“The ration shop owner knows me very well but the bio metric machine does not identify my finger prints, so I have not been getting ration food for the past two years’
- Padma, a brave woman who lives on the streets of bangalore
Like Padma, there were people from twenty districts who presented heart wrenching evidence of Aadhar related denials in the public hearing organised by the Right to Food Campaign in Bangalore today. Experiences of denial from across the state clearly show that the failures are not just a glitch or a rare aberration but that systemic exclusion is inherent to the Aadhaar system. Aadhar is hollowing out democracy where people have rights that they cannot exercise. The right to food, for example, is being rendered useless as machines are taking over the decision making process on who gets the monthly ration and who does not. In this dystopic society, Aadhaar has become a tool in the hands of the state to exclude people in millions from accessing even basic entitlements and services.
Despite repeated Court orders, Aadhaar has been linked to every aspect of people’s lives from school admissions, scholarships, insurance policies, to open Bank Account, PF, LPG, to even monthly rations, TB and HIV drugs, disaster relief and death certificates. While this forced submission of people into parting their private data can be challenged using the recent SC judgment, the brazen use of Aadhaar to systemically deny the masses of their basic entitlements is a matter that is yet to be accepted by the same courts, reminding us of the class bias of the legal system in India.
In a historic public hearing process today, people from twenty districts of Karnataka shared their life of denial, struggle and hopelessness in front of a honorable group of jury who have given the following judgement:
Sukanya, a tailor from Channapattana in Karnataka, was denied ration because she had not linked her ration card to Aadhaar. As someone who does not take things lying down, Sukanya requested the ration shop owner and the tehsildar, only to be told by both officials that she should link her ration card to Aadhaar card “because everyone was doing so”.
A defiant Sukanya went to court in February this year. The Karnataka High Court then passed an interim order that directed the Food and Civil Supplies department to not insist on an Aadhaar card link and provide subsidised foodgrain to Sukanya.
Lalithamma, a resident of Begur village in Chikmagalur district, was denied ration, along with fifty other people as they had not linked her ration card to Aadhaar card. When Lalithamma along with others from Begur made the trip to Tarikere taluk to ask authorities about this, they were told that they should link their ration card to Aadhaar cards. “It costs 100 rupees to make the journey to Tarikere taluk. In the last four kilometres, there are no buses and we have to walk,” she said.
Chowdappa, from Chintamani in Chikballapur district, was denied ration along with 15 people from the village, because they had not linked their ration card to Aadhaar card.
Jyoti, a resident of Belagavi, said that her children were denied scholarship and even though they applied for Aadhaar card four times, they were rejected.
Padma, a resident of Bengaluru was also denied ration because the bio metric machine did not identify her fingerprints. “The ration shop owner knows me very well but the bio metric machine does not identify my finger prints, so I have not been getting ration food for the past two years,” she said.
Bharati, Secretary of the Karnataka Sex Workers Union, said that when police arrest sex workers they demand Aadhaar card and if they do not produce it, then it results in further harassment.
Like Sukanya, Lalithamma, Chowdappa, Jyoti, Padma and Bharati, over twenty people from various districts of Karnataka shared their stories of struggle and helplessness, at a public hearing organised by The Right to Food campaign in Bengaluru.
Though the Supreme Court had directed the Centre to not insist on linking ration card to Aadhaar, after the centre’s directive in February, the testaments from various people show that ration shops continued to deny them essentials.
Members of Jury
Here is the talk by Usha Ramanathan after peoples hearing on aadhaar & denial of Social Security
Dr. Sylvia Karpagam
Recommendations of the Jury
- The state government should recognize the vulnerability it is causing to its people when it coerces Aadhar on them. It should respect and follow the directives of the Supreme court against making Aadhar mandatory.
- Failures of the biometric system should be recognized and its use stopped forthwith.
- The State government should investigate the vulnerabilities caused to the people of the state and take appropriate action.
- The State government should immediately investigate and take action with regard to the deaths of the three men in Gokarna which has been linked to Aadhar. The reports and actions and corrective measures should be made public.
- The government of Karnataka should delink aadhaar to any essential services.
- The serious issue of malnutrition, stunting, wasting is a shame. To strengthen the public delivery system and make it Universal. No citizen of the state should be denied access to nutrition in the PDS, ICDS, mid-day meal or any other government sponsored nutrition program based on Aadhar. The Right to food should be upheld by the State as an inviolable right.
- To strengthen the healthcare system and invest in the public health system to make it universal access to comprehensive health care and this should include the promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative aspects. No person should be denied health care and any of the health entitlements based on Aadhar.
