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Food security? Tribals rendered 'niraadhaar' without aadhaar in Gujarat's Adivasi belt

By Pankti Jog*
Government data on Universal Identity (UID) or aadhaar website may show a coverage of up to 95% till March 2019. But ground realities are not so glorious. In fact, villages of Devgadh Baria block of Dahod, a predominantly Adivasi district in Gujarat's eastern tribal belt, are facing the bitter truth: That you are virtually a niraadhar (orphan) without an aadhaar number.
An old woman, aged 75, has 21 members in her house, but they do not get ration, as many of them do not have aadhaar. And as for those who do have, it doesn't get linked to the ration card for some strange reason. Jokhmiben goes around to meet everyone in the village to narrate her story with the hope that her problem would be resolved one day. But she is just one of the thousands in those villages of Devgadh Baria who do not have aadhaar and can't get ration.
Aadhaar was introduced by the erstwhile UPA government and was opposed by opposition parties and social activists alike. However, after 2014, the Government of India started promoting it. Soon, Gujarat, claiming to be model state for the country to follow, was declared to have maximum coverage of aadhaar registration.
It was indeed a crucial time for everyone. Mid-day meals were closed for children who didn't have aadhaar. Pre-school anganwadi workers and public distribution system (PDS) ration shop holders almost threatened people that they would be excluded if they didn't have aadhaar. Camps were held. Block-level officials offered aadhaar to all those who could access those camps.
“They were asking for birth certificate. In a large number of villages of Dahod, you will find many who have not bothered to go in for birth registration. Many children in schools and kids in anganwadis do not have birth registration document", a villager complained to me during my recent visit to Devgadh Baria.
This villager continued: "People migrate for six months to other districts. Many a time women are here in the village, child is born, but formalities are never completed. Talatis (village level revenue officials) often do not come to these villages, as they have under their charge not one but many villages. They sit at the block level office. One has to go to Devgadh Baria town if we want to meet them.”
The government is known to be boasting of great successes of the Matrutva Sahay scheme -- meant for young mothers. Some of the most marginalized mothers, I was told, do not get any benefit of the scheme as they do not have aadhaar.
A widow pension scheme form seeks 21 different types of certificates, affidavits and verifications to be taken from different offices
A member of a women's organization working in this area complained, "Paper work for getting any certificate, or document, is very complicated. Women have to run from pillar to post to collect those documents." She showed a widow pension scheme form which seeks 21 different types of certificates, affidavits and verifications to be taken from different offices.
Higher officials, of course, claim that you do not require so many documents for making aadhaar, but agencies, including lower-level officers, do ask for ration card, voter ID, birth certificate etc.
A local official told me, “Government is doing so much for them, why can’t they understand that aadhaar is a must?", adding, "If they can’t get their aadhaar done, we will not be able to help them in any way... There may be one or two persons who do not have aadhaar, our survey tells us that our coverage is 99%.”
I was left wondering: Is this because of wrong reporting regarding coverage of aadhaar in the same way as India is claimed to have been declared open defecation free (ODF)? It seems, false data on services provided to people have become the biggest enemy for accessing these. In these villages, you need to search for a toilet if you want to use one.
A social worker told me, "These villages have a very high malnourishment level, and it is challenge for the government, society, social workers to overcome the lag. While officials sitting in Gandhinagar deny that services are depending on aadhaar, the most needy are the most excluded, too."
Indeed, the bitter fact is that in these villages aadhaar has made people even more vulnerable.
---
*With Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

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