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The government on Wednesday announced an increase in funding for a scholarship scheme for students of the Scheduled Castes (SCs), particularly those from the economically weaker sections. The scheme is aimed at bringing more such students under the post-matric education fold.

The approved changes are in the share pattern of the centrally sponsored scheme, Post Matric Scholarship to Students Belonging to Scheduled Castes, or PMS-SC, under which the Union government will now provide 60% of the 59,000-crore scheme, or 35,534 crore. The states will provide the rest. The decision was taken at a meeting of the cabinet committee on economic affairs on Wednesday chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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The Union government has said that the change in funding pattern of the scheme will benefit more than 40 million SC students over the next five years. The move is also significant because the government estimates that nearly 13.6 million poor students who are not continuing education beyond Class X would be brought into the fold of the higher education system during the period.

“A historic decision has been taken wherein the sharing pattern will have the Centre providing 60% and the balance would be provided by the states. We used to pay 1,100 crore annually and now we will be giving almost five times more. This means that from this year, we will give the states 5,000 crore more in the form of scholarships for students," Thawarchand Gehlot, Union minister of social justice and empowerment, said at a press conference after the cabinet meeting.

“This will be in place for five years and every year there will be a 5% increase, which means that by the fifth year we will be giving 6,000 crore annually. Our aim is to try and bring in students from the poorest families, particularly those who have to drop out of school after their 10th standard," he added.

“Today’s Cabinet decision on post-matric scholarship will ensure greater education access to youngsters belonging to SC communities. Ensuring top quality and affordable education to our youth is an important focus area for our Government," Modi posted on Twitter on Wednesday evening.

Prior to this enhancement of the Centre’s share, a committed liability system was in place for the funding of this scheme.

The move is also politically significant not just because four key states, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal, are going to polls next year, but also as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had come under criticism from opposition parties, including the Congress, about the roll out of the scheme. Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi had attacked the government last month saying that it does not want students of the SCs and Scheduled Tribes (STs) to have access to education.

The government said its focus will be on timely payment of scholarship and it will continuously monitor its implementation through a framework of social audits, annual third-party evaluation, and half-yearly self-audited reports from institutions. “Transfer of financial assistance to the students under the scheme shall be on direct benefit transfer (DBT)mode and preferably using the Aadhaar-enabled payment system. Starting 2021-22, the central share (60%) in the scheme will be released via DBT to students according to a fixed schedule, after ensuring that the state government concerned has released its share," it added.

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