After long months of waiting, beneficiaries of the Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Scholarship Scheme (JKPMSS) finally heaved a small sigh of relief on December 16, 2020, with the release of a statement by the All India Council for Technical Education which said that out of Rs 50,000 owed to the students for this odd semester, Rs 20,000 would be released soon.
The statement says: “In order to support and empower students for completing online studies, it has been decided to release the instalment of Rs 20,000… The subsequent instalments shall be released once the students shall join physically at their respective institutions.”
While the announcement does brings some relief, the statement is still ambiguous, say a few students, as it doesn’t clarify whether the subsequent instalments would include the pending scholarship amount of the previous semester along with that of this semester. Secondly, students aren’t sure how they are supposed to travel to their respective colleges to get the remaining amount if they don’t have money.
“How are students going to travel physically when they don’t have any money for travel charges? What about those who are entirely dependent on scholarship money?” asked a JKPMSS beneficiary.
JKPMSS is a Government of India scheme applicable to students with domicile in Jammu and Kashmir whose parents’ annual income is less than Rs 8 lakh. The scholarship covers the college fee as well as the maintenance fee, which is generally processed within 45 working days. However, the beneficiaries had not received any information on their scholarship for this (odd) semester since June, 2020.
“Aishwarya Reddy from my college died by suicide due to the delay in another government scholarship scheme – INSPIRE. It has only been a few months since then, and now here we are – back in the same spot, asking for our own money,” said a JKPMSS student from Lady Shri Ram College, who lives in Anantnag district.
When LiveWire reached out to the director of JKPMSS Anand Kumar (before AICTE’s statement was released), he said that early this year, they had received orders from the ministry of education to only release the college fee and withhold the maintenance fee, which usually covers hostel and food services provided by colleges.
“Since students were not in hostel and weren’t using any college facilities, we got orders to only process the college fee which we have been doing. Now, when students are coming back to their colleges, we have written a letter to the ministry enquiring about the money that needs to be paid,” said Kumar, adding that only the ministry can decide the amount that is to be released.
Students, on the other hand, have argued that the maintenance charge isn’t only about hostel and food, and technically covers all extra expenses incurred in the process of availing education. For instance, a lot of students live in rented flats and PGs in and around their colleges.
“I don’t live in a hostel because my college doesn’t have one. I had been living in a rented flat with a roommate up until the lockdown but had to go back to Ganderbal after the prime minister announced the lockdown,” said a JKPMSS student from Ram Lal Anand (RLA) College, Delhi University.
According to him, his landlord forced him to pay a total rent of Rs 42,000 for the months he was away. “Shouldn’t the scheme cover the amount I paid my landlord? Just like me, most of the beneficiaries spend 70% of their scholarship money to pay for their accommodation. The logic given by the director is quite bizarre,” added the student. “How do I ask my landlord to wait for five-six months?”
Another beneficiary, who is in Kashmir and comes from a low-income family, hasn’t been able to travel back to Delhi because he hasn’t received the scholarship money. Besides, a lot of students have been trying to move out of the Valley because most districts continue to have 2G internet services which makes it almost impossible to attend online classes and appear for online examinations.
2G services in Kashmir
According to students, 95% of students living in different parts of India returned home as soon as the lockdown was announced. While those from the privileged class have had to buy special devices to avail broadband services to attend online classes, others had no choice but to rely on sluggish internet speed.
For the past couple of weeks, 2G services have also been suspended in lieu of the District Development Council elections in Kashmir.
“During the initial few months of the lockdown, I would WhatsApp my classmates to ask what had been taught in class. During that period, I somehow managed to attend seven or eight classes with the 2G services available to us,” said the RLA student from Ganderbal.
Later, he resumed classes when 4G services were restored in his district. “Most of my friends, especially those who live in the southern parts, continue to face a lot of difficulties while connecting, and now they have suspended 2G services too because of the elections,” he added.
In another case, a third-year student from Yashvantrao Chavan Institute of Science, Satara (Maharashtra), who has been living with her parents in Ladakh since March, hadn’t received any information about her scholarship for the past three months. “Since we don’t have good internet in my area, I have to text my friends to take notes. If they release the money, I will buy FTTH fibre and attend all the classes,” she said.
The student from LSR has had to also spend a lot of money for her online classes. “Since I’m a literature student, our teachers send us PDFs of novels and it isn’t possible to download them all. In college, we would go to the library, but here, we have had to spend extra on buying physical copies,” she said. “I also had to buy books for my MA entrance exams, which are costly.”
In short, students say they have had to spend even more during the pandemic – for hostel rent, laptops, internet services, books, and so on. Hence, the ministry’s logic behind withholding the maintenance fee has not gone down well.
No official statement
“If they were going to delay the process, they should have put up an official statement on the website. There is no information anywhere and our grievance letters are also not being answered properly,” said the student from LSR.
The scholarship, students say, carries the name of the prime minister himself, meaning such delays only serve to tarnish his image. “It has his name and withholding money like this will push a lot of the students to the margins, especially those who are entirely dependent on the scholarship money,” said the student from Ganderbal.
While the students understand that the country isn’t in a good economic condition at the moment, they argue that the burden shouldn’t fall on the students. “We all saw the unfortunate incident of a student taking her life because of a delay in the disbursal of her scholarship funds. I hope something like that doesn’t happen again,” said the RLA student.