Aadhaar is a unique identification number which aims at ‘easing’ out service delivery in India. However the unregulated implementation has produced a series of unfortunate events, making the ‘welfare’ policy a nightmare for many. From SIM cards being damaged to privacy being repeatedly encroached, the year-old policy has come with some unforeseen consequences – one of them being prolonged hunger and in some cases even death. Food is everyone’s basic right but the policy framework of the country seems to take that away from people.

In February 2017, the Central government under its Food Security law, issued an order stating that Aadhaar shall be compulsory to avail subsidised food grains from local ration shops, aiming to eradicate fake ration cards in the country. However, after receiving a major backlash from ration card holders as well as civil rights groups, the Central government decided to roll back the order. Despite that, states like Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Haryana, have made Aadhaar mandatory to receive ration at government-run PDS (Public Distribution System) shops leading up to increased level of corruption, mass starvation, and untimely deaths.

Death and Denials

The incident that sent shivers across the masses was the death of an 11-year-old girl in Jharkhand’s Simdega district who died of starvation, months after her family’s ration card got cancelled as it was not linked to Aadhaar. With unavailability of school’s mid-day meals, the girl stayed hungry for eight days straight before she died.

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Few days later, another case came to light in Gokarna (Karnataka) where three Dalit brothers died of starvation after their family was denied ration card for six long months. As claimed by a fact-finding report, they were not allowed access to food because the brothers did not have Aadhaar, making them lawfully non-eligible to avail life’s basic necessity.

having made Aadhaar mandatory to receive ration at government-run PDS shops has led to increased level of corruption, mass starvation, and untimely deaths.

Up in north, Aadhaar costed lives of two more women in different districts of Jharkhand in the same year with no significant coverage in the mainstream media. While a 67 year old lady died of prolonged hunger in Jharkhand’s Garhwa district, Lukhi Murmu, 30 year old woman died of undernutrition in Dhawadangal village in Pakur district (Jharkhand). The activists working in the area reported that the Aadhaar enabled point-of-sale machine at a local shop failed to authenticate her biometrics, hence cancelling her eligibility to get ration and sustain herself.

Similarly, in an official letter sent to Mumbai’s Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis, it was revealed that around 10 lakh people in Maharashtra were suffering because they were forced to link their ration cards with Aadhaar to avail benefits. This came out in consonance with the SC ruling dismissing the compulsion to link Aadhaar with ration.

Apart from death reports and enormous cases of denials, the State of Aadhaar Report 2017-18 released in May, revealed that a total of 20 lakh people were denied ration in the span of one and half years, highlighting how the unavailability of ration has contributed to the exclusion of underprivileged communities from the Public Distribution System.

Technical and Administrative Glitches

The comprehensive report covering different parts of the country highlights the technical and administrative failures collectively affecting the situation bearing no visible signs of respite.

As far as the technical part is concerned, the recurrent issue (as per the report) has been of the issue of biometric authentication failures. Similar to Lakhmi Murmu’s case in Jharkhand, about 1.2 % of all PDS beneficiaries face exclusion due to authentication failures. It is noteworthy that the data is much higher than revealed by UIDAI in their self-conducted report. Electricity and internet related issues is a yet another glitch adding to the situation.

The administrative issue is another factor contributing to the violation of an individual’s right to access to food. State governments of Jharkhand, Haryana, Gujarat and Haryana did not take cognizance of the centre’s directive to eradicate the compulsion of Aadhaar and formulated their own regulations to continue with the practice.

For instance, the Karnataka state government passed a bill called ‘The Karnataka Aadhaar (Targeted delivery of Financial and other subsidies, benefits and services) Bill, 2018 where section 3 states- “The state government or any agency of the state government, for the purpose of establishing an identity of an individual as a condition for receipt of a subsidy, require that such individual undergo authentication or furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar number”. The intervention was majorly criticised by the local activists and ration card holders.

the State of Aadhaar Report revealed that a total of 20 Lakh people were denied ration in the span of one and half years.

Several Dalit families in Karnataka came together to protest against the State government asking for adequate compensation. The food rights activist group Right to Food, pointed out that the apathy of the local officials was part of a larger systemic problem which requires immediate solution. The campaigners organised protests, documented reports, and filed around 300 affidavits to the Supreme Court in order to resolve the issue and prevent further cases of undernutrition and death.

Further Exclusion

A series of reports on Aadhaar related death in Ranchi (Jharkhand) compelled the scholars and food right activists to conduct extensive survey to assess the implementation of the Aadhaar authenticated biometric system under the food security law. Well known economist, Jean Dreze, spoke about how the system further pushes people to the margins and paves way for new kinds of corrupt practices.

In an interview with catchnews website, he says, “One major problem with the system is the exclusion of a significant minority of people for whom the system does not work. In Ranchi district, more than 10% of card holders are still unable to buy their monthly rations, according to the Jharkhand government’s own website. Further, the people who are excluded come from the most vulnerable section of the population, for whom the Public Distribution System is a critical lifeline.”

Moreover, he throws light on how private dealers continue to make money from the cardholders, pretty much as before. Besides, the system proves to be an absolute waste of time even for those who are able to use it, especially in areas with bad network and poor connectivity.

Conclusion

The linkage of Aadhaar with ration cards aimed at eradicating bogus ration card holders to further increase food based subsidies for underprivileged section of the society. However, the system not just ‘eased out’ corruption but further excluded people from availing life’s basic necessities. The bad policy implementation also took lives of many and continues to force people to go without food for several days.

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As per the legal experts, the State government must comply with the SC ruling and remove all kinds of Aadhaar related compulsion in case of PDS. In case where the practice is still on, the local officials needs to ensure that an easy, accessible and hassle-free infrastructure are installed to prevent any further damage because food is a basic right and everyone is rightfully entitled to it. The fact that many people have lost their lives because of a flawed welfare scheme is absolutely unfortunate.


Featured Image Source: New Indian Express

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