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Jharkhand Deaths: Has Aadhaar Played a Role?

Sagrika Kissu |
“In at least seven of these deaths, Aadhaar related failures clearly contributed to starvation.”
Aadhaar Starvation Deaths

Image Used For Representation Purpose Only

The death of a 39-year old man on July 24 due to “poor nutrition and illness” is the latest in the spate of deaths allegedly due to starvation and malnutrition in Jharkhand – taking the toll up to 14 within just 10 months. This is just another case which has shed light on how the Aadhaar-linked system is making the lives of people miserable.

Rajendra Birhor – the latest victim of starvation – was a resident of Chainpur in Mandu block of Ramgarh, who belonged to Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). It has been revealed that a ration card was denied to the family, and the members were excluded from the Public Distribution System (PDS), due to lack of Aadhaar Card. Due to extreme weakness and ill health, Birhor had stopped working a year ago. He was the only breadwinner for his family. Following his illness, his wife managed to find work twice or thrice a week to sustain their family of six children.

A fact-finding team that included members from the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), the Right to Food Campaign and Human Rights Law Network, revealed that Birhor’s family was not issued a ration card under the National Food Security Act, 2013. In the report, the Block Development Officer (BDO) has also revealed that “family was excluded from the Public Distribution System as they did not have Aadhaar.”

According to Supreme Court orders, PVTGs are entitled to 35 kg of food grain every month on Antyodaya Anna Yojana ration card (AAY). AAY is one of the PDS schemes in India, which was implemented in 2000. The purpose of AAY scheme is to provide food and other important commodities to poorest of poor in India at subsidised rates. Also, the PVTG households are supposed to get food grains free of cost at their doorstep.

The fact-finding report read, “The family last worked under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in 2010-11. It also does not receive the state social security pension of Rs 600 a month for PVTGs households. The BDO was unaware of this scheme.” The BDO had said that Aadhaar Card linkage is mandatory for the delivery of rations. “The family had twice enrolled for Aadhaar Card but they didn’t receive any ID number because of which no ration was available to them,” said Ankita, an activist, who was the member of fact-finding committee.

Victim of medical neglect

In the report, it’s written that Birhor was seriously ill, following which, he was taken to Community Health Centre (CHC) in Mandu. Due to unavailability of the doctors at the Local Primary Health Care in CHC, Birhor was referred to Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) at Ranchi. “The doctor met with the fact-finding team was unable to explain why simple procedures such as blood and urine tests were not conducted at the medical facilities in Mandu or Ramnagar. No medicine was prescribed to Rajendra Birhor at the CHC. Unable to take Rajendra to RIMS, his family brought him back home,” said Ankita.

To treat Rajendra, the family sold one pig and got him treated from a local doctor, who charged Rs 3000. Meanwhile, the doctors at CHC have put the onus on local Sahiya(also known as ASHA- Accredited Social Health Activist) for not following up on Rajendra’s health.

In the same locality, Chintaman Malhar had also died of starvation on June 14. As per the investigation by the fact-finding team, it has been revealed that the family had no ration card.

The report highlights Aadhaar card linkage as the fundamental reason behind the deaths. The report reads, “In at least seven of these deaths, Aadhaar related failures clearly contributed to starvation. The government has taken no note of the demand for a universal Public Distribution System with inclusion of nutritious items such as pulses and edible oil and the delinking of welfare programmes with Aadhaar.”

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