A day after Jharkhand’s Minister of Food and Public Distribution Saryu Rai distanced himself from his government’s order to cancel ration cards that have not been linked to Aadhaar, Right to Food activists said his statement showed the government was “trying to deny the facts instead of facing them”.
Santoshi Kumari, an 11-year-old girl in Jharkhand’s Simdega district, died on September 28 after her family was denied food rations because they did not have an Aadhaar-linked ration card, Right to Food activists had said. On Monday, after Scroll.in carried a report on the child’s death, the district authorities said she died of malaria, and not starvation, as the activists had alleged. But the authorities conceded that the family’s ration card had been cancelled because it not been linked – or “seeded”, as it is known in official language – to their Aadhaar number.
On Tuesday, Rai attributed the cancellation of cards to “confusion” created by a directive issued by Jharkhand Chief Secretary Rajbala Verma. “I have asked officials to check how many cards got cancelled due to non-linking of Aadhaar,” Rai said.
According to a press statement issued on March 27 by the Jharkhand government’s Information and Public Relations Department, Verma said all ration cards that had not been linked to Aadhaar will become “null and void” on April 5.
On Wednesday, activists questioned the minister’s attempts to distance himself from the cancellation of ration cards. “He claims to have ordered that no one should be deprived of food rations due to failed or faulty seeding of ration card with Aadhaar,” said Jean Drèze, an economist who is part of Jharkhand’s Right to Food campaign. “But he knows very well that Aadhaar-based biometric authentication is now compulsory in about 80% of ration shops in Jharkhand. Abba is not possible without Aadhaar seeding.”
Drèze said the Right to Food campaign has drawn attention for more than a year to the exclusion of millions of people from the public distribution system because of Aadhaar. “The recent starvation death in Simdega is just an extreme example of the hardships they are facing,” he said. “Despite these warnings, the Jharkhand government obstinately refuses to listen.”
In the case of Santoshi Kumari’s death, “the government is trying to deny the facts instead of facing them,” Drèze added.
Santoshi Kumari’s family depended on subsidised government food rations since her father has a mental illness and the family has no land. Under the National Food Security Act, 75% of the population in rural India is legally entitled to five kilos of foodgrains per person per month.