By Pankti Jog*
Only those who have aadhaar registration and linked it with ration card will get ration from a Public Distribution System (PDS) shop. This decision of the Gujarat government has hit very badly thousands of poor and marginalized communities of Gujarat, especially during the drought year.
The Gujarat government has always been eager to make aadhaar compulsory for many of the government benefits like scholarship scheme, Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), and social security schemes like old age pension, widow pension etc. However, this time it is the turn of ration which one is supposed to get from PDS, ensured under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, passed by Parliament.
The Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) has been receiving complaints on poor implementation and corruption in Annapurna Yojana of the state government. Annapurna Yojana was launched by the government to ensure 5 kg of ration (wheat and rice) to priority households in rural and urban areas for Rs 2 per kg and Rs 3 per kg respectively. As per the law, 75% of the rural households and 50% of the urban households need to be given this benefit.
However, in Gujarat, for the last two months, the government has stopped giving ration to those who do not have aadhaar or those who have not linked aadhaar with the ration card yet.
In Danta block of Banaskantha district, the Right to Information (RTI) helpline team recently went in for cross checking after receiving several complaints on their helpline regarding ration being denied.
In one of the Fair Price Shops (FPS) at Dalpura village of Danta block of Banaskantha district, the team found that the names have been checked off with black pen for those who do not have aadhaar. When checked with the person at the FPS, he comfirmed that he has been given instructions by the mamlatdar’s office that only those to who have aadhaar will get ration under Annapurna Yojana.
The team checked further in more than 30 villages in Danta block, and learnt that the situation is very pathetic. The government has turned so insensitive that it is denying ration for not having aadhaar, and only one third part of the ration quota is being allocated as per the NFSA. Similar situation was found in many villages of Devgadh Bariya block of Dahod district, too.
The Gujarat government came up wiith 5 different circulars in 2017, mentioning that aadhaar is preferable for availing benefit of a scheme. In one the circulars it is also mentioned that all individuals (beneficiaries) are expected to be linked. But it has not used the word mandatory for every individual with a ration card to get linked with aadhaar for getting ration.
Ironically, when contacted, the office of the principle secretary, Food and Civil Supplies Department, said the government has not taken any such decision.
However, for the past two months, in some of the poorest tribal blocks, while interacting with FPS license holders in Danta and Devgadh Bariya, they confirmed that the “e-FPS portal” displays only those names that have aadhaar, one reason why their names were cancelled and struck down with black pen.
The RTI helpline team checked things live during ration distribution in Dalpura village FPS shop, and it was shocked to see that in one of the ration cards, there were 10 members. While 9 names were displayed, the one that did not have aadhaar was not displayed.
This reveals that e-FPS software has been modified and automatically deletes the names on the basis of the availability of aadhaar. If the state government has not taken any such decision, how come that the e-FPS portal displays names of only those who have aadhaar from the ration card?
One of the tribals from Devgadh Bariya block said, “They have been denying ration to us for the last two months on the basis of aadhaar. Many of the villagers do not have aadhaar yet. Reasons are many. Some do not have any documents to show their birth date, some due to old age, some others because their thumbs impression does not match, and there are those who do not have Rs 200 to 500 to travel to block level several times, asking middle agents to fill up their forms.”
While the government claims that they have completed all Seva Setu programmes in the state, there are hundreds of poor and marginal citizens who are excluded from aadhaar registration.
“This may lead to starvation in poor families, as due to drought situation in the state this year, there is scarcity of inter-district employment in agriculture, especially in Saurashtra”, said Harinesh Pandya of Janpath, a state-level network of voluntary organizations. “No provision in a circular can have overriding effect over the provisions of an Act that has been made by Parliament”.
MAGP has demanded that the government needs to immediately issue instructions to all districts that no ration can be denied for not having aadhaar, and every family covered under Annapurna Yojana should get complete ration quota as per the allocation.
On one hand, orders of the Supreme Court say that governments must ensure that no citizen will be excluded from a scheme and a programme because of aadhaar, on the other hand, the Gujarat government has given a hard blow to the poor and marginalized in the state by making aadhaar mandatory for getting one’s ration.
*Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad, Monday, February 11, 2019