No mechanism for welfare: Aadhaar turns into a burden instead of benefit for 3,000 tribal women in Maharashtra
The seeding of the Aadhaar number to bank accounts and a host of other services is increasingly inconveniencing people.
22-year-old Suvarna Hilam, who recently became a mother, is among 600 women who have not received financial assistance under a centrally sponsored scheme in Thane district’s Shahapur taluka. She has been told that the amount – Rs 600 under the Janani Suraksha Yojana – would be given to her if she opens a bank account and seeds it with Aadhaar number. However, at present, she is unable to open the bank account as her old Aadhaar card contains her maiden name and she would have to make a new one instead. It is a similar story for other women – who have not got their entitlements either because they don’t have an Aadhaar number, or because it is not linked to their accounts.
In Suvarna’s case, the problem is that her gram panchayat record mentions her new name. Due to this discrepancy, the bank has asked her to get another Aadhaar card issued which bears her name after marriage. Only then they will open her bank account. She has not yet received the allowance of Rs 6,000 under the Pradhanmantri Matrutva Vandana Yojana for her first child who was born in May 2017 as the bank, then too, did not open her account with her old Aadhaar card. She gave birth to her second child in July this year and was hoping to get the financial assistance under the scheme at least this time.
Her 55-year-old father-in-law, Santosh Hilam, a labourer belonging to the Katkari tribe, travelled back and forth 26 km on two consecutive days last week from his village Lenad Budruk to Shahapur taluka's sole Aadhaar E-Seva Centre to get this technical issue sorted. However, he was asked to get an affidavit of Suvarna's changed name, get her marriage certificate and then visit the office again the next day. A visibly irritated Santosh stated how futile this whole exercise was.
“We were told that the amount will be transferred in the bank account but since my daughter-in-law’s Aadhaar has her maiden name, she can’t open the account. It’s frustrating because I had to forgo two days’ wages to come here only to be told to come again with her marriage certificate. They should have mentioned this on day one itself. I have already spent over Rs 200 for the travel and affidavit of the changed name of her. I will have to shell out another Rs 200 for the new Aadhaar card. What’s the point of making these changes to Aadhaar when such additional expenses exceed the amount of benefit?”
The seeding of the Aadhaar number to bank accounts and a host of other services such as phone numbers, passports, LPG connections, etc to avail the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) services is increasingly inconveniencing people, who are living in an almost Orwellian state today. Benefits of government schemes are being withheld from people who don’t have an Aadhaar number, or who have not linked it with documents or bank accounts, although they are otherwise eligible. These benefits, ironically, are meant to empower the poor, especially those who live in remote regions barely visible to policymakers.
For instance, according to data from the Palghar Zilla Parishad, as many as 1,823 listed beneficiaries (most of whom are tribal women) of the JSY – for the period between 1 April and 31 July 2018 – have not been given the financial assistance of Rs 600. In Thane district, benefits of around 1,398 listed beneficiaries were withheld between April 2017 and July 2018. These pending cases are mainly due to incomplete seeding of Aadhaar number with the bank account or inability to open a bank account due to technical difficulties in Aadhaar details, or absence of an Aadhaar card.
Apart from JSY, disbursal of payments for other benefits like the Pradhanmantri Matrutva Vandana Yojana too has been affected due to absence of Aadhaar, or its seeding.
Janardhan Chandre, branch manager of Thane District Co-operative Bank, Palghar Branch, says this issue is due to the revised Aadhaar norms by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). “We are simply following updated Know Your Customer (KYC) guidelines issued by the RBI, which state that Aadhaar seeding to the bank account is mandatory. According to these guidelines, marriage certificate copy is not sufficient to link one’s account to Aadhaar if there is a discrepancy in the name. Instead, the beneficiary must produce a new Aadhaar card with the changed name. Our KYC system doesn’t update if Aadhaar number is not fed into it, or even if there is a slight change in the spelling of the name,” he says.
On 20 April 2018, RBI made several amendments in the existing KYC guidelines, wherein several relaxations were done away with but are subject to Supreme Court’s final decision on making Aadhaar mandatory. One of the deleted ones read: “A copy of the marriage certificate issued by the State Government or Gazette notification indicating change in name together with a certified copy of the ‘officially valid document’ in the existing name of the person shall be obtained for proof of address and identity, while establishing an account based relationship or while undertaking periodic updation exercise in cases of persons who change their names on account of marriage or otherwise.”
