Lakhs left in lurch after Aadhar made mandatory for pension in Odisha; activists slam move
Eleven lakh pensioners have been left out from Odisha government’s scheme to give pension to old, disabled, transgenders, HIV affected and widows since Aadhar has been made mandatory.Updated: Aug 12, 2020 10:24 IST
With the accounts of 11 lakh of an estimated 49 lakh beneficaries of old age, disability and widow pension in Odisha yet to be verified with their respective Aadhar numbers, right to food activists allege that the latest decision to debar such people from availing monthly welfare entitlements is a callous move during the coronavirus pandemic.
At least 49 lakh old, disabled, transgenders, HIV affected and widows in Odisha get monthly pension between Rs 500 and Rs 700 under the National Social Assistance Programme and Madhu Babu Pension Yojana. Though the rising bills have been a major drain on the state exchequer, these welfare measures coupled with subsidies have kept starvation deaths at bay.
However, the state Social Security & Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities department decided to disburse the monthly pension to people with Aadhaar verified accounts from this month. This left around 11 lakh people in the lurch. “Aadhaar, as a proof of identity, has been made mandatory for availing benefit under both the pension schemes from August 2020,” the department said in a letter to all district collectors.
As per the updated National Dashboard of National Social Assistance Programme, only 83% of the NSAP accounts in Odisha have been “verified” by Aadhaar, while only 74% have been verified for the MBPY scheme leaving out 11 lakh persons.
Joint secretary of SSEPD department, Dipak Routray, said that Aadhar verification was being done to weed out ghost beneficiaries. “During the Aadhar verification, we found out about ghost beneficiaries. Only those with Aadhar verified accounts will get the pension. We are trying to finish the verification process as soon as possible, but can’t say how long will the entire process take,” said Routray.
Sameet Panda, a right to food activist, condemned the move. “People who depend on the allowances can die of starvation when the pandemic is raging. Mandatory linkages with Aadhaar have caused mass exclusions, both at the point of disbursal of welfare entitlements (because of biometric or technical failures) and during the process of seeding and verification. The Aadhar seeding and verification processes are also shrouded in opacity,” he said.
Activists also raised question on how the state government after opposing the Aadhar linking with pensioner’s account in 2017 on the grounds that it would cause hardship to the beneficiaries has now done a volte face. “Aadhar seeding or verification can fail for a range of reasons, often without any of the responsible officials understanding the reason, or how it should be remedied. The Aadhar-enabled Payments System (AePS) comes with its own share of failures due to poor design, missing safeguards, and a confusing array of failure codes,” said a member of Odisha Khadya Adhikar Abhijan, a group that works for Right to Food.
Activists said if eligible beneficiaries are left out due to Aadhar verification process then there is a possibility of starvation deaths happening like Dukhi Jani, a 46-year-old tribal woman in Nayagarh district who died after going without food for three days in June.
Opposition leaders also said that the government should not stop the monthly pension on the pretext of Aadhar verification. “For a large number of tribals and Dalits in the remote districts, the pension is the only source of sustenance. The govt can continue giving the pension while doing the verification process,” said Pradipta Naik, Leader of Opposition in Odisha Assembly.