New Delhi: Two more poor people who were unable to get their ration cards linked to Aadhaar have died due to starvation in Jharkhand. With this, the total tally of deaths due to starvation in the state has gone up to 17 since 2017, food rights activists say.
The latest victim – 45-year old Kaleshwar Soren – died of hunger and destitution in Mahuatanr village on November 11. A fact-finding team from the Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand discovered that Kaleshwar’s ration card was cancelled as it was not linked with Aadhaar.
The team said Kaleshwar was living in extreme deprivation in a dilapidated kutcha house with no possessions except a wooden cot. “Lack of adequate food and nutrition was routine for the family. Kaleshwar could barely manage to survive on the food given by neighbours. He had become weak over the last couple of years and had stopped working,” it added.
The team also found that Kaleshwar had to mortgage the family’s agricultural land and sell off his pair of oxen to survive. It said:
“Owing to persistent lack of food at home and unavailability of any means of earning, none of his children went to school and had to seek work from an early age. Two older sons, who work as daily wagers in Rajasthan, were not allowed by the contractor to go back home even once in the last two years. They could not even visit their village after their father’s death.”
Cancellation of ration card pushed family into penury
The campaign team noted that denying the family of ration through the public distribution system was responsible for placing them in such a precarious condition. It said the family’s ‘priority ration card’ was cancelled in 2016 as it was not linked with the Aadhaar of family members. This effectively stopped the supply of subsidised PDS grains to the family.
The ration dealer told the team that after cancelling his card, Kaleshwar was asked to submit his Aadhaar to get back on the ration list. But, he could not submit it as he had misplaced it.
Victim’s children did not possess Aadhaar either
Moreover, the team discovered that none of Kaleshwar’s children had an Aadhaar number either. The head of the gram panchayat claimed that he provided grain to Kaleshwar from the Khadyan Kosh (grain bank) worth Rs 10,000 that had been earmarked to support vulnerable families. However, this proved grossly inadequate. The fact-finding team was also unable to verify this claim, highlighting the inefficacy of the government’s solution.
Kaleshwar was not the only person in his village whose ration card was cancelled. The team learnt that ration cards of 27 other families from the same village were also cancelled in 2016. Out of these, the cards of 26 households were “reinstated” on the ration list a year after being cancelled and after they submitted their Aadhaar and bank account details.
However, like Kaleshwar, the card of Jian Kisku, has still not been restored as neither he nor his wife possess an Aadhaar number.
Old woman died of starvation as pension was denied in absence of Aadhaar linkage
The Right to Food Campaign said in another Aadhaar-related death, 75 year-old Seeta Devi, who lived alone, starved to death in Gumla district on October 25. She did not have any food or cash at home before her death. Even though she had a ration card, due to illness, she could not go to the ration shop in October to authenticate her identity. She was also denied old age pension as her bank account was not linked with Aadhaar.
Yet another person, Moti Yadav from Margomunda block of Deoghar district, died of destitution on November 1. In spite of being visually impaired, he was unable to receive a disability pension despite applying for it, said the campaign.
With these deaths, the campaign claimed that eight Adivasis, four Dalits and five from backward communities had died so far in the state due to starvation.
Contrary to the government’s claims, it said, the causes of these deaths, include the denial of food-grain due to the absence of a ration card, cancellation of ration cards not linked with Aadhaar, or Aadhaar-based biometric authentication failures.
Denial of social pension aggravated the problem
Apart from this, “the case of Moti Yadav demonstrates that the denial of social security pensions and absence of work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act further contributes to the destitution of starvation victims and their families,” the activists said.
Of all the starvation-related deaths which took place in the state, the campaign found that at least seven victims were eligible for social security pensions. Despite that, they were either not granted a pension or did not receive their pension due to administrative lapses or Aadhaar-related issues. These deaths, the campaign said, also showcases how the children of these families – with poor education and negligible access to health services and employment opportunities – are staring at a bleak future.
Meanwhile, the campaign claimed that inadequate coverage of the Antyodaya Anna Yojana scheme was also responsible for the deaths. “Most of these families, despite living in acute poverty, did not have an AAY ration card,” it said. The food rights activists have been demanding the universalisation of PDS in rural areas to reduce exclusion errors. They have also been seeking inclusion of pulses and edible oil in the scheme.
‘Five starvation deaths since the establishment of grain banks’
The state government has thus far denied that these deaths have occurred due to starvation. The campaign, however, charged the government for doing nothing to reduce the alarming state of food insecurity in Jharkhand. It claimed that at least five people have died of hunger since the government announced the setting up of grain banks at the Gram Panchayat level to support vulnerable households.
“Such token initiatives fail to ensure universal access to food security as a matter of right and expose the government’s lack of commitment to people’s right to food,” the campaign insisted.