Like 75-year-old Mano Devi, many villagers of Latehar in Jharkand have been running from pillar to post to get Aadhar card

At 11 am, Mano Devi reached the Garu block centre, Latehar, in a basket slung from a bamboo stick, carried by two youths from village Doram, 25 km away. The young men, Bhojendra Singh and Mithu Singh, went straight to the pragya kendra (IT centre) but Mano Devi was disappointed. The centre remained closed all day.

“My widow pension will be stopped if I do not have an Aadhaar card,” the 75-year-old Khairwar adivasi told Garu reporter Ranjit Kumar before starting the four-hour journey to her village at 3.30 p.m. She has already made three trips to Garu since December last to enrol in Aadhaar, she said.

Over 5.4 lakh Aadhaar cards, catering to 74 per cent of the district population, have been generated in Latehar. “Seeding” of beneficiaries account details and Aadhaar is at two per cent of the population, the lowest in Jharkhand. With over 92 per cent of people living in villages and large swathes of forests, officials and villagers wonder if their access to schemes will not be disrupted in the switch to Aadhaar. “Garu has only one bank branch, and the Mahudanr block, which has no electricity, has two branches. Over 60 per cent of the district has no mobile connectivity. We already pointed this out to officials at the head office in Ranchi,” said a district official.

Although the Supreme Court said in its interim order on September 23, 2013, that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory to access government schemes, there is confusion on the ground as beneficiaries believe and say they have been instructed by officials to get their Aadhaar cards or Enrolment IDs, if they wish to continue accessing public schemes.

In Latehar, beneficiaries say they have paid from Rs 20 to Rs 50 to enrol in Aadhaar, as demanded by enrolment agencies. “When we reported this to the district officials, they said the agencies were making quick money for services that should be free. We tried informing the villagers, but there is a great rush to enrol since everyone fears being left out,” said Ignacia Gidh, a panchayat representative from Mahuadanr.

Latehar’s District Commissioner Mukesh Kumar said he had received complaints and has called for a meeting on March 15 to look into the issue. “As there is no electricity and mobile connectivity in many parts, we are exploring the options of offline kiosk banking,” he added.