Odisha makes Aadhaar mandatory for pension, 11 lakh pensioners could lose benefits
This move comes during the COVID-19 pandemic, when fingerprint and biometric authentication have been suspended in many states
More than 11 lakh pensioners could lose their benefits after the Odisha government’s decision to restrict the payment of pensions to only those whose accounts are ‘Aadhaar verified’. The government had sent out letters in July and August underscoring need for an Aadhaar card to get the pension under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) and Madhu Babu Pension Yojana (MBPY).
In both the July and August letters from the government to all the districts, Odisha has made Aadhaar mandatory as proof of identity to get the pension. This comes about a month after the starvation death of a tribal widow Dukhi Jani, whose name was struck off pension food ration lists due to the non-seeding of her Aadhaar card with her ration card.
In July 2020, in light of the pandemic, the Odisha government announced a “one time” payment of Rs. 1000. However, mandatory Aadhaar linkage and verification threatens to cut even this tenuous line of support.
This comes during the pandemic, when fingerprint and biometric authentication have been suspended in many states. “The pension for the month of August along with the ex-gratia amount shall be paid only to those beneficiaries who are having verified Aadhaar particulars.The left-out pensioners will be paid ex-gratia and pension during the next round of disbursement after they produce their verified Aadhaar identification,” stated the August letter.
The National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) and Madhu Babu Pension Yojana (MBPY) are social safety nets covering some of the most vulnerable citizens living in poverty: the elderly, persons with disabilities, widows, and transgender persons. Those entitled to support under these programmes receive a pension of between Rs. 500 - Rs. 700 a month, a meagre amount that is often a lifeline. Close to 49 lakh persons are beneficiaries under the two schemes.
Criticising the decision, Odisha Right to Food campaign stated that according to the updated National Dashboard (Annexure), only 83% of the NSAP accounts in Odisha have been “verified” by Aadhaar, while only 74% have been verified for the MBPY scheme. This means that more than 11 lakh persons could lose their benefits because of a lack of “Aadhaar verification”.
“Mandatory linkages with Aadhaar have caused mass exclusions, both at the point of disbursal of welfare entitlements (because of biometric or technical failures) and during the process of seeding and verification. The Aadhaar seeding and verification processes are also shrouded in opacity,” said Sameet Panda, Odisha RTF convenor.
Aadhaar seeding or verification can fail for a range of reasons, often without any of the responsible officials understanding the reason, or how it should be remedied, explained Panda. The Aadhaar-enabled Payments System (AePS) comes with its own share of failures, due to poor design, missing safeguards, and a confusing array of failure codes.
These exclusionary processes have no clear appeal method, and as a result, persons struck off these lists are left running from pillar to post. It is close to impossible for those who are not mobile, have limited access to transportation, or live in an area far from administrative headquarters. The pandemic almost made this impossible, highlighted Panda.