A Dalit mother lost her ration card and then her child to starvation — her fight for justice has now become a national cause at the Supreme Court

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A Dalit mother lost her ration card and then her child to starvation — her fight for justice has now become a national cause at the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of IndiaBCCL

  • The Indian Supreme Court has issued a notice to the central government asking it to respond to allegations that nearly four crore ration cards were cancelled because they were not Aadhaar-linked.
  • The plea filed with India’s apex judicial institutional added that the cancellation of these cards has led to an increase in starvation deaths across the country.
  • The Supreme Court has taken up the case at a time when food India’s insecurity is reportedly at an all time high, worsened by the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Koili Devi lost her 11-year daughter to starvation after her family’s ration card was cancelled for not being linked to their Aadhaar number. The local authorities, however, claimed that the death of Santoshi Kumari was due to malaria — not hunger.

The fight on whether or not the right to food, as promised by Article 47 of the Indian Constitution, is being impeded by Aadhaar card linkages has now reached the Supreme Court and the bench wants answers from the central government.

The story of Koili Devi
Devi maintains that Santoshi had allegedly not eaten for eight days before her death on 28 September 2017. She was even unable to avail the mid-day meal that she usually received at school due to the Durga Puja holidays at the time.
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In a video with Right to Campaign activist, Dheeraj Kumar, Devi explains that the local ration dealer refused to give her family rations for six months on the grounds that their ration card had not been linked — or ‘seeded’ — to their Aadhaar card.

Devi’s husband was mentally ill and hence, unable to work. She and her other daughter tried to get some income cutting grass on farms, but that only put around ₹80 to ₹90 in their pocket per week.

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Even jobs under India’s employment guarantee scheme, MGNREGA, were not available at the time to provide the family with any kind of disposable income.

In the moments before Santoshi lost consciousness, Devi claims that her child asked for rice.

“I went to get rice but I was told that no ration will be given to me. My daughter died saying ‘bhat, bhat’.”

Koili Devi told ANI.

Now, the question isn’t just about Devi’s right to food, but the right of nearly four crore families whose ration cards have allegedly been cancelled, without prior notice, because they were not linked to the country’s biometric identification system -- Aadhaar.

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‘One nation, one ration card’ has made things worse
While the central government has been asked to explain themselves, states too have a role to play. Even Solicitor General Aman Lekhi told the petitioner to take the case to the relevant high court.

This is because in states where starvation deaths are happening due to lack of a ration card, the administration is blaming them either on malaria or diarrhoea instead — like in the case of Devi and her daughter Santoshi. “In fact, [they blame it on] anything but the lack of food,” said the petitioner's report after obtaining responses from states.

“The Union of India casually gives an explanation that these cancelled cards were bogus. The real reason is that the technological system based on iris identification, thumb prints, non-possession of Aadhaar, non-functioning of the internet in rural and remote areas, etc, led to large scale cancellation of ration cards without notice to the family concerned.”

Report filed by the petitioner, Koili Devi, to the Supreme Court of India

In Odisha, for instance, families were being denied access to food through the public distribution system (PDS) after the state started to implement the central government’s ‘one nation, one ration card’ programme in September 2019, according to The Hindu.
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The programme required ration card holders to link their accounts to their Aadhaar in an exercise called ‘Aadhaar seeding’. The process helps the government weed out ghost names, which appear on multiple ration cards. These names can then be removed from the list of beneficiaries. But, the system is not foolproof as seen in Odisha’s case.

“Tribals either do not have Aadhaar cards or the identification does not work in tribal and rural areas,” Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, who is representing Devi, told the court.

Koili Devi’s case reaches the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has taken up the case at a time when the COVID-19 has intensified food insecurity in India. The pandemic has caused a lot of disruption to the local, regional and national food supply chains.
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The 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report shows that India retains the dubious distinction of being the country with the largest population of food insecure people. Moreover, last year’s Hunger Watch Report dubbed the hunger situation in India as ‘grave’.

Overall, on the Global Hunger Index, India currently ranks 94 out of the 107 country database and is in the ‘serious’ hunger category.

A Dalit mother lost her ration card and then her child to starvation — her fight for justice has now become a national cause at the Supreme Court
Number of Ration Card beneficiaries deleted over the last 10 monthsBI India

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Gonsalves told the court that regardless of the challenges, the right to food — which is symbolised by the ration card — cannot be curbed or cancelled because a person does not have Aadhaar identification.

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