People from 14 states testified to the rampant violations of the Right to Food at a national public hearing on 15 March organised by the Right to Food Campaign at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi.
The testimonies spoke of the denials of entitlements — to food, social security pensions and even work — and were heard by a panel consisting of activists, journalists, lawyers, legislators, scholars and trade union leaders.
Once again, the people suffering these violations confirmed that the mandatory linking of Aadhaar to welfare schemes had caused large-scale exclusions and continued to cause starvation deaths.
Several families have been denied a ration card — primarily because of lacking Aadhaar — despite meeting the criteria for inclusion in the Public Distribution System under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013.
Debashish, a sarpanch from Koraput in Odisha, said that out of the 1,393 households in his Gram Panchayat, 175 households still did not have a ration card, even though they had applied more than a year ago.
Due to the mandatory requirement of Aadhaar, said Debashish, there were disruptions even in the payment of cash under the Mamta Yojana, the state-funded maternity entitlement scheme.
The activists associated with the Right to Food Campaign also talked about the various cases of starvation deaths caused due to the denial of services either because of lacking Aadhaar or because of problems in the biometric authentication.
Taramani Sahu from Simdega in Jharkhand spoke of the starvation death of 11-year-old Santoshi, after her family’s ration card was cancelled in the absence of Aadhaar seeding.
Vishwanath from Jharkhand talked about the starvation death of Budhni Soren, a tribal woman from Giridih, in January 2018.
Narsimha from Karnataka presented details of the hunger deaths of three brothers in Gokarna in the state, after their ration was discontinued for want of Aadhaar.
Rama, a woman from Delhi, said even though the Delhi government had introduced equipment for iris scanning of ration card-holders, she was still unable to authenticate her identity and was excluded from the PDS.
Many people in vulnerable social and economic positions testified to not receiving social security pension. Gulshan Khatoun from Noida said he had three sons with disability, but none of them received pension. Similarly, Maida Khatoon, a widow from Noida, does not get pension.
Rajiv Gowda, a Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka, was present at the hearing and said that although his party (the Congress) had initially brought Aadhaar, the intention was never to use the Unique Identification system as a tool for exclusion.
Many people from the different states talked about the hardships they were facing due to large-scale unemployment.