Jharkhand girl's death over Aadhaar-ration card: Activists call it murder, say government move is contempt of SC

The Jharkhand government has been dismissive of the accusation that the 11-year-old girl Santoshi Kumari died after her family was denied ration provisions as their ration card was not linked to Aadhaar. She died of Malaria, not starvation, it has maintained.

Jharkhand girls death over Aadhaar-ration card: Activists call it murder, say government move is contempt of SC

Representational image. CNN-News18

The facts available, however, run contrary to the claim. The ration card of the deceased's family living in Karimati in Simdega district in Jharkhand was cancelled in the month of April which appeared to be the reason being non-linkage with Aadhaar.

The cancellation was done in spite of Supreme Court's directive against such action. Activists have said that the Jharkhand government's move amounts to not only contempt of court but also to murder through deliberate negligence. The local activists in Simdega district in Jharkhand have alleged that the girl died on 28 September after her family was denied ration because their card was not linked to Aadhaar, and not due to any disease.

In a controversial move, Jharkhand's chief secretary (CS) Rajbala Verma had ordered that ration cards not linked to Aadhaar would be ineligible from 5 April.

"I'm not going into the debate whether the poor girl died of hunger or due to malaria as the district administration officials told me. The fact is, it's a tragic incident and the family of the deceased didn't receive any food grains in lieu of their ration card since April. The family's ration card was scrapped following an order issued by the chief secretary of Jharkhand on 27 March. First, the CS issued the order through a video-conferencing with the administration of all the districts, which was followed by a written order and a press release," Jharkhand's minister of parliamentary affairs and minister of food and supply department, Saryu Roy told Firstpost.

Roy was one of the key whistle-blowers in the Rs 900 crore fodder scam in Bihar during former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav's regime. He also exposed the corruption of over Rs 8,000 crore in the Iron Ore Mines allotment scam under the then Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda and in January this year, he raised strong objections to the renewal of mining rights to companies investigated for wrong-doing. According to the minister, 11.30 lakh ration cards have been deleted, out of which nearly 3 lakh cards were scrapped for not being linked with Aadhaar.

"The question is not about Aadhaar per se, but it's about making it mandatory to link ration card with Aadhaar, which is against the Supreme Court's ruling, which says that no one should be denied of ration (food grains) on the pretext of Aadhaar. The chief secretary's order grossly violated the apex court's directive," the minister alleged.

Minister issues fresh counterorder Meanwhile, Roy has issued a fresh order on 21 October to immediately terminate the previous order issued by the chief secretary. "I had raised this issue in the Cabinet meeting and also questioned the CS why she issued such an order, which was against SC's directive. I've also issued an explanation order to CS," he said.

What official documents say?

"Amongst a series of official documents accessed by Firstpost, a letter issued by the CS (dated 27 March) to the Secretary, Department of Food and Civil Supplies tells that "from the month of April distribution of ration should be made mandatory on the basis of cards linked to Aadhaar... From 5 April, all those ration cards not linked to Aadhaar should compulsorily be scrapped."

"It was also instructed that wide scale publicity should be undertaken to disseminate this information.

"On 21 October, Roy issued a fresh order to terminate chief secretary's order, stating that the earlier order was contrary and in violation to the directives of the Centre and the SC (Page 2 of Minister's order). "I've issued an order on 21 October to terminate the previous order issued by the CS and instructed my department officials and district administrations that the message should be communicated to each and every ration card holder," Roy said.

What activists say?

Speaking with Firstpost, experts and activists working on governance and Aadhaar related issues have termed the Jharkhand government's decision to not distribute food grains to ration card holders without Aadhaar linkage — who are mostly below poverty line — as contempt of Supreme Court and gross violation of basic human rights.

Dr Anupam Saraph, noted international expert on governance of complex systems said, "Linking of ration card with Aadhaar is voluntary, not mandatory. Supreme Court in October 2015 said that no person should suffer due to government's making Aadhaar linkage mandatory. Jharkhand chief secretary's order is not only ridiculous but dehumanising the government and is contempt of the Supreme Court directive. The government has to provide basic benefits and using the pretext of linking of ration card with Aadhaar for the deliverance of such benefits is bad governance."

"Moreover, Aadhaar card is issued either on the basis of ration card, driving license or PAN, and in large number of cases ration cards have been found to be fake ones. Even on the floor of the Parliament, Union Minister Ravishankar Prasad had pointed out the malpractice in Aadhaar enrolment. So, what's the logic of linking ration cards with Aadhaar numbers?" he questioned.

Social activist Gopalkrishna added, "It's an arbitrary order and amounts to denial of basic human right, that is food. It's contrary to rule of law, Aadhaar act and contempt of SC. The death of the girl constitutes to crime and the CS should be booked on charges of murder using government machinery."

Why such order was issued?

According to Roy, many departments go overboard by violating norms and fudging records to win awards from the Centre.

"Many departments like in this particular case, falsely project their achievement of 100% Aadhaar linkage by manipulating records and adopting illegal ways to win awards from the Centre. They try to give a false impression that they have been following Prime Minister's directions, which is wrong. It's not only in this state but elsewhere as well," he remarked.

What next?

Roy added, "From 2 October, I have started an initiative under which every week I spent one full day in a village and interact with villagers to know there problems and grievances in public distribution system. We've also set up a call centre, with a toll-free number where anybody can complain. The aim is to provide ration to every household."

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Updated Date: Oct 23, 2017 18:14:59 IST

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