Thursday, February 01, 2018

Lukhi Murmu, 30, dies of starvation in Jharkhand in yet another case of aadhaar authentication "failure"

Phulin, Lukhi Murmu's sister
By Our Representative
Another woman has died of undernutrition and exhaustion in Jharkhand after she was denied of Public Distribution System (PDS) ration for four months, allegedly due to the failure of Aadhaar-based biometric authentication. Bringing this to light, the advocacy group Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand, has said, the woman, 30, passed away on January 23, 2018.
"Lukhi Murmu of Dhawadangal village of Hiranpur block in Pakur (Jharkhand) succumbed to prolonged undernutrition and exhaustion", the Campaign said following a fact-finding team, comprising of Anand Prakash Tudu, Ankita Aggarwal, Siraj Dutta and Suraj visited the village on January 28 and spoke with Lukhi Murmu’s family members, their neighbours, and the ration dealer.
"She lived with her 14-year old sister Phulin in extreme poverty. Their meals usually comprised solely of rice and they even had to sleep hungry at times", statement said, adding, "The deprivation worsened over the last four months when they were unable to access their ration from the PDS due to Aadhaar-based biometric authentication failure."
The team found that Lukhi Murmu’s household was issued an Antyodaya ration card, meant for the poorest of the poor, under the National Food Security Act (NSA). "In around June 2017, this ration card was converted into the 'priority' category without the family’s knowledge. This reduced her household’s monthly grain entitlement by 15 kg", the Campaign said.
It added, "The household did not receive any PDS foodgrains since October 2017. Lukhi Murmu was too weak to go to the ration shop, which is about a kilometre away from their house. Phulin went to the ration shop a few times, including the day her sister died, but always returned empty handed as she was unable to authenticate herself in the ePOS machine."
"One of their other sisters also went to the ration shop once, but the dealer did not give her any rice too", it said, adding, this happened because only "Lukhi Murmu and Phulin’s Aadhaar number is seeded with their ration card, and not the other two sisters’."
Lukhi Murmu's ration card
Ironically, noted the Campaign, in his report on the death to the state food secretary, Pakur’s Deputy Commissioner ascribed illness as the cause of Lukhi Murmu’s death. "However, the report does not mention the nature of illness. No post mortem was conducted after the death. According to Lukhi Murmu’s family, she did not suffer from any major illness", it added.
"In January 2018, Lukhi Murmu was tested for tuberculosis and kala-azar, but was diagnosed negative for both these ailments", it said, adding, "The Deputy Commissioner’s report argues that Lukhi Murmu could not have died of hunger as she had some land, two cows and paddy in her house at the time of her death."
However, the Campaign said, "Lukhi Murmu did possess these assets, but that does not preclude her death due to starvation. Government officials argue that the family could have sold its land, cattle or paddy for food. The deterioration in Lukhi Murmu’s condition was gradual and there was no way for her family to predict her death."
It added, "As per the ration dealer’s testimony to the local administration, no one from Lukhi Murmu’s household came to the PDS shop in the last four months. However, to the Right to Food Campaign fact-finding team, the dealer admitted that Phulin came to collect her household’s rations but was turned away due to biometric authentication failure."
"Local officials claim to have given instructions to all the dealers in Pakur to also give PDS rations to households that are unable to authenticate themselves through Aadhaar. However, the dealer claimed to have not received any such instruction", the campaign said, recalling, "Following the hunger death of Santoshi Kumari in Simdega in September 2017, the Food Ministry issued a notification which states that even in case of failure of biometric authentication or lack of Aadhaar, ration dealers to give PDS rations to eligible households."

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