC students with income of upto Rs 2.5 lakhs annum would be eligible under this scheme”. But the data quoted as the basis for this scheme is GER of the entire SCs in India. No baseline information on GER of the poorest SCs, as the PMSSS text puts in, as on the date of publication of the PMSSS has been presented in the scheme. Nor was such data available even now on any official web-site. Hence, the project expects a target for which baseline data is not available. This will lead to the wrong statement of results because any increase, if it do increase, in the GER from the current 23 per cent to say 27 per cent after five years would wrongly be attributed to the increase in the GER of the poorest SCs in India, whereas in reality, it will not be so.

Exclusion of a section: A section of SCs gets excluded from this scheme and that is unjustifiable. The PMSSS makes a statement that it is meant for the SC students presently attending studies. But the exclusion of a section of SCs on the basis of income contradicts that statement. All SC students hailing from families with an annual income above Rs. 250, 000.00 are denied scholarships after their getting admitted to some programme of study and while they are at studies. For example, a student got admitted to the first year of MBBS in the academic 2020–21 and who continue with studies in 2021–22 would cease to receive his or her grant without prior intimation. There was no discussion on this subject in the text of the PMSSS nor did the GoI give advance information on this aspect of the PMSSS. This move of the GoI is undemocratic and unjust. Besides, it consciously bring economic criterion to the eligibility for this scheme for SCs. This is violation of the fundamental ideas of reservation and that of the basic principles of social protection of socially vulnerable groups

Measurement problems: As pointed out earlies, this scheme is based on unreal or non-existent baseline data. Unless comprehensive Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) is undertaken, there would not be available reliable end line data in 2025-26 when the project gets concluded. Wrong attribution of whatever progress happened (if it happens) in the case of the poorest SCs in India to the PMSSS will happen. Further, in states like Kerala, the SCs having annual income above Rs. 2.5 lakhs are given the post-matric scholarship with their own resources. This would definitely influence the end result and that would definitely be wrongly interpreted.

9. Non-transparent E-grantz Portal

There are certain serious concerns with the management of e-grantz 3.0 portal. There is no provision in this poral to know the amount received by each student from the GoK and the GoI. Similarly, delayed payment and the part payment, if any, cannot be found in this portal. The total demand of scholarship distributed by different programmes of study would have been very much useful. Some provisions for tracking drop outs are essential to know the negative implication of the PMSSS. It is doubtful whether the real coordination takes place among the persons managing the portal because there was always mis match with the data found on the portal and replies received from the three departments to the questions raised under the RTI Act. Further, even after students receiving alert that their grant has been transferred to their bank accounts, the grant in question did not reach these students. It has been found that the portal is not interactive. Editing and correcting the entries once posted is nearly impossible.

10. Roles of the State or UT Governments

As already mentioned somewhere above in this paper, state governments have limited autonomy in implementing this scheme. They have no say in the important provisions of the PMSSS such as economic criterion for eligibility, releasing of academic allowances and fees directly to students, converting this into a project etc. They have been assigned the responsibility of implementing the scheme, identifying the poorest SC students, holding awareness drive, sensitising as well as encouraging students at higher secondary to continue with studies, bring back students who drop out at higher secondary level, maintaining robust grant portal, exercising good surveillance of the implementation of the scheme etc. However, it is the experience of Kerala that none of these functions have been discharged by the GoK.

Stark Reality

Students Felt Like…

Feedbacks collected from the students of various institution constitute the source of this section on experiential information.

Students received no guidance on the PMSSS and the e-grant procedure from the institutions in which they are studying

Majority of the students depended on Akshaya Centre for enrolment and periodic checking of their web-page. These centres charge very high amount for their services, though the government has standardised the rates
Failure of web-site is an often shared experience of students
The time gap between the enrolment, approval and transfer of grants is too long, many students observed

Because there is long gaps between enrolment and transfer of grants, almost all students were forced to pay the entire fees in single instalment at the time of admission. Many students have shared the receipt issued by the educational institutions against the payment of fees.

A few students who presented to the educational institution copies of the relevant GOs on not collecting fees were exempted from payment of fees at the time of admission.

Those who did not remit the fee at the time of admission were pressed to make the payment before the commencement of semester examinations. This situation raised because it took more than six months to release the grant which endorses the fact that the payment schedule given on the page 12 of the PMSSS was not fully complied with by the GoK.

Nearly 20 per cent of applicants never received grant. But they continued to study. The students opined that they could not recall any instance of such students received grants. It was probable that such students paid for their expenses from own purse.

Very few students were aware of the facility of “Free-ship Card” and it was our (of Ambedkar Progressive Democratic Forum-APDF) effort that made it popular.

