Many believe that the death of Santoshi Kumari, of Karimati village in Jharkhand on 28th September 2017 was caused by starvation. It occurred months after her family’s ration card was cancelled because it was not linked to their Aadhaar number, and Santoshi’s family had been barred from receiving their rations for six months.
In 2013, the Supreme Court passed an order categorically stating that no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card and warned that only persons entitled to the card under the law should have it. In 2015, the Supreme Court passed a judgment which, among other things, directed the government to ‘give wide publicity in electronic and print media that it is not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card.’
Despite these orders, Aadhaar has been linked to every aspect of people’s lives from school admissions, getting a degree, availing scholarships, getting insurance policies, Bank Accounts, provident fund, LPG, getting monthly rations, purchasing subsidised TB and HIV medications, and even getting a death certificate.
While there has been much opposition to the invasion of privacy by the Aadhaar scheme, the systemic denial of basic entitlements to the most vulnerable citizens has not been highlighted with the same vigour. To highlight these issues, the Right to Food Campaign – Karnataka organised a public hearing on this topic. A jury of Ms. Usha Ramnathan, Dr. Sylvia Karpagam, Mr Clifton Rozario, and Mr K. C. Raghu heard the cases, while Major General S. G. Vombatkere and Mr. Narasimhamurthy served as witnesses to the jury.
The event started with Ms. Reshma from the Forum for Urban Governance and Commons outlining the shift of the scheme from voluntary to mandatory and was followed by people from across the state who narrated how the lack of an Aadhaar card or failure of the system to recognise their Aadhaar card had resulted in them being denied access to critical services such as getting their monthly rations.
Maj. Gen. Vombatkere and Mr. A. Narasimhamurthy corroborated the accounts and highlighted the paradox of ration cards being accepted as proof of identity and residence when applying for an Aadhaar card and now ration cards are being cancelled for lack of an Aadhaar card. A representative of the Karnataka Food and Civil Supplies Corporation who was present briefly at the hearing, admitted that the people where facing these issues and assured everyone that he would place these concerns before relevant authorities.
The hearing concluded with the observations from the jury that the most vulnerable citizens were being denied their Right to Life, Right to Food, and Right to Education because the Aadhaar card had become a barrier to basic entitlements such as food, medication, and education. They recommended that the Government of Karnataka immediately delink the Aadhaar card from essential services.
In what may come as a relief to lakhs of people, the Centre has now instructed states to not deny PDS benefits to those who do not have Aadhaar or have not linked their ration cards to Aadhaar and warned strict action against those who violate this.