Fingerprint farce: Leprosy patients in a Haryana village dependent on others to avail ration
Karnal: The Aadhaar-linked biometric devices are meant to streamline the public distribution system (PDS). But, thumb impression being the only provision to avail ration through this mechanism hinders access to food for some – particularly the residents of a Haryana village that was set up in 1969 to enable leprosy patients live a life of dignity. Many among them do not have a thumb.
Around 65 of the 300-odd families in Indira Chakravati village in Karnal, which happens to be Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s constituency, went without ration in June and July last year after the PDS shop in their village installed an Aadhaar-linked point of sale (POS) machine. The state government followed up on the outcry that the story generated and ordered the food and supplies department to implement a nominee system for such cases. Leprosy patients could nominate a person within or outside the family to avail ration on their thumb impression.
While half of the affected families opted for nominees within the family, the struggle at ration depot continues for some 30 families who did not have a member with an intact thumb, or “were confused about nominating someone from within the family, fearing the nominee would be devoid of his/her ration”, says Kashi Nath, 45, a village resident who suffers leprosy.
“Their nominees don’t always turn up when they (leprosy patients) need the ration,” says Joginder Mann, in charge of the ration depot at Indra Chakravati.
Every month, ration card holders are entitled to three kg rice, two kg wheat, two kg sugar, one kg salt and a litre of kerosene from the government at a heavily subsidised rate. The previous process of PDS through ration card was done away with owing to complaints that depot holders sell the subsidized food grains in open market to earn profits.
District food and supplies controller (DFSC), Karnal, Anil Kumar says they had asked people to nominate someone from their family or neighbourhood, but 24 of them could not find any reliable nominee. “We permitted 12 of our department employees to volunteer as their nominees. As per norms, one person can be nominee for two beneficiaries,” Kumar said.
Mann seems not too happy with the proposition. “Ab jab nominee officers ka transfer ho jata hai to inko ration mein samasya aati hain. Kyunki rules kay hisab say, jab tak angutha nahi lagega, ration nahi milega (Their ration gets stuck when nominee officers are transferred. As per the rules, ration cannot be given unless thumb verification is done),” he says.
Mann’s problem is also that these nominees do not come to his shop but he has to visit their office to get the thumb impression, following which he provides the ration to the leprosy patients. Many a times, Mann says, he doesn’t find the nominee officials on their seat as they are either out on the field, or out of station for work.
“Whenever an officer, who is a nominee of any leprosy patients, is transferred, we replace them and ensure that ration delivery does not get delayed,” says DFSC Kumar, adding that he understands the “complications involved in the process”, but it is the government that has to take a call on simplifying the procedure.
Mann says four of the 12 officers made nominees for leprosy patients of Indira Chakravati have been transferred and their replacement is awaited. Nomination of another person in place of the previous nominee takes only a day, according to Kumar. “I will send my inspector to get a reality check done and allay their fears on this issue,” the DFSC adds.
One of the officers at the district food and supplies department told 101Reporters on the condition of anonymity that being a nominee is not a problem, but it is difficult for them to go to ration depot every month, so they summon the depot in charge to their office to take the thumb impression.
‘Leprosy chose us’
Yaadgiri Pairi, 65, a resident of Bihar who has been living in Indira Chakravati for about two decades, says life was fair until June 2017, when the state government made it compulsory to give thumb impression to avail ration. “It has shaken our faith in the system as we feel that we are not part of this country. They should understand that leprosy was not chosen by us, it chose us and we are forced to live with the disease,” Pairi says.
Wheelchair-bound leprosy patient, Kamesher Rao, 80, who has nominated daughter Santosh Devi, says she has to take a day off from her part-time work at a nearby mill to collect ration every month.
Puspha Devi, 45, gets a monthly handicap pension of Rs. 1,800 in her bank account. She is clueless why availing few kg wheat requires a thumb impression when getting pension in her account doesn’t. “When the government proposed the nominee system, I had to request neighbour Manoj Kumar, who runs a tempo, to be my nominee. He is very cooperative as he takes a day off to help us during ration distribution,” she adds.
What is tough to believe here is if the leprosy patients are being empowered by depending on someone else to avail their ration. The biometrics on Aadhaar also include the iris scan of an individual, so did the government not think of equipping POS machines with provisions to register both, the fingerprint and the iris scan?
DFSC Kumar expresses his incapability to answer if the administration plans to get iris scanners for PDS shops that encounter these special cases, saying he is just abiding by the rules set by the government. “I will draft a proposal for a possible solution to this after meeting with leprosy patients, ration depot holder and my department officials and would send it to the government,” he said.
Meanwhile, a five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday began hearing a clutch of petitions challenging the Aadhaar Act. Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the petitioners, told the bench that Aadhaar raises several questions, including “whether the Constitution of India authorises creation of a surveillance state and whether the vulnerability of the database threatened national security”.