Even as the Supreme Court has referred cases pertaining to the Aadhaar Act to a Constitution Bench, the financially and physically challenged find it difficult to access even the meagre concessions in healthcare, education, employment and day-to-day necessities that they were hitherto receiving without benefit of the Aadhaar card, which many have applied for but not received
“I am unable to continue to access service and medication provided under the anti-retroviral therapy (ART) at the government hospital where I was getting them from because I don’t have an Aadhaar card,” says Amelia (name changed), an HIV-AIDS survivor. She says she is not keen on applying for an Aadhaar card as she has heard from various people that a lot of personal data has to be provided.
Amelia, who is almost 40 years old, contracted HIV-AIDS from her late husband over two decades ago. She is a home-based worker from a low-income household and lives in Bengaluru with her children.
Farzana Bi has been in domestic service for nearly 20 years. Her husband is suffering from a prolonged illness and is unable to go out to work. Farzana works six hours a day, but her earnings are not enough to sustain the family of four. “My skin has become rough because of the prolonged exposure to detergents and dish-washing soap at the homes where I work. Hence, my fingerprints could not be captured properly and so I was unable to get an Aadhaar card. It is mandatory now to link Aadhaar cards to the family ration card, and since I don’t have an Aadhaar card I am not eligible to get the subsidised grocery items being given at the Public Distribution System (PDS) shops,” she says.
Farzana cannot afford the market prices of food products, and so the family’s consumption of rice and cereals has reduced. “With the increase in the cost of vegetables and meat, our overall food intake has decreased,” rues Farzana, who is around 38 years old and lives in a financially backward neighbourhood in Bengaluru.
Hailing from Chauda Devanahalli Village in Chintamani Taluk of Chikballapura District, Chikka Muniswami, a Dalit aged 55 years, is physically challenged. “I belong to an economically marginalised family of three, where two of us are living with disabilities. We do not own any land or a reliable means of livelihood. As such, we are entitled to a monthly pension that the government provides to people with disabilities. However, it has been made compulsory for us to mention our Aadhaar number to obtain the disability assistance. We have not been given our Aadhaar cards in spite of applying for them five months ago.”
Chikka finds it difficult to follow up on the status of the application because of his restricted mobility. “Apart from this, our ration card was cancelled as it must be linked to the Aadhaar number,” he laments. The family cannot afford to buy foodgrains in the open market. “We are forced to beg for food at times,” confides Muniswami.
It is pertinent to note that visually challenged persons find it difficult to secure Aadhaar cards as their retina scan cannot be done in a satisfactory manner. As a result, they cannot access their disability pensions.
Jyothi, from a financially backward family in Buranki Village in Khanapur Taluk of Belagavi District in northern Karnataka, has a teenage daughter in school who can no longer avail of the educational scholarship she was getting because no one in the family has an Aadhaar card.
“We cannot find out the status of our Aadhaar card applications filed more than a year ago in spite of a number of attempts, says Jyothi. “Also, we are also not able to seek work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act due to the lack of Aadhaar cards.” She adds that her aged mother who does not have an Aadhaar card is unable to avail of her senior citizen’s pension.
Farzana, Chikka and Jyothi are representative of the socio-economically disadvantaged people in Karnataka who face challenges in securing Aadhaar cards. They shared their woes at a public hearing held in Bengaluru recently. It is obvious that the lack of an Aadhaar card has a direct adverse effect on accessing benefits pertaining to health, nutrition, monthly pension and other services for people from such backgrounds.
Members of the PDS Shop Owners Association in Bengaluru testified at the public hearing that they have been finding it cumbersome to carry out their work after the Aadhaar card was made mandatory for family ration card holders to buy grocery items under the PDS system. Not everyone possesses an Aadhaar card or is aware that it must be linked to the ration card, or knows how to link the two. Further, there are problems in linking the Aadhaar card with other documents of identification due to limitations of relevant technology and infrastructure. LPG distribution agencies, too, make it mandatory to provide the Aadhaar number for purchase of cylinders at a subsidised rate.
The underprivileged continue to face such difficulties even though the Supreme Court of India has referred cases concerning the Aadhaar Act 2016 to a Constitution Bench. Over the past few months, banks and mobile phone service providers have been sending reminders to their customers that it is compulsory to link their Aadhaar cards with their accounts and phone numbers before December 31, 2017.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) does not seem to have done enough to address the challenges relating to obtaining and linking the Aadhaar numbers with other documents. As such, Farzana, Chikka and Jyothi are not likely to see any immediate improvement in their situations.
Meanwhile, Neelaiah K., a human rights activist who helped organise the public hearing on the travails relating to the Aadhaar card, says: “As a result of the documented problems with securing and linking the Aadhaar card, the Government of Karnataka has issued a circular to the deputy director of the Food and Civil Supplies Department to distribute rations without the linking of the Aadhaar number. We plan to advocate with respective officials in our areas in this regard. This is one of the small victories achieved with the cooperation of everyone associated with the campaign against making the Aadhaar number mandatory, in Karnataka.”