Even as officials in Jharkhand claim that the death of an 11-year-old girl in Simdega last month was due to malaria and not non-availability of ration as alleged by local activists, the state’s PDS Minister Saryu Roy has questioned his own government’s directive that ration cards not linked to Aadhaar be rendered ineligible.
The directive issued by Chief Secretary Rajbala Verma may have “created confusion” leading to the cancellation of some ration cards, said Roy. The Minister, however, cited an official probe report to maintain that the death of the girl was due to malaria. Activists in Simdega have alleged that the girl, Santoshi Kumari, died after her family was denied ration because their card was not linked to Aadhaar.
Referring to the directive issued by the Chief Secretary in March, Minister Roy told The Indian Express, “When this came to light, I asked my officials in a written order on April 5 to ensure that no ration card gets deleted due to non-linking with Aadhaar. It is possible that some names got deleted due to the confusion.”
Referring to the death of Santoshi on September 28, Roy said, “The initial report says the death was due to malaria. While there could be doubts over the cause of death, we have to ensure that no ration card is deleted because of non-availability of Aadhaar. I have asked officials to check as to how many cards got cancelled due to non-linking of Aadhaar.”
According to a state government press release issued on March 27, the Chief Secretary’s directive followed a review meeting with PDS officials. “In the course of review, the CS has said that by April 5 all such ration cards, which don’t have Aadhaar, will become ineligible and only Aadhaar-based system would be used for lifting ration,” stated the release.
Official sources said the death in Simdega was discussed by the state cabinet on Tuesday. A probe is on to find how the ration card of Santoshi’s family got deleted from the list, said sources. Chief Secretary Verma did not respond to requests from The Indian Express seeking comment.
Activist Tara Mani Sah, a resident of Patiamba village in Simdega, told The Indian Express that she first came to know in August about the denial of ration to Santoshi’s parents, Tatya Naik and Koyli Devi, from neighbouring Karimati. Sah said she took up the issue with Deputy Commissioner Manjunath Bhajantri twice but “nothing had been done”.
“The family said they were not getting rations because they did not have their Aadhaar cards linked to the database… Koyli Devi told me her daughter was crying for rice and maad (rice brew), but she had no money and rice in the house. Her husband is unemployed and they used to get some rice from people in the village occasionally but that was never enough,” said Sah.
The activist also questioned the administration’s claim that the death was due to malaria. “We have been following the case closely. The mother did not complain of malaria or any other disease,” she said.
Deputy Commissioner Bhajantri was not available for comment but local officials said a preliminary probe conducted by a three-member district-level committee found that Santoshi’s death was caused by malaria.
According to the probe report, the panel members found during a visit that the family had a sack of food grain in the house. The report claimed that the girl’s mother informed the probe team that her daughter was ill and had refused to eat food. It said Santoshi was treated by Narayan Singh, a resident of Karimati and a registered medical practitioner.
The report also included a claim from the local PDS dealer that Sah, the activist, nursed a grudge against him and was defaming him to get his dealership cancelled.
When contacted, District Supply Officer, Nanki Ram, said: “When the matter was first raised, the girl’s mother was assured that the name would be linked again if she brought her family along. She did not come after that. However, there was no lack of grain in the house of the girl who died. The village mukhia used to give her rations under Annapurna Yojana.”
Project Director (Integrated Tribal Development Agency), Jagat Narayan Prasad, who was a part of the probe panel, said: “The mukhia has given a statement that grains were being supplied to the house. However, the girl was suffering from malaria. When the probe team reached her house, the mother was also suffering from malaria and we got her treated,” he said.
Secretary (PDS) Vinay Chaubey said: “We have sought a report to identify the officials at whose level this mistake has happened. We will take the strictest action possible. We have clear instructions that holders of valid rations card can’t be denied their quota on any grounds. In this case, what seems to have happened is that the name of the beneficiary got deleted from the list. Also, the family did not come to us with any application or complaint. Once it came to light, their ration card was restored.”
On Tuesday, Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das asked the administration to provide Rs 50,000 to the family as interim relief, and asked the Deputy Commissioner to conduct a probe and take action against those guilty.