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Jharkhand: Woman died of starvation because Aadhaar-based systems failed, says non-profit report

Premani Kunwar’s pension was reportedly redirected to another person’s account due to Aadhaar glitches. She was also denied food ration in August and November.

A 64-year-old woman died of hunger and exhaustion in Jharkhand last week after the Aadhaar-based payment system had redirected her pension amount to another person’s account without her knowledge, non-profit Right To Food Campaign said on Thursday.

Premani Kunwar, a resident of Korta village in Garhwa district, died on December 1. Villagers had said that she had died because she was denied ration for a couple of months despite having a valid card. They said she had been surviving on meals from neighbours. Officials of the Garhwa district administration, however, said an autopsy of her body revealed foodgrains in her stomach, proving that she did not starve to death.

A fact-finding team from the Right To Food Campaign, which visited the district to look into the case, released a detailed report on the death on Thursday. The report said that Kunwar, who is survived by her 13-year-old son, used to receive a monthly pension of Rs 600 in her Aadhaar-linked State Bank of India account. From October, however, her pension was redirected to the account of her husband’s first wife, Shanti Devi, as it was also linked to Kunwar’s Aadhaar number. Devi had died 25 years ago.

“Under the current system of Aadhaar-enabled pension payments, a person’s pension is automatically paid to whichever of his/her accounts was mostly recently seeded with Aadhaar,” the report said. “But most people in rural Jharkhand are unaware of this rule, which is a source of endless confusion for pensioners and NREGA workers...Premani’s death epitomises their hardships.”

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‘Kunwar was also denied food ration’

Kunwar was also denied food ration from the Public Distribution System in August and November, the report said.

In August, local dealers were reportedly not allotted any rice and were told to distribute it from their accumulated stocks that had been generated in the previous months due to Aadhaar transactional failures like lack of connectivity or issues with the biometric readings. Since the dealers had already sold this stock as well, they reportedly told cardholders in August that they had nothing to distribute.

“In September, Premani had to use most of her food ration to return what she had borrowed in August to survive,” the report said. In November, the dealer reportedly took Kunwar’s fingerprint as biometric authentication is compulsory for supplying food ration according to the online system in Jharkhand, but did not give her the rice immediately. He told her that he would give it later. She died on December 1.

“Deprived of both food and cash, Premani lived in a state of semi-starvation from August,” the fact-finding team reported. “Sometimes, her son brought leftover rice from the midday meal at school, but there was little else to eat most of the time.”

Before she died, she had gone without proper food for 15 days, and food had not been cooked in her house for eight days before her death, it said.

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