The 7-year-old Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) scheme to give financial aid between Rs 15,000 and Rs 25,000 to students scoring above 80% marks in the SSC and HSC exams has led to civic officials and politicians crossing swords.
Bapu Karne, PMC Standing Committee Chairman
While civic officials insist that the scheme, which has seen its requirement burgeon to R15.3 crore this year, should be restricted only to needy students and not to help fund luxuries, politicians have attacked the PMC for trying to curtail a student-friendly scheme.
The financial aid scheme is, incidentally, the only scheme among 36 run by the corporation's Urban Community Development (UCD) department, which doesn't have an annual income limit barrier.
As a result, the beneficiaries of the scheme are consistently rising, with 9,500 students having applied for it after the board results were declared last year.
Most of these students are, however, still waiting for their cheques as it took time to arrange funds, say civic officials. The model code of conduct in view of the Lok Sabha elections also delayed the scheme and students have only recently begun receiving cheques through ward offices.
Started with a modest provision of Rs 2.3 crore in 2007-08, the scheme's requirement has reached Rs 15.3 crore this year. This, when the PMC's 2014-15 budget is already facing a deficit of Rs 225 crore.
'Where's the money?'
"The financial provision for the scheme is just Rs 7 crore in PMC's 2014-15 budget, which is not even half of the Rs 15.3 crore we are distributing currently. So, every year, the civic body has to transfer funds from other schemes to make sure that every student who applied gets the aid," Hanumant Nazirkar, in-charge, UCD told mid-day.
"My department runs 36 schemes and, except this one, every other scheme has an annual income limit. Most of the schemes have an income limit of R1 lakh per annum, which ensures that the funds reach to people who actually need it.
On the contrary in this financial aid scheme, our observation is that 80 per cent of the beneficiaries are not facing any financial crunch but are still are waiting for this amount as a reward from the PMC," he added.
PMC standing committee chairman Bapu Karne has recently made it clear that he will not entertain proposals for transfer of funds as the civic body is already facing financial crunch.
"Recently, one parent came to me demanding the Rs 15,000 cheque as his son had scored 83 per cent marks in SSC last year. He said he was in a hurry as he had already promised his son that he would give him an expensive smartphone after receiving the cheque from the PMC.
This shows that it is necessary to impose income limit to ensure crores of rupees get invested on needy students' education and not on others' luxuries," Karne said.
"The time has come to take a tough stand on the scheme. Ideally, it should only cover needy students, who require this aid to help them pursue higher education," he said
Asked what was stopping him, Karne said, "Many corporators are opposing any restrictions on the scheme. The administration even tabled a docket about the same last year, which had not passed in the general body meeting.
But, this year, we are going to restrict it. Hence we deliberately reserved only Rs 7 crore in this year's budget. If the changes we have proposed go through, this amount will be enough."
The deficit in the PMC's 2014-15 budget
Politicians, however, are in no mood to let the PMC restrict the scheme, which was introduced by Shiv Sena leader and former standing committee chairman Shyam Deshpande in 2007-08. "I had started the scheme to motivate students to score good marks in board exams. If the PMC is so concerned about the deficit, it should control its other expenses rather than impose any restrictions on this student-friendly scheme," Deshpande said. Maharashtra Navnirman Vidyarthee Sena (MNVS) city President Sudhir Dhawde, who has been consistently trying to ensure distribution of cheques for the scheme, said, "This is the only student-centric scheme of the PMC. So, if the civic body takes steps to restrict the scheme, MNVS will strongly oppose it."
'Need to impose limit'
An official from the Kothrud Ward office, which has recently begun distributing cheques to around 600 students, said, "It is true that most parents look at this financial aid just as a reward from the PMC to their children. Last week, a parent proudly told me that he had returned from abroad to collect the cheque so he could surprise his daughter. In such a situation, it is very necessary to impose the income limit."
The marks criteria for the scheme is 80 per cent for open category and 70 per cent for students belonging to other backward classes (OBC). Those who score above this in SSC get Rs 15,000 and those doing so in HSC get Rs 25,000