Around half-a-dozen people have allegedly died of starvation in Jharkhand in the last six months. Most of them were reportedly denied rations from the Public Distribution System shops for failing to have Aadhaar-based biometric authentication. Two women — one in Giridih and the other in Chatra district — died of alleged starvation last week, prompting Chief Minister Raghuvar Das to order a probe. The government reports said the women were sick; family members claimed they died of hunger.
On June 2, Savitri Devi, 58, from Mangragarhi village in the Dumri block of Giridih district, allegedly died of hunger. Family members and villagers said she had nothing to eat at home. She was denied rations from PDS shops because her ration card could not be linked with Aadhaar. On June 4, Meena Musahar, 45, from the Prem Nagar area in the Itkhori block of Chatra district, allegedly died of starvation. Her son said his mother died of hunger; the government said it was awaiting the autopsy report to ascertain the exact cause of death. Recently, Lakhi Murmu, Santoshi Kumari, Ruplal Marandi, Premani Kunwar and Etwariya Devi, too, reportedly died of hunger in different districts. All these deaths took place after the State government cancelled 11.6 lakh ration cards, saying they were not linked to Aadhaar.
Why didn’t they have ration cards?
The ration cards of Savitri Devi and many others were cancelled because they did not have Aadhaar linkage. They were unable to procure food after the Aadhaar-enabled point of sales (PoS) machine could not authenticate their biometrics. Dumri Block Development Officer (in-charge) Rahul Dev confirmed that Savitri Devi did not have a ration card. Village head Ram Prasad Mahto said Savitri Devi was not getting foodgrains from PDS shops as her ration card was cancelled. Till January, of the 2.3 crore people in Jharkhand covered under the PDS, only 1.7 crore had Aadhaar linkage.
Why the Aadhaar-PDS link?
Though the Supreme Court has said Aadhaar linkage is voluntary, at the village and panchayat levels in Jharkand, little appears to have changed. For a person who gets foodgrains through the PDS, it is mandatory for him or her to follow the Aadhaar-Based Biometric Authentication (ABBA) system that is the practice of using an electric point of sale (PoS) machine for each transaction. For implementing the ABBA system, it is necessary to have Aadhaar seeding, which is to get one’s Aadhaar number linked to the ration card.
What are the hurdles?
To get benefits under the PDS, biometric authorisation is required and this calls for technological necessities which villages lack: uninterrupted power supply, a functioning PoS machine, adequate mobile and Internet connectivity and ensuring that data repository servers are running smoothly. So, every time a person has to get rations from a PDS shop, he/she has to pray that all these variables work.
What is the government doing?
The government says it has begun rechecking the details of those left out of the Aadhaar linkage, but officials admit the process is moving at a slow pace.
The government has made Aadhaar seeding compulsory but many tribals, unaware of this requirement, are denied access to food. The government feels that by linking ration cards to Aadhaar, it will remove the corruption in the PDS system. The government has also announced that it has achieved 100% Aadhaar seeding but experts said lakhs of people covered by the PDS are not linked with their Aadhaar numbers.
What lies ahead?
The government has to take foolproof measures for seeding of Aadhaar numbers, say experts like Jean Dreze. Food, Public Distribution and Consumer Affairs Minister Saryu Rai says his Department has proposed to set up grain banks in blocks and panchayats to help those in need.