Skip to main content

How Jharkhand widow died of starvation because of aadhaar-related problems

Premani's house
By Siraj Dutta and Sakina Dhorajiwala* 
A 64-year old widow, Premani Kunwar, died of hunger and exhaustion on December 1 in Danda Block of Garhwa district (Jharkhand). Contrary to some media reports, there was no money in Premani’s bank account when she died. Two months earlier, the aadhaar-based payment system had redirected her pension money to a different account, without her knowledge. She was also denied her grain entitlement in August and November.
A destitute widow who lived alone with her 13-year old son would receive her monthly pension of Rs 600 in her aadhaar-linked bank account at the State Bank of India. From October onwards, however, her pension was redirected to another account (in the name of Shanti Devi, her husband’s first wife), unbeknown to her or her family or the local bank.
The reason is that Shanti Devi’s account (a suspicious account, she died 25 years ago) was somehow linked with Premani’s aadhaar number. Under the current system of aadhaar-enabled pension payments, a person’s pension is automatically paid to whichever of his/her accounts was mostly recently seeded with aadhaar.
But most people in rural Jharkhand are unaware of this rule, which is a source of endless confusion for pensioners and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) workers, who do not know where to look for their money. Premani’s death epitomised their hardships.
An example of objectionable banking practices associated with aadhaar, aadhaar-linked bank accounts (e.g. under the Jan Dhan Yojana) are opened without the consent or even knowledge of the concerned person. Sometimes bank accounts are opened in this casual manner by wholly unaccountable “business correspondents”.
In 2016, ICICI Bank opened accounts of around 6,000 NREGA workers in Boram block of East Singhbhum district without their consent and linked them to their aadhaar. Most of the workers did not know that their NREGA wages were being credited in the ICICI bank accounts. Shell accounts have been used to siphon off NREGA wages, a recent investigation in Mahuadanr Block (Latehar district, Jharkhand) has revealed.

Denial of food rations

Premani was also deprived of her food rations from the public distribution system in August and November. Premani had an Antyodaya card, which normally enabled her to buy her monthly quota of 35 kg of rice (minus a 2 kg cut) at Re 1/kg from the local ration shop.
In September, Premani had to use most of her food ration to return what she had borrowed in August to survive. In November, the dealer took her fingerprint (biometric authentication is compulsory for food rations in Jharkhand, in the online system) but told her that he would give her rice later. Meanwhile, she died.
These irregularities are directly related to aadhaar. The reason why there was no distribution in August is that local dealers were not allotted any rice for that month. Instead, they were told that they should distribute from the accumulated stocks that had been generated in preceding months due to transaction failures (e.g. due to lack of connectivity or biometric failures).
Meanwhile, however, many dealers had sold these stocks in the market. So in August they simply told the cardholders that they had nothing to distribute.
In addition, dealers started tampering with digital records in order to hide accumulated stocks. One way they do this is to separate authentication and distribution – get people’s fingerprints, tell them that they would get rice later, and then play hide-and-seek. This seems to be what happened to Premani in November.
Deprived of both food and cash, Premani lived in a state of semi-starvation from August (if not before). Sometimes her son brought leftover rice from the midday meal at school, but there was little else to eat most of the time. Before she died, she had gone without proper food for 15 days. No food had been cooked in her house for eight days preceding her death.
---
*With Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand. Click HERE for Right to Food Campaign's investigation into Premani's death

Comments

TRENDING

#MeToo moment in Hyderabad Urdu varsity? Two girl students seek action against authorities

Counterview Desk
Has the #MeToo movement reached Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MAANU)? It would seem so if a recent letter by newly-appointed chancellor Firoz Bakht Ahmed to MAANU vice-chancellor Dr Aslam Parvaiz is any indication. Seeking reinstatement of two girl victims of “sexual harassment and humiliation”, the letter specifically names head of the department of the Media Centre for Journalism, suspecting, the problem could be much deeper.
Text of the letter: It is a matter of utmost perturbation for me to receive the two representations from the girls studying in the MCJ (Media Center for Journalism) regarding their sexual and subsequently, mental and social harassment at the hands of Prof Ehtesham Ahmad Khan, the HOD, MCJ.
We do not know, how many girls have been exploited by him and preferred to be silent for saving their family’s honour; however, there are two brave girls who stood to the depraved advances and misuse by Prof Ehtesham and came up with written complai…

