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Poorest Adivasi in Chhattisgarh cannot get pensions after Aadhaar glitches

Due to failure of recognition by machine, 7 pensioners didn’t get their pension after introduction of biometric machine in Kardana village of Chhattisgarh.

Kardana village is situated in Sarguja district of Chhattisgarh -- one of India's poorest districts. The villages is under Batauli block, around 60 km from district headquarter Ambikapur and 12 km from Batauli. The village is surrounded by hills and inhabited by Adivasis including Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs), of which there are 223 households and a population of 946. There are 195 pensioners living in the village, who get small pension amounts every month under categories of old age pension, widow pensions, disabilities pension.
There are no bank branches in village neither does it have mobile connectivity. For any nearest connectivity they have to go 9 km to Chiranga village across the hill.
To avail the pension scheme beneficiaries were told to open their account in Union Bank of India which has only one branch in district that too in Ambikapur 60 km from Kardana village.

 Kondaha Ram, a Nagesia Adivasi, of a particularly vulnerable tribal group, is not able to get his pension amount of Rs 4.500 because of Aadhaar glitches.

Kondaha Ram, a Nagesia Adivasi, of a particularly vulnerable tribal group, is not able to get his pension amount of Rs 4.500 because of Aadhaar glitches.

For the disbursal of their amount a ‘Bank Mitra’ is appointed by the bank who lives in Chiranga village. His duty is to take fingerprints of beneficiaries and provide them receipt and on approval he collects the aggregated amount from Ambikapur Union bank branch and distribute to beneficiaries on showing their receipt.
After the change in mode of payment from cash through panchayat to transfer in beneficiaries account in post office to introduction of modern banking system, Pension schemes has gone through lot of technological changes.

In recent development banks have been using biometric machine at places where there are no bank branches, in doing so, for the authentication beneficiaries finger print is taken on biometric machine, this biometric machine uses mobile network to connect with Aadhaar database and verify the fingerprint taken. Beneficiary gets his pension if and only if their biometric indicator matches. But the catch here is what if the finger print doesn’t match? Or what if there is no mobile network in remote areas?

 Sarojini, a Kanwar Adivasi, cannot get her disability pension anymore because of errors in Aadhaar linking. An amount of Rs 4,550 has been denied to her in Aadhaar errors.

Sarojini, a Kanwar Adivasi, cannot get her disability pension anymore because of errors in Aadhaar linking. An amount of Rs 4,550 has been denied to her in Aadhaar errors.


Connectivity
These two loopholes had been the story of many villages in Chhattisgarh. Since biometric machine requires mobile network to operate, bank mitra can’t come to Kardana as there is no network. Pensioners, many of them can’t walk and have bent back, have to walk down the hill 9 km to Chiranga village to verify their thumbprint. And even if they manage to reach, many times it happens that biometric machine refuses to recognize the person making their 9 km toil in vain. In such situation machine bears the burden of all guilt.  In Kardana village only, there are seven such persons who are not getting their pension ever since biometric machine has come into use. Since this machine necessarily needs mobile network it can’t be used in areas where there are no networks like in Kardana.
Prior to using these biometric machines, payment through panchayat was scrapped because of rent seeking behavior and post office didn’t have enough staff to handle the sheer number of accounts. Even after deploying Bank correspondent who is locally know as ‘Bank mitra’ or ‘BC’ is supposed to visit pensioners and distribute their money after collecting their thumb impression, complaint of rent seeking has only increased, observed reason being asymmetric information relation between bank and beneficiaries. Beneficiary doesn’t get any idea of amount he or she is stipulated. And as it is often happening, pension amount is kept pending for 2 to 3 months, villagers are unable to keep track of their record on the basis of flimsy receipt on which ink start vanishing within a month on villagers damp and rough hand. Since there is no Union bank branch nearby they can’t get their passbook printed. In this state of confusion it is alleged by the villagers that bank mitra doesn’t give their stipulated money.
Main branch of the bank is 60 km away and there is no direct bus service from the village. Auto goes till Batauli and from there they can board the bus, but it gets very difficult to travel at this age and transport fare cost them half of their monthly pension. And many times bank employees refuse to print passbook on the pretext of ‘machine is not working’.

Aadhaar glitches adding to existing problems
Use of Aadhaar in welfare programs has been a contentious issue lately. Government’s desperate attempt to link Aadhaar with some basic provisions has lead many people in dire need to gasp for little discount.

Even if they are linked, as it happens many times, that machine refuses to recognize an authentic person. Such situation questions the locus of authority and basic premise of democracy, “to the people, by the people” and if it has shifted to inanimate machine.

 Budhram , a Majhwar Adivasi, has been denied his pensionof Rs 2,150 because of Aadhaar linking errors.

Budhram , a Majhwar Adivasi, has been denied his pensionof Rs 2,150 because of Aadhaar linking errors.

In a recent government office visit, it came out that pension of those person who have not submitted their Aadhaar with bank, their pension amount is not being released. In doing so, government has not only defied the Supreme Court’s ruling of not imposing Aadhar card but snubbed the fundamental right to life inherent in Article 21 of constitution of India.

There are seven persons in Kardana village who can no longer get their pensions because their thumb impression do not match with their biometrics or demographic details in the Aadhaar database.

Sadly, one of the beneficiaries, Devnath, a Kanwar Adivasi diedwhile waiting for his stopped pension.

Reason for mismatch may be many from rough hands of villagers due to their working condition to link failure of machine.

 Sukhmania Kanwar, an elderly Adivasi pensioner has been denied a pension amount of Rs 4,550 because of problems in Aadhaar authentication.

Sukhmania Kanwar, an elderly Adivasi pensioner has been denied a pension amount of Rs 4,550 because of problems in Aadhaar authentication.

The important thing here, that, a needy person is not getting their due benefit gets sublimated in the clamor of whole Aadhar debate. 

Those people are:

Name                              Caste/category                 Amount (in Rupees)
Bhinsari                          Pahari Korwa(PVTG)                   4,550
Kondaha                         Nagesia(ST)                                      4,550
Budhram                         Majhwar(ST)                                    2,150
Sukhmania                    Kanwar(ST)                                      4,550
Sarojini                              Kanwar(ST)                                     4,550
Suni Bai                              Nagesia(ST)                                     4,900
Devnath(Deceased)        Kanwar(ST)                                    1,750

This is important here to note the government’s attitude towards social assistance program when demands of increasing the amount and widening the canopy of such program are increasing from various corners.

 The state owes Suni Bai a pension of Rs 4,990. She has been denied her pension because of mismatches in Aadhaar details and is unable to get redress.

The state owes Suni Bai a pension of Rs 4,990. She has been denied her pension because of mismatches in Aadhaar details and is unable to get redress.

 

The government’s role as a welfare state has been ambiguous when it comes to providing social security net to the needy which is apparent from gradual budget slashes in real terms Jharkhand shows why Old Age Pension Scheme needs legal framework. For the time being situation now is just the tip of the iceberg, with demographic transition India’s largest youth working population will convert into dependent population, without any concrete planning and action situation will only going to be worsen.

--- By Vipul Paikra, Chaupal Sanstha.