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Making aadhaar must for anganwadis will exclude migrants' children: GoI told

Counterview Desk

In a letter to Indevar Pandey, secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India (GoI), the well-known civil rights group Right to Food Campaign (RtFC) has said that while it may be “important” to include migrants in the anganwadi programmes, this should not be done at the cost of another form of exclusion due to aadhaar linking and digitalization-related problems.
Condemning any attempt to make aadhaar mandatory for any child to access basic entitlements through anganwadi centres and schools, RtFC said, schemes be made truly universal, whereby any child or woman who accesses an anganwadi centre is provided with the services without any further requirements.

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An article in the Indian Express on June 19, 2022 reported that the Ministry of Women and Child Development is working towards the inclusion of migrants in the anganwadi programme. While this is a positive step, it is worrying that this seems to be based on digitization and aadhaar linking of the beneficiaries.
Beneficiaries under the anganwadi scheme are children under six years of age and pregnant and lactating women. Supplementary nutrition for these target groups, as well as all other services of the ICDS including preschool education, nutrition and health counselling and growth monitoring, are universal services without any eligibility requirements.
In repeated orders in the ‘Right to Food case’ (PUCL vs Union of India & Ors., CWP 196/2001) the Supreme Court has clearly stated that every child under six years of age, every pregnant and lactating woman and every adolescent girl is entitled to all services of the ICDS.
Towards this, the Supreme Court had also mandated that every rural hamlet and urban slum must have an Anganwadi centre. Further, any community with 40 or more children under the age of six who do not have access to an Anganwadi centre can demand one and should be provided with the same within 90 days of the demand being made.
Supplementary nutrition under ICDS, through the Anganwadi centres, is also a legal entitlement under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). Under the NFSA as well, this is a universal entitlement making every child under six years of age and every pregnant and lactating woman eligible.
Towards meeting these obligations, the services of ICDS must be accessible to the target groups without any mandatory requirements like residence proof, aadhaar etc. Just the mere presence of a young child or a pregnant/lactating woman at an anganwadi centre is enough for them to be given supplementary nutrition. However, in practice, this is not how it works. Only those who are registered beneficiaries are provided services, and only ‘usual residents’ are registered.
By linking aadhaar to ICDS, the government is only creating another layer of exclusion in a programme that is supposed to be universal. Experiences of other schemes such as PDS have clearly shown the difficulties created for many, by mandatory aadhaar-seeding and aadhaar-based authentication towards accessing rightful entitlements. There are issues related to errors in biometric authentication, network problems, faulty aadhaar-seeding and much more.
In the case of children, even the Supreme Court in its aadhaar judgment has clearly stated that children cannot be forced to get an aadhaar and that they should be given an option to exit when they attain adulthood. Bringing an aadhaar into the ICDS would be a violation of children’s rights.
In the present scenario, where the guidelines issued by UIDAI prohibit the capturing of fingerprints and iris of children during enrollment, it is unclear how the government proposes to use Aadhaar to track the delivery of food supplements to children under ICDS.
Given high levels of malnutrition, access to meals through the anganwadi centres is critical for migrant labourers' children
In any case, Aadhaar Saturation in children between 0 to 5 years of age is less than 35% and any attempt to make Aadhar mandatory for accessing ICDS will have adverse consequences and potentially lead to large-scale exclusions.
It is also pertinent to note that recently the CAG had flagged several anomalies in the system for issuing Aadhaar to children below the age of five years and had severely criticised the avoidable expenditure on the issue of 'Bal Aadhaars' and the arbitrary practice of enrolling children based on biometrics of their parents, noting that, "Issue of Aadhaar numbers to minor children below the age of five, based on the biometrics of their parents, without confirming the uniqueness of biometric identity goes against the basic tenet of the Aadhaar Act,".
Given the high levels of malnutrition in the country, access to meals through the anganwadi centres is critical for many. This is especially so for those belonging to families that are poor and marginal communities, including migrant labour.
What is required is to remove all barriers for all children towards accessing these services by simplifying identity and residence documentation requirements. Rather, what this move seems to be doing is to only make it even more difficult for children to access these services.
The Right to Food Campaign condemns any attempt to make aadhaar mandatory for any child to access their basic entitlements through anganwadi centres and schools. We demand that the schemes be made truly universal, whereby any child or woman who accesses an Anganwadi centre is provided with the services without any further requirements.
We also call upon the government to place in the public domain the details of the proposed changes to the ICDS and hold public consultations as also mandatorily required under the Pre Legislative Consultation Policy.
ICDS has been a lifeline for children especially as families have struggled to make ends meet through the COVID crisis and the accompanying economic distress and any disruption of the services can have serious ramifications on the health of children.

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