Shivani Azad| T
Neero Devi, 62, with her son Raj Kumar. 30-year-old Kumar’s Aadhaar card is yet to be made as biometric machine
Nearby, her 30-year-old son, Raj Kumar, born with 60% disability that has rendered his limbs immobile, lies on a cot. He can’t speak or move. His mother has to feed him.
“We were heavily dependent on the monthly disability pension of Rs 1,000 my son was getting from the government. But it was stopped last year in October since he does not have an Aadhaar card. We tried several times to get him one but the machine could not take his fingerprints and iris scan,” Neero Devi told TOI on Friday.
She showed the copy of a letter from the social welfare department that said Kumar’s pension had been stopped since his Aadhaar number had not been submitted. “How many times can I carry around my son and take him to an Aadhaar centre? Sometimes he gets scared and becomes violent when they try to take his photo. I don’t want to put him through that again and again,” said Neero Devi.
While investigating Kumar’s case, TOI discovered that pensions of over 53,000 disabled, elderly and widows in Uttarakhand had been stopped since October 2016 as they had not submitted Aadhaar details. According to documents accessed by this paper, out of 59,081 people who draw the disability pension in Uttarakhand, 5,424 have not got a single penny since October 2016. Same is the case for 36,060 of the state’s 4.2 lakh old-age pension beneficiaries, and 12,047 of the 1.48 lakh widows eligible for pension.
A senior social welfare department official said the pensions were stopped following a state government notice dated June 25, 2016, which said: “GOI is making it mandatory to link Aadhaar numbers with bank accounts of each beneficiary…it is anticipated from all of you that within 15 days all the Aadhaar details and mobile number of each beneficiary will be linked with the pension software. If Aadhaar seeding of any pensioner is not done, it will not be possible to give pension to such beneficiaries.” The notice was given out to the director as well as all the 13 districts’ social welfare officers. A copy of notice, signed by former secretary of social welfare department (Bhupinder Kaur Aulakh), is with TOI. When told that the Supreme Court has not mandated Aadhaar linking for social welfare schemes, the official from the welfare department replied: “But the Supreme Court didn’t say ‘Dont link (welfare schemes) with Aadhaar number’.”
Officials said they were “helpless”. Anurag Shankhdhar, district social welfare officer (Dehradun), said: “A proposal was floated to visit severely disabled and old people at home to collect their biometrics, but we are yet to receive the machines for the exercise from the government.”
Director of the social welfare department Major (rtd) Yogendra Yadav, however, said one of the reasons that so many beneficiaries had not submitted their Aadhaar details could be that they never existed in the first place or were ineligible for a pension.
Yadav said, “We have sent out communication to all beneficiaries to get their Aadhaar cards linked with bank accounts so we can resume their pensions. We have even launched a toll-free number to help out people. But some are neither connecting with the social welfare department nor reaching out to UIDAI.”
Basant Thapliyal, chairperson of Nanda Devi Nirdhan Divyaang Kalyan Association of Uttarakhand, said that many disabled and old people in the state, especially in the hills, cannot bear the cost of travel to an Aadhaar centre. “Financial and logistical constraints limit the mobility of disabled people. The government should have kept that in mind,” he said. Ananta Mishra, UIDAI’s nodal officer in Uttarakhand, told TOI that lack of awareness could be one reason many pensioners did not get Aadhaar cards made. “Many people may not have come forward to make Aadhaar cards since they did not realize that it was mandatory.”