Starvation deaths: Supreme Court to hear HRLN’s petition on linking of ration, Aadhaar cards

Koili Devi & Ors vs Union of India & Ors, WRIT PETITION (C) No: 61 OF 2018 HRLN filed this writ petition on starvation deaths occurring in the country. This petition will ameliorate the difficulties of lakhs of people who are being denied rations due to Aadhaar related problems. The matter came up for hearing before the Chief Justice of India on Monday, March 26, 2018, wherein the court directed the petitioners to serve a copy of the petition to the Central government agencies. HRLN filed the petition on behalf of the mother and sister of Santoshi, an 11-year-old girl from Simdega, Karimati in Jharkhand who died of starvation on September 28, 2017. The mother, Koili Devi, and sister, Gudiya Devi, were the petitioners along with a local social activist. The petition highlights how Santoshi’s death was effectively due to the cancellation of her poor Dalit family’s ration card since it had not been linked to their Aadhaar card. Their rations had been stopped from March, 2017, because of which, the entire family had been starving. On the day of Santoshi’s death, her mother save her some tea and salt – the only two things they had left. Later that night, Santoshi died. The government, however, has claimed that she died of Malaria, a claim that her family vehemently refuses. The petition also deals with similar documented deaths by starvation in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. It deals with the issue of non-linkage of tens of thousands of ration cards with Aadhar cards. Apart from linkage between the Aadhaar card and the ration card the other two major reasons for cancellation of the ration card is “seeding” where there is a mismatch between the name on the Aadhaar card and the 10 digit identification number; and biometric mismatch where the fingerprint or the iris of the eye does not match with the name of the person. Such arbitrary removal especially impacts vulnerable families who are the most dependent on the government for their survival and may not have the means to challenge their exclusion, the petition notes. Without raising the issue regarding the constitutional validity of Aadhaar (which is being separately argued before the Constitutional Bench), the petition points out that the linkage of food schemes for the poor with Aadhaar as a mandatory requirement could have disastrous consequences. It could lead to more starvation deaths. It is, therefore, necessary to investigate the thousands of cases of food being denied and to ensure that nothing stands in the way of prompt distribution of food and other entitlements to the poor, the petition said. Lastly, it prayed that the court issue a direction to ensure that no entitled person is denied subsidized food grains under the National Food Security Act for lack of an Aadhaar card, or lack of seeding of Aadhaar number to ration card. It also asked, among other things, that the court direct authorities to stop the mandatory use of Aadhaar-Based Biometric Authentication method to distribute food grains. We will update this case as it develops.