Activists pick holes in state’s Aadhaar ideal

 

STRAIGHT TALK: Economist and social activist Jean Drèze (extreme right), Right to Food Campaign activist Asarfi Nand Prasad (second from right) and others at the news meet at XISS in Ranchi on Monday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Recent investigations in Jharkhand reveal a clear and disturbing pattern behind the manner in which Aadhaar ended up excluding people from rations, pensions and jobs and generated “fake savings” in the bargain. The pattern is as follows:
Step 1: Cancel job cards, ration cards or pensions not linked with Aadhaar.
Step 2: Declare that the concerned persons or cards were “fake”.
Step 3: Count the money being saved as “savings due to Aadhaar”.
*Job Cards*
In Jharkhand, NREGA job cards have been cancelled in large numbers to meet “100% Aadhaar seeding” targets. This was admitted by the Secretary Rural Development himself at a meeting with the Chief Secretary on 2 November 2015.  In April 2017, the central government claimed that nearly 1 crore “fake job cards” had been cancelled with the help of Aadhaar. However, in response to an RTI, the central government later gave a breakdown of the reasons for cancellation – “fakes” and “duplicates” accounted for only 12.6% of all cancelled cards, or less than 1% of all job cards.
*Ration Cards*
In 2017, Aadhar-less ration cards were cancelled en masse in Jharkhand. On 22 September 2017, the Government of Jharkhand claimed that 11 lakh fake ration cards had been cancelled thanks to Aadhaar. But verification exercises in Latehar and Khunti show that most of the cancelled ration cards are not fake. Many of them belong to families that were unable to link their ration card with Aadhaar for not faul of their own. One of these families was that of Santoshi Kumari, an 11-year old girl who died of hunger in Simdega district last September.
*Pensions*
The Government of Jharkhand also claimed recently that 2 lakh “fake” pensioners had been removed from the pension lists with the help of Aadhaar. A verification of about 100 cancelled pensions in Khunti, however, reveals that few of them – if any – were fake. Many belonged to people who had simply not been unable to link their pension with Aadhaar.
In October 2016, the district administration in Khunti (and perhaps elsewhere in Jharkhand too) stopped paying social security pensions to those who had failed to link their Aadhaar number with the relevant bank account and pension list. Some of them were able to do so later, and their pension resumed, but they lost the payments due to them in the intervening period. Others are still struggling to set things right, or have lost hope.
In each case, the government’s own data (extracted through RTIs or otherwise) shows that most of the cancelled cards or pensions were not “fake”. Yet the propaganda continues.

Charges against Government of Jharkhand and Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)

The last few months have seen the cruel starvation deaths of at least four residents of Jharkhand – Santoshi Kumari, Ruplal Marandi, Premani Kunwar and Etwariya Devi. This is a direct result of the actions and inactions of the Government of Jharkhand and UIDAI.

  1. Clear evidence has been put forward that these deaths were due to the stopping of their legally entitled rations and old-age pensions because of Aadhaar related issues.
  2. Further, Government of Jharkhand repeatedly ignored evidence that the mandatory linking of Aadhaar to welfare entitlements causes exclusion of the most vulnerable citizens and denies citizens their legal rights to food and old age pensions.
  3. Moreover, the UIDAI has refused to take any action against those responsible for scores of violations of people’s legal entitlements to social welfare due to Aadhaar.
  4. Finally, this exclusion has been deceitfully projected to the public, Parliament and Supreme Court of India by dressing these cases of Aadhaar-driven exclusion as deletions of “fake persons” and “savings” of public funds.

In light of the above, the Government of Jharkhand (GoJ) and UIDAI should surely be charged for criminal negligence leading to death, and for thecriminal offence of dishonesty and an intention to deceive. Moreover, they have freely violated several legislations of the country without any consequences (Annexe 1). The attached timeline clearly lays out the pattern of negligence and dishonesty, and a lack of honouring the rights based legislations of NFSA and MGNREGA.

