The ground realities of Aadhaar-ration card linking in Jharkhand that is leading to hunger deaths: no process to verify if genuine or false beneficiary is being canceled
In a hurry to show Aadhaar savings, the Jharkhand government is canceling even genuine ration cards without any prior notice, ground verification, or explanation to ration card holders — this emerged from both a door to door survey of 135 canceled ration cards in Manika, Jharkhand, and a public hearing at Manika block office, where at least four hunger deaths have been recorded in the past three months.
Hundreds of ration card holders whose names have been cut off from ration lists turned up at the public hearing organised by the Right to Food Campaign Jharkhand, and NREGA Watch, at Manika block office in Latehar, Jharkhand to register their protest at cancelation of their ration cards.
Kuleshwar Mistri who works as a mason in Ranki Kala village in Manika block said: “I enrolled in Aadhaar. My family got 25 kilo rations till this February. But since March, the dealer says, “Your name is not in the net”, and I can no longer get any rice from the ration shop. Where is my share of grains then?”
Though the government is claiming that Aadhaar linking will stop theft of grains in the public distribution system, several residents from villages in Manika, Barwadih, and Kumandih block testified that the ration dealers were able to siphon off grains even after biometric authentication, as there was nothing in the new system to prevent grain theft. In most cases, dealers were doing this when ration card holders had not been able to collect grains for two months because of network errors and other glitches in linking, they said.
“The dealer cut a slip which showed a receiving of 40 kilos, but he gave me only 20 kilo and pocketed the rest. He did not give ration for August at all,” said Nagina Bibi of Bishunbandh in Manika block.
Under the National Food Security Act 2013, ration card holders are legally entitled to get 5 kilo per person foodgrains at subsidised rates at fair price shops. Antodaya card holders, which include “the poorest of the poor”, including Particularly Vulnerable Tribal families, low income women headed households that are vulnerable, families with disabled members, are entitled to get 35 kilo foodgrains per month. But at the hearing, both priority households and Antodaya households reported being cut off from grain access completely after the Jharkhand government stopped allowing grains to those whose cards had not been porperly seeded.
“Several Parhaiya families that are Particularly Vulnerable Tribal families, are present here from Ranki Kala, Dundu, and Sendhra, who have been cut off from rations since months when they were not able to link their ration cards to their Aadhaar number,” said a Parhaiya mukhia from Sevdhara village of Rankikala panchayat. “Even those who are getting, are now getting 25 kilo not 35 kilos rice anymore.”
Further, a survey by Right to Food Campaign Jharkhand in November-December of 135 households with canceled ration cards showed that 2 our of 135 cards were canceled as “fake”, 3 of 135 cards were canceled as “duplicate”, and in a majority cases the administration had not stated any reason for cancelation of ration cards. In 26 of 135 cards, the administration gave “not linking Aadhaar” as reason for even cancelation of genuine ration cards, said James Herenj, Convenor Jharkhand MNREGA Watch.
Since October, several hunger deaths have been recorded in Jharkhand. In October, Santoshi Kumari a 11 year old child died in Simdega district months after her family’s ration card was canceled. In late October, Ruplal Marandi died in Deoghar district after being denied grains his family members’ biometric authentication failed. In December, Premni Kunwar Khairwar adivasi died in Garhwa district after she was denied ration in delays in the linking process, and after her pension was canceled during Aadhaar linking.
Jharkhand government claims it has canceled 11.6 lakh ration cards after Aadhaar linking, but the public hearing showed there is no process on the ground to verify if it is a genuine or false beneficiary whose ration card is being canceled, and even genuine ration cards are being canceled if there is delay or data entry errors in Aadhaar linking.