- To strengthen the public education system and make it Universal. No child should be denied education and Aadhar should not be an obstacle.
- The judgement of the Supreme court on the right to privacy requires a complete overhaul of the Aadhar system. Matters of dignity, confidentiality, stigma and liberty have all been categorically recognized as fundamental rights as the people of the country. The Aadhar project will have to be subjected to strict scrutiny on the basis of this judgement.
After hearing the testimonies of the citizens of the State in the context of aadhaar, the jury members would like to make the following preliminary observations.
- Aadhar has emerged as a barrier for people to access entitlements as basic as food. The problems are at all stages; many are unable to enroll, many others are unable to authenticate themselves because of biometric failure, many others are unable to link taheir Aadhar with their PDS.
- This coercive use of Aadhar is completely contrary to what the Supreme court has said in multiple orders starting from 23/9/2013 and including orders that came in September 2016. The Aadhar Act passed by the Lok Sabha in March 2016 does not allow the denial of any entitlements to any person but this only observed in the breach. The government’s, both Central and State, are ignoring both the orders of the court and the Aadhar Act 2016 and denying people their rations unless the biometric works.
- By now, reports have begun to emerge of deaths due to starvation because of their Aadhar numbers have not been linked to the PDS. This has resulted in large scale deprivation around the country. In Jharkhand for instance, while a 11 year old has died of starvation after family not having received rations for over 8 months, it has also come to light that 11.5 lakh ration cards have been cancelled on this spurious basis. The recent deaths in Gokarna are evident in the State.
- The targeted PDS system is highly discriminatory and leads to exclusion of the most vulnerable citizens such as daily wage labourers, people with disability, single women, widows, orphans etc. If the state government is serious and committed to meeting the needs of all its citizens, then the PDS has to be universal and equally available to all citizens
- The number of cases of malnutrition, stunting, wasting, undernutrition, anemia in the State and the devastating consequences for the most marginalized communities (eg. the starvation deaths in Gokarna) are a shocking indictment of the state. The state is absolutely mandated to ensure this crisis is addressed
- In the backdrop of this inadequate PDS, it is shocking that people are further denied these meagre rations, because of Aadhar. Apart from humiliating people and denying basic rights, the Aadhar serves no useful person and infact removes even the idea of citizenship. It violates the Right to Food as a fundamental right as repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme court.
- The current public distribution System (PDS) is inadequate to provide the basic nutritional needs of the community. The scheme that provides rice, wheat, sugar under the current scheme in Karnataka is able to provide only around 633 Kcal/day for each member of a 5 member family. This is much less than the recommended average of 2200 Kcal per day per person. This is completely inadequate to meet needs. The needs of protein, vitamins and minerals can only be met through eating of other foods like fruits, vegetables, greens, eggs, meat, groundnuts etc. The state government, through the State Food Commission, should immediately recommend a revision of the quality and quantity of foods provided and ensure that other sources of nutritional need are met
- The Aadhaar card at no point is mandatory, but state governments are openly violating Supreme court orders. This is clear contempt of court and violates Constitutional rights of every individual citizen.
- The Aadhaar card further has been made mandatory for accessing health care. Again the health care system that is currently being provided by the State is inadequate and inaccessible. The rampant growth of the private sector has made healthcare unaffordable. In that backdrop it is shocking that instead of making all efforts to strengthen the public healthcare system, the government is investing more time and energy in pushing Aadhar cards for each and evey service. Patients have been denied services for antenatal care, delivery, HIV treatment, tuberculosis treatment, Ultrasound, death certificates, ambulance facilities, etc. If the state is commited to providing universal access to comprehensive healthcare, then the Aadhar is a barrier to this. The Aadhar only prevents access and in no way facilitates improved health access for the citizens of the state
- Children, particularly those from most vulnerable communities, are being denied access to education, scholarship and hostel facilities. This is a violation of the Right to Education.
- Based on the numerous evidence presented before the jury, it is clear that the biometric system is flawed and is being used to violate people’s rights on a day to day basis. It serves no purpose and in fact seems to be intended to deny people basic rights of food, education and healthcare.
- Based on the responses of the officials from the Commissions who are responsible for overseeing and protecting the rights of minority communities, SC/ST Communities, people with disabilities and women, it is evident that this public hearing was an ‘eye opener’ for them. It gives an idea of how little the State government is aware of the day to day issues and violations faced by the communities and the fact that decisions such as introducing the Aadhar have not been consultative and are completely coercive in nature.