Karnataka Activists say Starvation Death of Jharkhand Girl Was Not the First Aadhaar Casualty

Three brothers died in July and while the ration dealer says their family was not given rations because they did not have Aadhaar cards, the authorities have blamed alcoholism and not starvation for their deaths.

New Delhi: While the government of Jharkhand is still disputing the cause of death of young Santoshi earlier this month – her family says she died of hunger after the lack of an Aadhaar link led to the loss of their subsidised food rations, ministers say it was malaria that she succumbed to – this is not the first time allegations have surfaced of the UID scheme having a calamitous effect on the food security of poor families.

In July this year, three brothers from a Dalit family in Gokarna, Karnataka, died within two weeks of each other. The New Indian Express, which first reported the deaths, said in its report that the brothers died after the family, despite having two ration cards, were denied rations for months. The denial, the report said, was because their ration cards were not linked to their Aadhaar numbers. Taking note of this report, the NGO, People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), initiated a fact-finding mission. Narasimhappa T.V. from the PUCL in his report said that the last time the family received subsidised rice, wheat and sugar was in December 2016.

“After that, they didn’t officially receive any rations, although in March the ration shop dealer gave them some rice free of cost, of his own will,” the report said.

The brothers – Narayana, Venkataramma and Subbu Maru Mukhri – lived with their mother in Belehittala village. All three members died between July 2 and July 13. Local activists, as well as the New Indian Express report, had then claimed that their death was caused by lack of food. The authorities, however, denied this allegation and said that it was alcoholism, not starvation that caused the deaths.

According to the Revenue Department, the Dalit household – Nagamma (the brothers’ mother), her four sons and the wife and children of her surviving sons – has an annual income of Rs 11,000. Speaking to the PUCL, Nagamma accepted that two of her sons were alcoholics. She, however, added that her family did manage well as long as they were getting their monthly ration. However, in the last three months, they had been unable to get one square meal. Narasimhappa’s report says:

However, the problem arose when the Food and Civil Supplies department demanded that Aadhaar card and ration card should be linked, as she and her sons didn’t have an Aadhaar card, therefore they faced the problem of starvation, since during this time they were not receiving the daily wages, too.

No postmortem was conducted after the deaths, neither was any complaint filed, the PUCL report said. Members of Mahaganpathi Samaj Seva Sangh, a local NGO, were quoted by Narasimhappa as saying that the brothers died due to starvation. They further clarified that one of the brothers, Narayana, did not drink alcohol.

The report also quoted the local ration dealer and owner of the Gokarna gram panchayat ration shop, Vivek, as saying that “Nagamma Maru Mukhri’s ration card was updated only in the month of March 2017, when the ration was provided, but as per the list provided by the Food and Civil Department, the names of the victims and Nagamma Mukhri’s name were not mentioned and the reason given was that the ration card and Aadhaar card had not been linked”.

“When the incident happened, officials came and looked into the situation. Nagamma’s ration card is now linked to Aadhaar and she now receives the ration entitled to her,” Vivek told The News Minute.

However, The News Minute reported, the food inspector in Kumta taluka, R.C. Gattumane, denied allegations that rations were not being given to the family. He also insisted that alcoholism and poor health – and not starvation – caused the deaths.

In February, the Centre made it mandatory for Aadhaar cards and ration cards to be linked in order to avail benefits of the public distribution system. Several states, including Karnataka, use Aadhaar-based biometric authentication at ration shops.