After Jharkhand, now several hundreds of ration cardholders from three districts in Odisha have been denied their Public Distribution System (PDS) food grains for at least 60 days mostly on the basis of the failure of Aadhaar system.
According to a survey conducted in three districts—Nabarangpur, Nuapada and Malkangiri— more than 35 per cent of those surveyed in these districts have not received their food grains. The survey was conducted only in families where one or more members were denied ration due to non-linking of Aadhaar. Of the 1,626 persons surveyed in 348 families, Aadhaar was not seeded with the ration cards of 574 members. Despite the small sample size, a large number of people were out of the PDS system. It is only likely that if a larger sample size would be surveyed, an equal percentage of people are likely to have been denied ration for non-seeding of the Aadhaar.
These three districts fall in the Kalahandi Balangir Koraput region in south-western Odisha, known to be the most backward area in the state, home to the poorest in the state. Most of the families in these districts live hand-to-mouth. This also gives rise to concerns that in these remote areas, basic technology also hasn’t reached.
The Odisha government had made linking of Aadhaar numbers with PDS compulsory for all individual PDS beneficiaries covered under the National Food Security Act, 2013. They had set the last date for linking Aadhaar with ration cards as September 15, 2019.
“Earlier, if the Aadhaar details of one person was linked with the PDS system, then the ration was given for entire family, but now they are giving ration only for the members of the family whose Aadhaar details have been seeded with the PDS. But this leaves the elderly, the disabled, women and children vulnerable. Several of them have not got their ration for more than two months,” says Sameet Panda, who is the convenor of Orissa’s Right to Food chapter.
“In these districts, at least 31% of those who have not been able to seed their Aadhaar details with the ration card are children who are younger than 10. Around one fifth of those left out (19.80%) have reported that they have submitted their Aadhaar card, but it has not been linked with ration card and they are not aware of the reasons,” said Panda.
The survey found out that at least 12.42% of the individuals do not have an Aadhaar card. Of these, several had attempted to get an Aadhaar made, but it could not be made for various technological faults. Fingerprints don’t scan properly, and the internet signal is too weak for the system to function. Additionally, several senior citizens are unable to move in order go to the nearest Aadhaar Centre.
In one block in Nuapada district, three entire families have not been able to seed their Aadhaar details with PDS; in four blocks in Nabrangpur district, 17 families have been omitted from the PDS list and in three blocks in Malkangiri blocks, six families have been left out from the PDS list. This means that these poor families have not got their ration for at last two months.
Adding to the problem is that there are several women who are facing trouble linking the Aadhaar with the PDS because several of them took their Aadhaar card before their marriages, hence the names on these are different. “This means that the woman is not considered the correct beneficiary and as a result denied ration. This has happened in several households,” explained Panda.
Changing Aadhaar details is easy for people who have access to internet, but in these backward villages where network is poor, it is difficult to link Aadhaar with PDS as it simply doesn’t connect. In case, there are errors on the Aadhaar card, the centres are not even ready to help people. Most of these people took an Aadhaar card with the help of others and several of them do not even have mobile numbers. This makes it impossible to trace and rectify the details as the Aadhaar design is flawed and riddled with glitches.
There are instances where ration dealers deny rations to families at their own discretion if even a single person in the family has not been seeded.
Addressing these issues, Odisha Khadya Adhikar Abhijan has written a letter to State Food Commission requesting them to release the names of those who have been declared bogus by the state. They have requested the department to conduct a door-to-door verification of all PDS beneficiaries. In September, it was reported that nearly 19 lakh beneficiaries whose Aadhaar numbers were not seeded to their PDS ration cards were declared bogus.
Since Aadhaar was made mandatory in the PDS, cardholders have been facing several hassles. In Jharkhand alone, this has led to at least 20 starvation deaths in two years.