Jharkhand: Thousands Protest Against Denial Of Food In The Name Of Aadhaar

Poorbita Bagchi

December 14th, 2017

At the end of the month, when there is no food left at home, many of us order from outside. Why? Just because we can afford to do it. But what happens when your right to food is denied? What happens when your child or your wife dies because she did not have a grain of food for a lot of days?

Something similar has been happening in Jharkhand’s most impoverished villages. Many have been denied their monthly subsidised ration because the cards apparently have not been linked to their Aadhaar. Many had their name struck off from the Public Distribution System because their Aadhaar has not been linked to their ration card.

Ignored voices

The plight of the people of Jharkhand first came out when eleven-year-old Santoshi Kumari from Jharkhand’s Simdega district died of starvation on September 28. She died as she went without food for eight days. Koyli Devi, Santoshi’s mother said that the family’s ration card had been cancelled as it wasn’t linked to their Aadhaar. Thus, they were unable to procure food. Premani Kunwar, another woman became a victim of Aadhaar soon after that. 

This is not something out of place. There have been many such cases in Jharkhand. At least, there have been four reported deaths due to the same issue. Many people are going through similar deprivation in those villages as their Aadhaar has not been linked with their ration cards after the government’s directive in February making it mandatory which was later revoked but the dictate is still being obeyed. 

They look for a resolution

On December 8, thousands of people from remote villages reached Manika as they got to know that there was a public meeting related to Aadhaar issues. Right to Food is an informal network of organisations that fight for the basic right to food of the people. They organised the public hearing. In Jharkhand, 86% of all rural households are entitled to subsidised foodgrain under the Food Security Act. A survey has revealed that 133 ration cards have been cancelled in Latehar, Jharkhand’s poorest district, without any reason. 

They came one by one and reported their issues. Ramjit Ram, a 70-year-old visually impaired man said that he was not receiving the 30 kgs of entitled rice. The Public Distribution Card shows he is only entitled to kerosene.

Another person said that after the death of his wife, who was the Aadhaar holder, the ration for the other members had been denied. The reason being “death”, even though all the other people are alive. Suresh Shao, another person from Kope says that since the implementation of computers, he has been not been receiving his ration.

Chamayia Devi, from Latehar, complained that she was denied ration for two months even though she possessed a proper ration card.

A lot of people complained that some of the households are wrongly shown as high-income households. They are not entitled to grains anymore. Only subsidised kerosene is available for them. Many people came and complained that their ration had been stopped without any reason.

On December 13, they held a protest where thousands of villagers from Jharkhand participated. Not only did they talk about ration cards being denied, but they also spoke about the state of MNREGA work in the state and even how people are being deprived of their pension because of Aadhaar card linkage problems.  

Is it their fault?

These people are from villages, which are most underdeveloped villages in India. Most of the villages have little to almost no access to internet facility.

Aadhaar has been made mandatory in at least 80% of the ration shops in the state. It requires at least one member of the family to have their Aadhaar seeded with the ration card to get access to their ration. This is not an easy thing to do. It requires internet connectivity, a working point of sales machine, and successful fingerprint recognition. Although the provision of a one-time password is available, that also comes to no help at times.

Countless reports from journalists, activists have documented discrepancies in Jharkhand’s public distribution system on account of Aadhaar. The poor and helpless find it too difficult to give fingerprints at the ration shop. Sometimes the internet does not work. At times, their fingerprints are too worn out or feeble to be registered. With all these problems, the poor and needy are being denied foodgrains they are legally entitled to under the National Food Security Act.

The worst victims are old people. Because of their age, their fingerprints don’t get registered in the biometric scanners. Even if they do, they don’t match at times.

The Logical Indian Take  

Aadhaar is being forced down the throat of the Indian citizens under the shroud of welfare. It was introduced by the government for the protection of the poor and needy, but the most problems are faced by them. Activists and journalists are shocked and appalled that a person’s fundamental right to food is being denied because of draconian government policy. If the provisions are not in place to implement Aadhaar in such haste, then why make it mandatory and put so many people under distress? Isn’t the credibility of the government at stake?

A government is responsible for the welfare of the people of the country. What is frightening is that even after cases of death was brought in front of the public, such incidents keep on happening. What is a government without its people? What is the point of denying a person food, for so many months for something as trivial as Aadhaar? Are government policies more important than human lives?

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