Eleven-year-old Santoshi Kumari died asking for rice on September 28, eight months after her family stopped getting food rations from the government because their ration card was not linked to their Aadhaar, the biometrics-based 12-digit unique identification number that the Centre wants all Indian residents to have.
The child’s death in Jharkhand’s Simdega district has elicited official responses that verge on denial.
Jharkhand’s food and civil supplies minister claimed to have nothing to do with an order passed by his own government that led to 11 lakh ration cards being cancelled because the cardholders had not furnished their Aadhaar numbers.
The Unique Identification Authority of India, the nodal agency that issues Aadhaar numbers and maintains its database that contains the fingerprints and iris scans of 116 crore Indian residents, said that the Aadhaar Act made it clear that no one will be denied food rations if they did not possess an Aadhaar number.
But this is exactly what is happening.
Countless reports by activists and journalists, including Scroll.in’s Identity Project series, have documented the disruption in India’s public distribution system on account of Aadhaar. Across states, the poor are struggling to authenticate themselves by scanning their fingerprints each time they go to the ration shop. In many cases, their fingerprints are too worn out to register on the fingerprint scanning machines. Often, the internet connection fails. The result is that they are unable to access the foodgrains they are legally entitled to under the National Food Security Act.
Among the worst hit are the most vulnerable and needy people – the elderly, in particular – who have either not been able to enrol in Aadhaar, or have failed to get their Aadhaar numbers linked to their rations cards, or who face trouble with fingerprint authentication.
In Jharkhand, the government’s website showed at least 10% of families were unable to buy their food rations, as Jean Drèze, an economist who is part of the Right to Food campaign, pointed out.
“That may not seem like a very large number, but in absolute terms, it translates into something like 2.5 million people in Jharkhand being deprived of their food rations,” he said.
Independent researchers and student volunteers who conducted a survey of Jharkhand’s public distribution system in July found many such people who have stopped getting food rations because of Aadhaar.
Here are 11 stories.
Olasi Hansda, a 75-year-old widow, lives alone in Durirta village. She has not been able to get her quota of subsidised foodgrains since January because she cannot walk, and hence cannot authenticate herself.
The fingerprints of Jainathram, a resident of Sosotoli village in Khunti district, are not legible on biometric scanners. Because of this, he has not received any foodgrains from the ration shop since September 2016.
Tilo Kumari, a single woman, is hard of hearing. She lives in Sosotoli village. Her fingerprints are not legible on biometric scanners. She has not received foodgrains since September 2016.
No one in Jahrina’s family has been able to get their fingerprints authenticated at the ration shop in their village in Godda district. Since the Aadhaar-enabled point of sale machine was installed in the ration shop they used a one-time password to get their food rations. However, in April and May, the one-time password did not work and they could not pick up any food rations for three months.
Only two members of Abdul Majid’s family of six have their Aadhaar numbers linked to the family’s ration cards. Residents of Basantray village in Godda district, they were unable to collect their grains for three months from March to May, as their biometric authentication failed each time. They finally received ration in June, but not for the previous three months. In their ration cards, however, there are entries for all three ration-less months. Aadhaar has not stopped corruption in the ration shop – activists say it has enhanced it.
Since March, Lusiya Kullu and her husband, who live in Belkuba village in Gumla district, have not been receiving foodgrains because their ration cards have not been linked to their Aadhaar numbers. They do not have any children or other family members. The ration dealer refuses to give them ration without Aadhaar. This, despite the fact that they have submitted photocopies of their Aadhaar card to the dealer several times.
Marothamay Murmu is a 75-year-old widow who lives with her son in Simra village in Sahibganj district. Their Aadhaar numbers have not been linked to their ration card and they have not been able to get foodgrains from the ration shop for eight months. They are surviving on the meagre harvests from their small parcel of land, but they may have to consider leasing it out.
Jubaida Ansari is a 70-year-old widow who now lives alone in Lochni village in Godda district. Earlier, her son made transactions at the ration shop, using his Aadhaar number and fingerprints. The first month after he moved out of home, she was able to buy rations using a one-time password. But over the past three months, the password option has not worked, leaving her without any food rations.
Rahil Dungdung is a widow living alone in Belkuba village in Gumla district. She holds an Antyodaya card – issued to the the poorest among the Below Poverty Line households – but has not received any food rations since November 2016. She has tried enrolling in Aadhaar several times, making trips to Simdega with all her documents, but each time she returned empty-handed. At present, she has no source of income and depends on minor forest produce for survival.
Jaymati Hansda’s name is missing from her family’s ration card. The only member whose name is listed on the card is her husband, Labeya Hansda, who works as a migrant worker in Mumbai. She has not been able to buy foodgrains at the ration shop in Durirta village in West Singhbhum for three months as Labeya Hansda has not been able to come home.
Birsi Devi and her daughter, both widows, live in Dubliya village in Kanke district. Their fingerprints do not work on the scanning machine. They have not received foodgrains from the ration shop for several months.
Compiled by Stuti Pachisia based on case studies collected by student volunteers in the course of a survey of the public distribution system in Jharkhand in July.