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Jharkhand Adivasis protest failure to get ration for months, Aadhaar biometric snag

By Our Representative
Hundreds of Adivasis of several villages of Jharkhand’s Khuntpani block (West Singhbhum district) protested at the block administration’s office against the denial of ration, use of Aadhaar and other irregularities in the Public Distribution System (PDS). The protest took place following widespread unrest because of the “failure” to distribute ration in several of the villages for the last several months.
The protesters reported that cardholders of Ulirajabasa did not get ration from September to December 2018, and again February 2019. Earlier, they did not get ration in one month in 2017 and three months in 2016. People of Ankolkuti have not received their grain entitlements during August-September and November-December 2018, it was pointed out.
Cardholders said, they have to face hassles (“often leading to denial of ration”) due to mandatory use of Aadhaar and Aadhaar-based biometric authentication in the PDS. Even though the ration shop is in their village, cardholders of Ulirajahasa village have to travel three kms away to another village just for Aadhaar-based biometric authentication, required for getting their grain entitlement. This is because their village does not have adequate internet connectivity.
Meena Bodra, a participant in the protest rally, said that not only do the people have to spend money for travel, they also have to lose their daily wages, sometimes for up to three days. And after all this hassle, biometric failure continues to deny cardholders of their grain entitlements.
Kande Purty, another rally participant, said, he was denied his ration for the month of January 2019 as his fingerprints did not work in the Point of Sale (PoS) machine, meant for biometric verification. Others present agreed, insisting, the earlier system of ration distribution (through registers) was better than the current biometric based system.
While some participants belong to vulnerable families reported that they haven’t received ration cards even though they applied for it quite some time, others said, their ration cards have been cancelled recently for unknown reasons. 
Asai Bodra of Paseya village, who is physically disabled, said that she could not collect her ration for the month of February 2018 as her ration card was cancelled without informing her. Banubinj village’s Naguri Hembram said that she and some other families stopped getting ration since July 2017 as their ration cards were cancelled.
People said, they complained to the block administration several times, but their contentious issues remain unresolved.  Following the rally, a memorandum was submitted to the Block Development Officer to be forwarded to the state Chief Minister.
One of the demands put forward in the memorandum said that grain entitlements pending for earlier months should be “immediately given to the cardholders and the government should ensure timely delivery of ration every month.”
It wanted the state government to remove the Aadhaar-based biometric authentication system (PoS machine) from the Public Distribution System, insisting, Aadhaar should be made non-mandatory. The Earlier system of ration distribution (through registers) should be implemented, it added.
The memorandum sought cancellation of license to the ration dealers, and handing over the entire PDS to women self-help groups to take up the responsibility for distributing the ration.
Wanting that families whose ration cards have been cancelled should be immediately re-enrolled in the PDS, the memorandum demanded administrative action against all those officials and dealers who are responsible for failing to provide ration in time.
The rally ended following a verbal assurance from the Block Development Officer that she would “look into” their problems.

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