Free nutrition schemes across Maharashtra, meant for malnourished children, pregnant and lactating women, can now be availed only if they have Aadhaar cards.
In a notification dated April 6, the Maharashtra Women and Child Development (WCD) department made it “necessary” to start registering Aadhaar card numbers of the beneficiaries.
The notification in Marathi follows the Centre’s direction on February 6 this year. The state WCD stated: “If a beneficiary is found with no registered Aadhaar number or has not followed the procedure to apply for Aadhaar, and continues to avail the scheme, the Child Development Project Officer will be held responsible.”
The notification will affect over five lakh pregnant and lactating mothers, and over 61 lakh children aged less than six who are enrolled in 97,287 anganwadis — an anganwadi is a centre that provides nutritional support through free meals.
Social activists fighting against malnutrition have slammed the government’s move, warning it may step up malnutrition in Maharashtra. In 2016, the count of malnourished children stood at 6.49 lakh, of which 83,288 were severely malnourished. In 2017, until November, the count of undernourished children, aged less than six, stood at 6.29 lakh. About 10 per cent of children enrolled in anganwadis were found malnourished.
“This notification is against the recent Supreme Court ruling on Aadhaar linkage for receiving benefits under a scheme. We will approach the High Court if the state government does not withdraw this,” said activist Purnima Upadhyay, attached with NGO Khoj in Melghat which is one of the worst-affected with malnutrition cases.
When contacted, WCD secretary Vinita Singhal said she did not wish to comment on the notification.
According to activist Brian Lobo, issues with Aadhaar linkage have already started surfacing in tribal Palghar district where women beneficiaries are being asked to provide Aadhaar details to create bank accounts.
“Aadhaar linkage for nutrition schemes should not be made compulsory. Several tribal women get their Aadhaar cards made at their maternal home. When they get married, their first name and surname change. They face issues in availing schemes because the name on the Aadhaar card does not match their new name,” Lobo said.
In its notification, the WCD department has also detailed the procedure that anganwadi workers and child development project officers should follow while registering beneficiaries. For children enrolled in anganwadis to get nutritional supplement, their Aadhaar number and their parents’ Aadhaar numbers must be registered. In a situation in which the child has no Aadhaar, district officials have to facilitate in making one. Documents such as ration card, voter ID, and bank passbook page must be provided to create an Aadhaar card.
The Aadhaar linkage will cover a number of schemes, including the BJP’s flagship Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Amrut Aahar Yojana, started in 2015, for pregnant and lactating mothers to improve maternal health. Malnourished children registered for six meals a day for 40 days in Village Child Development Centre will also be covered. While the WCD has instructed district officials to start the Aadhaar linkage from April 1, district officials said the process is yet to take off.
“The intention of these social schemes is to reduce malnutrition. If a malnourished child has no Aadhaar card, he will be deprived of food. Malnourishment figures will increase,” Vinod Shende, attached with NGO Sathi, said.