There existed no Grievance Redressal Office in any institution, though the PMSSS suggests to have one (GRO) in each institution

Students, especially the new admissions, have no idea of e-grant and their parents are ignorant too.

No institution undertook any awareness building drive on the PMSSS, reported all students with whom the author interacted. They all reported that it was from the APDF that they had come to know about the PMSSS.

A few students who approached the district offices of the SCDD reported that they had received no help from those offices.

Data on arrears of e-grant

The minster for the SC, the ST, and the BC development replied to a few question on e-grant arrear in the Kerala Legislative Assembly on 31-01-2024 (Proceedings of Kerala Legislative Assembly on 31-0-2024) that the arrears of e-grant for SC students as on the date was Rs. 122.16 crores and that for ST student was Rs. 16.53 crores. These amounts are due from the side of GoK. When the proportionate share (60 per cent for the SCs and 75 per cent for the STs) is added, the actual arrears will be Rs 305.4 crores for the SCs and Rs. 66.12 crores for the STs. When the forgone increment is added to this, it would be Rs. 424.51 crores for SCs and Rs. 91.91 for STs. The GoK lost Rs. 232.83 crores as the share of the GoI in this regard The total loss to the SC and the ST families was Rs. 516.42. This loss is simply because the mis management of the PMSSS by the GoK.

Data on Budget Allocation and Expenditure

The PMSSS was introduced in 2021–22. The GoK started in 2022-23 the practice of making separate provisions in its annual budget for the share to central scholarship under the PMSSS and for its own schemes for the education of SCs (Kerala State Budget Speech for the respective years). The educational assistance given to students with family income above Rs. 250, 000.00 and other specials schemes such as supply of educational equipment are met out of the provisions made under the head of own schemes. See the table below for budget allocation and expenditure on education for the SCs in Kerala for the last five years.

SC Post-matric Scholarship – Budget Allocation and Expenditure

Sources: Kerala state budget speeches for budget allocation and Kerala Economic review for the expenditure on the education of SCs. Contribution of GoI in the expenditure is estimated figures

This table must be read against the background information that the number of SC students received post-matric scholarship in these five years varied from 142861 to 181472 to and the mean value is 148300. That means there recorded very limited fluctuations in the number of SC students or the recipients of the post-matric scholarship.

The spending of Kerala on the post-matric scholarship in 2020–21, the year before introducing the PMSSS, was Rs. 168.14 crores. It is evident from the table that the separate provision for the share of the PMSSS was not made in the year 2021-22. The budget for 2023-24 made a provision of Rs. 65 crores (Kerala State Budget Speech 2023-24) towards the share of central schemes (PMSSS) while the expenditure under the same head had been Rs. 106. 93 crores in the previous year, i.e., 2022-23 (Kerala Economic Review 2023).This is evidently lower than the expenditure for the previous year. It is an indication of the inadequate preparation from the side of GoK. When asked for the copy of the annual demand for post-matric scholarship (a provision in the guidelines of the PMSSS), it was informed by the SCDD of Kerala that no such documents had been available with it.

The lowest ever provision for SC education was made in the year 2024-25 (Kerala State Budget Speech 2024-25). Provisions for own schemes in that year became ever lowest in the las five years. The share towards the PMSSS is Rs. 73 crores only. This provision is in the context of Rs. 122.16 crores remaining arrears in the payment of the post-matric scholarship for the SC students (Proceedings of Kerala State Legislative Assembly on 31-01-2024). There experienced steady decline in the budget share for SC education as a whole and the contribution towards share to the central schemes (PMSSS) in particular. We can find a corresponding declining trend in the case of the estimated [13] amount spent by the GoI for PMSSS in Kerala. That is quite logical because the spending of GoI shall always be proportional to the spending of GoK. One finds it difficult to understand the rational for making budget allocation and expenditure pattern in this regard. One has every chance to suspect, in the context of almost unchanging number of the recipients, that all students were not released full amounts of e-grant. Either the students dropout or their families falling into debt trap or both would be the consequent situation of this trend.

Suggestions and Requests

GoK should withdraw its notification on the PMSSS dated 05-01-2024 and publish a complete notification incorporating all 21 provisions of the original PMSSS notified by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in March 2021.