A Partial List of Aadhaar-related Violations of Basic Entitlements in 2017

DateEvents
14 January 2017Ministry of Rural Development notifies Aadhaar mandatory for MGNREGA under Aadhaar Act, i.e. all persons listed in a job card to be linked to Aadhaar.
28 February 2017Food Ministry notifies mandatory linkage of PDS with Aadhaar, i.e. individual beneficiaries of a household in a ration card to be linked to Aadhaar.
327 March 2017Chief Secretary GoJ, via video-conference, orders Food Supply Officers to delete ration cards not linked with Aadhaar after 5th April.
49 April 2017Ministry of Rural Development states that 9.3 million fake job cards were deleted due to Aadhaar. In Jharkhand, 1.08 L job cards and 3.3L persons deleted.
55 May 2017RTI reply states that out of all deleted job cards, only 12.6% were classified as ‘fake’ or ‘duplicate’ with nearly 60% deleted due to “other” reasons, which is most likely to be those who did not submit Aadhaar numbers. The same pattern is likely for Jharkhand.
622 July 2017Ration card of Santoshi Kumari’s family (No. 202004278512) deleted for lack of Aadhaar linkage.
7August 2017Letter to BDO, Boram, East Singhbum with evidence that ICICI Bank opened approx. 6,000 bank accounts of MGNREGA workers without their knowledge in 2016. With the physical bank being 30 km away, withdrawals could only be made through the micro ATM Aadhaar Enabled Platform with Banking Correspondents.
817 August 2017Letter to CEO, UIDAI from activists associated with Right to Food Campaign, challenging savings claim and presenting findings from survey on dire situation caused by Aadhaar-based biometric authentication (ABBA) in Jharkhand.
97 September 2017Announcement by Food Minister, GoJ that 11.64 lakh fake ration cards have been deleted to achieve 100% seeding with “savings” of Rs. 225 cores.
107 September 2017Announcement by Minister of Women & Child Development and Social Security, GoJ that 3 lakh fake pension accounts have been deleted with “savings” of Rs. 180 crores.
1128 September 201711-year-old Santoshi Kumari from Jaldega Block, Simdega, dies of starvation after her family was deprived of legally entitled food grains for 5 months.
1223 October 2017Ruplal Marandi from Deoghar district dies of starvation after being denied food grains for 2 months as the PoS machine did not recognize his fingerprints.
1326 October 2017More “fake” families with deleted ration cards found to be alive and legally entitled to ration, via field verification in Bishnubandh GP (Latehar).
144 November 2017Letter to CEO, UIDAI from activists associated with Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand asking him to take action against Chief Secretary, GoJ.
1519 November 2017Evidence of MGNREGA wages in Khunti district being diverted into Airtel accounts created without the workers’ knowledge, using Aadhaar platform.
161 December 2017Premani Kunwar (Garhwa district) dies of starvation after being simultaneously deprived of pension and food rations due to Aadhaar-related problems.
171 December 2017Study of MGNREGA wage payments finds ‘rejected payments’, most likely due to Aadhaar-related issues, amounting to 83L in the sample payments. Field verifications reveals close to 6L payments in just one block (Manika, Latehar).
1812 December 2017Notice sent by the Khunti district administration to cardholders that names of such members will be stuck off the rationcard of the family who do not submit their UID numbers in the next 10 days.
1925 December 2017Etwariya Devi of Majhiaon block, Garhwa district dies of starvation after being denied rations for 3 months and pension for 2 months.

A note on violations in MGNREGA, PDS and social security pensions due to Aadhaar is attached. The evidence and annexures related to the chargesheet can be downloaded from this link.

 

Ranchi: Economist-activist Jean Drèze and other activists on Monday accused state and central governments and Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) of excluding many genuine claimants from rations, pensions and MGNREGS jobs while chasing imaginary Aadhaar targets.

Drèze apart, the news meet at XISS in Ranchi was addressed by Asarfi Nand Prasad and Dheeraj Kumar of Right to Food Campaign (Jharkhand unit) and Stan Swamy of NGO Bagaicha.

Though the state government promised no one would be deprived of social benefits, it often issued orders to the contrary, activists alleged.

They alleged MGNREGS job cards, ration cards and pensions of a large number of Jharkhand residents were scrapped to meet “100 per cent Aadhaar seeding targets”.

They alleged mass cancellation of these welfare scheme cards led to hunger deaths in Jharkhand but the UIDAI did not take action against those responsible for violations.

Last year, chief secretary Rajbala Verma allegedly ordered scrapping of ration cards not seeded to Aadhaar. However, the activists did not name anyone on Monday.

Drèze said even those with Aadhaar-seeded welfare cards faced problems if they failed to complete their biometric identification due to poor internet connectivity or power cuts.

“Aadhaar should never be made compulsory for distribution of welfare benefits but may be used as an alternative and voluntary means for identification,” he said.

Prasad said their probe revealed “a disturbing pattern”.

Job, ration and pension cards not linked to Aadhaar were cancelled in the first step, then those card holders declared fake or bogus, Prasad alleged. The money saved due to these actions were shown as “savings” due to Aadhaar transparency, though no exact break-up of the savings were ever made public (by the government or UIDAI), he explained. “Even the Union government claimed in April 2017 that nearly one crore fake job cards were cancelled but later in response to an RTI application said only 12.6 per cent of the cancelled cards were fake or duplicate,” he added.

“Though the state government says genuine (job and ration) cards will be restored, it will be time-taking process as card-seekers have to repeat the entire application procedure,” Dheeraj Kumar added.

He added the payment procedure for jobs under MGNREGS was often irregular.

“Recently, a man from Khunti didn’t get his wages as the money was deposited to some private bank account opened in his name without his knowledge instead of the existing account that was specified,” he said.

“Good governance means pro-people activities on the part of the government. But here, poor people are being made to suffer for no fault of their own,” added Stan Swamy.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/jharkhand/activists-pick-holes-in-state-s-aadhaar-ideal-201253

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