"Ineligible" funding of Sardar Statue in Gujarat: CAG tells Central PSUs, it's not a heritage CSR activity

By Our Representative
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, in its recent report on Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSE), has qualified public sector undertakings’ (PSUs') funding the 182-metre world’s highest Sardar Statue, currently being constructed in the Narmada river downstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam as an “ineligible” corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity.

Gujarat BJP MLAs, youth leader "incited" attack on North Indians: Cong releases video

Counterview Desk
Senior Gujarat Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil, currently in charge of Bihar and national spokesperson, All-India Congress Committee, has sent a legal notice to chief minister Vijay Rupani threatening criminal case and civil defamation suit for accusing him with "baseless statement" that he was responsible for attacks on north Indians in Gujarat.

29th "NRC-related" suicide in Assam, as Nirod Baran Das takes his life by hanging on a fan

By Our Representative
Reporting 29th case of National Register of Citizens (NRC)-driven suicide in Assam, one of India’s human rights campaign sites has said that, on October 20, tragedy struck Kharupetia town in Darrang district of Assam, when a retired school teacher and advocate Nirod Baran Das “took his life by hanging himself to a fan in his home.” The report adds, “The NRC process has so far claimed over two dozen such lives in the past four months alone.”

"Highly irregular" for PSUs to fund Sardar Statue under Corporate Social Responsibility

Counterview Desk
In a letter to I Srinivas, secretary, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India, former secretary (economic affairs), Ministry of Finance, EAS Sarma, has raised questions on the funding of the Sardar Patel statue in South Gujarat by Central Public Sector Undertaking (CPSUs) relying on the Comptroller and Auditor General report (No 18/2018).

Murder of Tamil Nadu teenage Dalit girl: "Stoic silence" despite #MeToo movement

Counterview Desk
Brinelle D'souza, who is with the Centre for Health and Mental Health, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, has prepared a strong statement to protest the brutal murder of 13-year-old Rajalakshmi. "Other than a few media reports, this gruesome killing has not caught national attention despite a very vibrant #MeToo campaign currently underway", regrets D'souza.

Post-MJ Akbar resignation: #MeToo movement and fears of backlash

By Sheshu Babu*
For the last few days, #MeToo movement has picked up momentum and many women are coming out with horrific tales of severe harassment in their past lives. They are not afraid anymore to expose famous persons including those at ministerial levels. As a senior journalist Neeraja Chowdhury opined (“An exit, a beginning”, October 18, 2018, indianexpress.com), "The #MeToo revelations are like the eruption of a volcano which was imminent, given the journey working women have covered. It was not easy to make public what they had gone through,and take on powerful men.”

Bank account frozen, raid on Amnesty office: Govt of India "treating" human rights NGOs like criminal enterprises

By Abhirr VP*
Amnesty India’s bank accounts have been frozen by the Enforcement Directorate, effectively stopping its work. Amnesty India is thus the latest target of the government’s assault on civil society in the country. The accounts of Greenpeace India were frozen earlier this month.

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

60 ex-civil servants seek release of CAG reports on Rafale, demonetisation before 2019 polls

Counterview Desk
As many as 60 retired civil servants have asked President Ram Nath Kovind to expedite the release of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reports on demonetisation and the Rafale deal. The letter, signed mainly by former Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service and Indian Police Service officers, regrets that the status of the audit is "unclear”. According to them, “An impression is gaining ground that CAG is deliberately delaying its audit reports on demonetisation and Rafale deal till after the May 2019 elections so as not to embarrass the present government”.