Residents of a Haryana village that was formed in 1969 to enable leprosy patients to live a life of dignity are struggling for their daily meals as they haven’t received subsidised ration from the government since last month. The reason: The Aadhaar-linked biometric device at the village ration depot can’t verify their fingerprints as many leprosy patients don’t have fingers in the first place!
The problem started last month after the local ration depot was brought under the central government’s Aadhaar-enabled public distribution scheme (PDS). Reportedly, all 65 families (200 people in all) with leprosy patients in Indira Chakravarti village on the outskirts of Karnal district went without ration in June. Over time, many regular families have settled in the village as well, but their number couldn’t be verified.
Sixty-five families (200 people in all) with leprosy patients in Indira Chakravarti village on the outskirts of Karnal district went without ration in June
Karnal is the assembly constituency of chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, no less.
Every month, ration card holders are entitled to 3kg rice, 2kg wheat, 2kg sugar, 1kg salt and 1 litre kerosene from the government at a heavily subsidised rate. To ensure that the subsidised foodgrains are distributed to the rightful beneficiaries, the government has mandated biometric verification (either fingerprints or iris scanning) at the point of sale (POS).
But, it seems like the UIDAI authorities forgot to make exceptions or other arrangements for people with physically debilitating diseases. According to The Leprosy Mission Trust India, there were about 86,000 leprosy patients in India as at April 1, 2014.
Chakravarti residents told FactorDaily that the Aadhaar cards of the leprosy patients — both those who have fingers and those who don’t — were made using retina-based identification as their fingerprints don’t register on the biometric device. However, ironically, the standard device that the government has provided at ration depots is capable of reading only fingerprints.
A cruel joke
Kashi Nath, a 50-year-old villager, said it was a cruel joke that despite their disability, they were required to verify their fingerprints for the subsidised foodgrain. “We were told that for availing of the ration, each ration card holder would have to undergo an identification process of fingerprints on the POS device,” said Nath.
Yadgiri Parsi, another village resident, told FactorDaily with tearful eyes that if they didn’t get their ration soon, they would have to resort to begging in nearby villages for survival.
Yadgiri Parsi, a village resident, told FactorDaily with tearful eyes that if they didn’t get their ration soon, they would have to resort to begging in nearby villages for survival
The villagers might as well brace for more hardship. It’s unlikely that they will ration even in July, as the authorities haven’t assured them of a solution. The villagers and the ration depot holder Joginder Singh have been trying to meet the district-level authorities to get find a resolution to the matter, but in vain.
The food and civil supplies controller, Karnal, Anil Kumar, acknowledged that the leprosy patients have contacted the department. He said the software used to manage the Aadhaar-enabled PDS has no provision to relax the requirement of fingerprint verification. He said the matter has been brought to the notice of senior officials and he was hopeful that it would be solved soon.
“There is a provision in the Aadhaar-enabled biometric system wherein a nominee can be appointed in the family. But, this was based on the assumption that there wouldn’t be more than two leprosy patients in a family. In this village, in some case, all family members are affected, and hence the problem. Now, the software will have to be amended,” Kumar said.
Marginalised by Aadhaar
Leprosy patients elsewhere in the country are facing the same problem as the Indira Chakravarti residents. The food and civil supplies department in Ranchi was considering using a one-time password, to be sent on the beneficiary’s mobile number registered with their Aadhaar, in such special cases. In Jamshedpur in Jharkhand, the state administration has ordered offline distribution of ration in areas where leprosy patients live.
FactorDaily tried to speak with Haryana’s food and civil supplies minister Karan Dev Kamboj, but neither he nor the commissioner and the director of the department could be reached for comments as they are on a foreign trip. The Aadhaar authorities too did not reply to FactorDaily’s email on the issue.
It’s unlikely that they will ration even in July, as the authorities haven’t assured them of a solution. The villagers and the ration depot holder Joginder Singh have been trying to meet the district-level authorities to get find a resolution to the matter, but in vain
According to the food and civil supplies ministry at the Centre, about 2.04 lakh or 39% of all the ration shops in the country have started using biometric devices for distribution of ration. The government says making Aadhaar mandatory to avail of ration has helped eliminate 2.3 crore fake ration cards.
While the scheme may be well meaning, until the impasse is resolved, the Chakravarti residents have thrown their hands up in despair. “We already several other issues to deal with, and this biometric attendance has come as a challenge that we can never overcome,” said Rurkhi Devi, a villager.
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Lead visual: Angela Anthony Pereira Inside images: Som Dutt