We have not conducted any poll but empirical evidence suggests that one of the most popular words in India these days is transparency. This is not surprising since corruption has been / still is a way of life in this country and everyone wants the State to do all that it can to clean up the mess. However, this desire to make systems transparent could sometimes have negative consequences. Take for example, the central government’s notification to make Aadhaar mandatory for receiving benefits of programmes such as mid-day meals, supplementary nutrition (ICDS) and scholarships. According to a recent HRD ministry notification, students will now be required to have an Aadhaar number for getting their midday meals. Cook-cum-helpers working under the scheme will also have to furnish the same. The deadline for enrolling is June 30. This rule will be applicable across the country, except Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya and Assam. Of the total enrolment of 13.16 crore children, 10.03 crore children availed the midday meal on an average basis in 11.50 lakh schools during 2015-16.
The decision has been opposed by many, who say that it is in conflict with the Supreme Court’s 2014 order. This is correct. The order said that “no person shall be deprived of any service for want of Aadhaar number in case he/she is otherwise eligible/entitled”. The court also requested that all national institutes and authorities must ensure that the Aadhaar card was mentioned in their forms as a document that is not compulsory. In 2015, the SC reiterated, “the Aadhaar card scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this Court one way or the other.” Mid-day meal is a flagship central government scheme that aims to provide some amount of nutrition to students in government schools, special training centres and madrasas supported under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Central and state governments share the financial burden in the 60:40 ratio except that it is 90:10 for eight north-eastern states and three Himalayan states—Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir.
The government clearly wants to reach certain administrative goals such as enrolling a certain number of people in Aadhaar. But this is not a good enough reason to make young children guinea pigs? Nutritious food is an absolute necessity for children and not something that can be denied because someone forgot to enrol them in some scheme within a tight time frame. The quality of the food on offer cannot be ensured by linking it to the Aadhaar scheme. Denying food will also mean flouting the Right to Food Act. While using technology to cut corruption is desirable, it cannot happen at the cost of hungry children.