  1. Withdraw clause 5.3 which makes Rs. 250, 000.00 as the upper income limit of eligibility for the PMSSS.
  2. Revert to the system of payment of all fees as existed before the implementation of the PMSSS.
  3. The payment of scholarship to SCs should be given the first priority in expenditure by all governments, especially by the GoK. The GoK should take immediate steps to clear all due amounts and should strictly comply with the schedule of payment given on the page 12 of the PMSSS.
  4. The GoK has to enhance the provisions for the scholarships for SCs, STs, and SCC incorporating the provisions for increment as mentioned in the clause 7.3 on the page 9 of the PMSSS.
  5. The GoK has to make regular provisions in more rational manner and based on the demand for scholarships
  6. The GoK must develop annual action plan for the implementation of the PMSSS.
  7. After collecting the feedback of the end users take necessary measures to improve e-grant portal
  8. Ensure better coordination of the players involved in e-grant portal
  9. Upgrade the dash board of e-grant portal with more data collected from PFMS so that the public will know the amount of grant money released by the GoI and the GoK.
  10. Hold half-yearly review of the PMSSS involving representative of all stakeholders
  11. Make provisions to initiate criminal proceedings against those who violate the provisions of the PMSSS. Such institutions can be identified by the audit team of the department of Collegiate Education during their routine visits
  12. Appoint one Grievance Redressal Officer each in all educational institutions as suggested in the PMSSS, orient such officers to the PMSSS and activate them to provide support to all scholarship holders
  13. Make arrangement to create facilitation centres or equip the existing Akshaya Centres to extend support free of cost to all scholarship holders.
  14. All educational institutions should organise special awareness sessions on the PMSSS with the support of the relevant departments such as SC, ST, and BC development and Collegiate Education.
  15. Institute special and non-discriminatory arrangements to track the academic progress of scholarship holders and ensure their retention.


The PMSSS is a project of mixed qualities: retrogressive and progressive elements are incorporated in it. Free-ship Card, technologically advanced and IT based system, ease for operations, self-manageability for students, confidentiality and privacy of information, annual increment of academic allowances linked with CPI etc. are the important progressive elements of the PMSSS.

Converting the entire activity of educational assistance for SCs into a project, introducing economic criterion for exclusion, initiating implementation instantly (in the academic year 2021–22 immediately after the notification in March 2022), releasing compulsorily non-refundable fees along with academic allowances to the same account of students etc. are retrogressive elements.

The GoK initiated the project in a great haste, but without adequate preparation Not only that, the GoK is not fulfilling much of the expectations that the PMSSS has on it. This includes timely release of its share of 40 per cent of the post-matric scholarship besides other commitments like developing annual demand, preparing annual report, holding routine reviews, and submitting reports. The e-grantz 30 is poorly administered by the GoK. Neither students, nor the authorities of educational institutions, nor the officers of the departments concerned were sensitised to the project.

Thus, the inherent weakness of the PMSSS along with improper implementation of it by the GoK is threatening the educational progress of the SC communities in Kerala. The most disturbing is the criminal indifference of the GoK to this project.

Shaju V. Joseph,
General Secretary,
Ambedkar Progressive Democratic Forum (APDF)

[2The provisions thus omitted by Kerala are very important. Those included IT base, monitoring and surveillance approach, vital roles of the state governments in implementing the PMSSS. One can suspect political motive behind this omission.

[3But according to the data obtained from SCDD, the number of such students are in the range of 2500 to 3000 an year. Still this is a sword of Damocles that is hanging over the lives of the SCs in Kerala.

[4This is the case with all social welfare pensions in Kerala. To project its populist image, the successive governments increased the amount of social welfare pensions disregarding the share of the GoI. The GoK cannot find its own sources for the amount of pensions over and above the share of the GoI. The same situation will ensue in the case of the post-matric scholarships for SC students.

[5This commitment made in the PMSSS is doubtful of being practiced at least in Kerala. The evidence collected by the author with support of the Ambedkar Progressive Democratic Forum (APDF) and the Ambedkar Progressive Students Association (APSA) does support this view. Many SC students received only part payment of their scholarship amounts.

[6Based on the experience of the past five years, the amount required in this expenditure head would be moe than Rs. 150 crores at the existing rates of scholarships.

[7It is interesting to note that this version has omitted the clause 5.3 which talks about the income limit. Not only that a few other important provisions of the PMSSS have not been included in this.

[8This is based on the report of an unpublished report of a sample survey conducted by an agency associated with the GoK. Hence, the source is not included.

[9Emphasis added and not in the original text

[10This implies that the scholarship scheme for others shall be discontinued with once the PMSSS becomes operational. There is no information available on any other support scheme for others.

[11There is no reference in the text of PMSSS to the GER of SCs n the year 2021. The quoted figure of 56 per cent for all communities at the national level

[12This government is ill famous for introducing serious changes in extreme haste and without inviting public debate. This is one of the important traits of a fascist regime.

[13This estimation is based on the actual amount spend by the GoK and assuming that a corresponding share of 60 per cent would have been released by the GoI.

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