OBC scholars ‘at receiving end’ as Modi govt scholarship scheme hit by arrears, ‘fund crunch’

Many say the delay has worsened since the NBCFDC took over.

WrittenBy:Pratyush Deep
A man tries to reach out for a degree hat through the narrow neck of an hourglass.
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The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had launched a scholarship scheme to help MPhil and PhD scholars from OBC groups in 2014. But there is an increasing delay in stipends, and students allege that complaints to the ministry have failed to solve the problem.

The National Fellowship for Other Backward Classes, or the NF-OBC, annually takes in 1,000 new scholars who have qualified the University Grants Commission’s Junior Research Fellowship. About 75 percent of these have to be from the social sciences background while the rest have to be science scholars. 

The stipends were supposed to be monthly and at par with UGC standards – the amount was increased to Rs 37,000 per month this year. 

But students say the backlog is piling up. 

On Thursday, a group of students told Newslaundry that they visited Social Justice Minister Virender Kumar Khatik’s office and were assured of action after they apprised officials of their problems. 


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Change of guard

The UGC was initially the nodal agency for NF-OBC but the National Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporations, or the NBCFDC, which operates under the ministry, took over in October last year under a “revised procedure”. And many say the arrears have grown worse since the change in guard. 

Gautam Padhan, a research scholar from Delhi University, claimed that he had not received the scholarship amount since April this year. “I cleared NEET in November 2022. But it took three months to get the scholarship approval letter. Then only in October this year, I received my scholarship for November to April 2022. There is no clarity about when I will get the scholarship for the rest of these months.”

“Whenever we ask NBCFDC, they say lack of funds is the reason for the delay…students are at the receiving end. How do they expect us to focus on our studies with all this economic and mental stress,” asked Anchita Bihari, a research scholar from Odisha’s SOU university.

According to a survey conducted Nayan Dhawal, a beneficiary of the NF-OBC scheme who claims to have repeatedly complained to the ministry and is a PhD scholar at the Jawaharlal University, nearly 70 percent of the 223 scholars at over 100 universities had allegedly faced delay in fund transfers for varying periods this year.

“When it was under UGC, there were delays of one-two months but  it used to be cleared with all pending arrears. Things have worsened ever since it has been disbursed through NBCFDC. After five or six months, we get the scholarship amount for only one month,” said Venkatesh Yadav, a research scholar in political science from Rajasthan’s Raj Rishi Bhartihari Matsya University, who has been a beneficiary under the NF-OBC scheme for nearly three years. 

The NF-OBC scheme has a five-year fellowship for students pursuing an integrated MPhil and PhD and a two-year fellowship for other programmes. 

‘Fund crunch’

An official at NBCFDC, who looks after the scheme, blamed the delay on “fund crunch”.

The official claimed that “we follow a quarterly process”. “Another reason is that the finance ministry has a rule that there cannot  be release of more than 25 percent of the total allocation of the funds for a scheme in the year in one installment. So demand is very high but we could not release above 25 percent of the fund allocated under the scheme for a year in one  installment,” the official said. “We follow a quarterly process. Once we receive claims from students, we send a demand to the ministry. The ministry then sends the fund to us for three months.”

In August, the social justice ministry had told Parliament that it spent Rs 51 crore, Rs 55 crore, Rs 33 crore and Rs 52 crore on the NF-OBC scholarship in 2022-23, 2021-22, 2020-21, and  2019-20, respectively. This year, up to the third quarter of 2023-24, it has spent Rs Rs 40.11 crore.

This amount, the official claimed, was less than the requirement as he said there are currently around 1,700 NF-OBC beneficiaries with stipends costing nearly Rs 8 crore every month. “We have sent a revised budget estimate to the ministry for the scheme and have got a positive response in this regard.”

Newslaundry reached out to the ministry of social justice and empowerment. This report will be updated if a response is received. 

Newslaundry also tried to reach out to Rajan Sehgal, the managing director of the NBCFDC, on his phone number. We were told to speak to officials managing the programme since he was in a “meeting”.

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