Had this provision not been erased from the guidelines, it would have been easier to avail the benefit.
How technical difficulties related to Aadhaar hurt the rural working class
Prior to this Aadhaar compulsion, these women were handed out cheques by the Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) in their vicinity with the help of Auxiliary Nurse Midwives or ASHA workers. According to Dr Sanjay Lohar, in-charge medical officer of Sakur PHC in Jawhar taluka of Palghar district, this method was better as it hardly left any scope of pending cases. “Switching to DBT services has delayed the whole process of disbursal due to the mandatory nature of Aadhaar. Earlier, the PHCs were told to disburse via cheques; this helped as there were hardly any pending cases. They could deposit the cheques in their banks and withdraw money easily. But this method was stopped three years ago. Although DBT is better, it is not suited for the rural areas yet,” says Lohar.
Saraswati Paradhi, a 27-year-old tribal woman and agricultural labourer from Jawhar Taluka, had to apply thrice to get a new Aadhaar card because of mismatch in previous fingerprints. “I was able to get the Aadhaar card only on the fourth occasion, because of my fingerprints as my hands are rough due to the kind of work I do. We do occasionally get help from ASHA workers, but they are not with us throughout the process. I was told that I will get some money directly in my bank account, but sorting this Aadhaar issue took me a whole year as I was not aware how to go about it. Now, I’m hoping to get the money, but the ASHA worker told me that I will have to wait,” said Saraswati, while feeding her two-year-old child.
Although several government schemes in rural areas are portrayed in a utopian manner, it’s a different story altogether on the ground. Underprivileged rural working people, especially those who live in the tribal belt, are often oblivious to the policy-level changes as their priorities are centred around basic survival. Illiteracy, lack of confidence to fight for their rights and geographical isolation, too, contribute to them being deprived of the benefits of government schemes.
Over 50 percent of the population in Palghar and Thane districts comprises people from Warli, Konkana and Katkari tribes. Many of them work as agricultural and migrant labourers who earn Rs 150-200 for a day’s work depending on its availability. To have a running bank account is a luxury to most of them and missing even a day’s wage to sort out technical hindrances in such government schemes hurts their finances. In such circumstances, pregnant women, or lactating mothers would naturally find it difficult to head out of their homes seeking benefits.
Lack of mechanism
Even as possessing an Aadhaar card and its seeding to various services have been made mandatory, there is no mechanism in place in rural areas to get these issues sorted. For instance, there is only one Aadhaar E-Seva Centre in Palghar district and three in Thane districts in Khardi, Washim and Shahapur. Only a select few district banks are given the additional responsibility to issue Aadhaar cards and carry out its further formalities.
So, the villagers are forced to travel long distances, wait in hour-long queues and return the next day if the work is not done. Not only is this process frustrating but it also remains invisible from the mainstream discourse, as one never sees a tribal outraging about such issues. They simply tend to forgo the monetary benefit and carry on with their lives.
When Aadhaar was made compulsory from around 2015, special camps were set up at the PHC and tehsil levels for registration of the beneficiaries, says Urjit Barve, an officer working on Aadhaar with Palghar Zilla Parishad. “We have not come across any cases where the beneficiaries have been deprived. There are certain difficulties like no internet connectivity and the process of carrying machinery in the interiors. There is also lack of awareness among people who are illiterate and live in geographical isolation. In such cases, we inform ASHA workers to coordinate with the pregnant women and get their required documents,” he said.
According to social activist Ajay Bhoir, based in Jawhar Taluka, “Authorities do not hold registration camps for Aadhaar any longer. While the current government has ambitions to build a ‘Digital India’, it seems to be a paradox to not continue these camps citing lack of internet connectivity and resources to reach the rural interiors.”
This brings into question as to why Aadhaar is imposed in rural areas, where a proper administrative mechanism is absent.
“The compulsoriness of Aadhaar should be withdrawn with immediate effect,” said Professor R Ramakumar of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who is among several people who have filed public interest litigations questioning the lack of safeguards in the implementation of Aadhaar.
“The mandatory Aadhaar seeding has created a lot of problems in both urban as well as rural areas and excluded the beneficiaries in the social sector. The immediate solution for this would be to withdraw the compulsoriness that has followed Aadhaar and social sector schemes. It should remain voluntary till the Supreme Court’s final verdict. Aadhaar was thought of as a solution to tackle certain problems in multiple areas of its application, without enough knowledge of how the technology would work in resolving those problems. It is a solution in search of a problem,” he said.