One of the few joys in 68-year-old Sajida Begum’s empty existence at a leprosy home in Bengaluru is a biryani meal with some kebabs on the side.
Abandoned in a government-run hospital for leprosy patients nearly 40 years ago, she waits every month for her pension of Rs 1,000 from the central government to treat herself and a few friends in neighbouring beds to one good meal.
Over the past four months, Sajida and her friends have not been able to enjoy their biryani and kebabs. In August, her pension stopped and there were some letters from the district deputy commissioner’s office saying the pension would not be disbursed if it was not linked to the Aadhaar number which the government has made mandatory for beneficiaries.
With her hands and feet gnarled and out of shape, her eyes nearly empty holes and her mind faltering now and then, Sajida faced the prospect of never seeing her pension again. Officials at the Leprosy Hospital feared she would not be able to get an Aadhaar number because she had no biometrics to provide as mandated under the unique identification scheme.
“The pension she receives is a personal matter but one day she mentioned to me that she had stopped getting it and that she did not know why. I wrote to the authorities and found that an Aadhaar ID had become mandatory to receive the pension. We also got notices that names would be removed if the Aadhaar verification is not available,’’ says Dr Ayub Ali Zai, the head of the leprosy hospital.
Dr Zai wrote to the UIDAI informing them of the problems that several of the 50 leprosy patients were likely to face because they did not have an Aadhaar. A local newspaper reported on the case last week.
The UIDAI dispatched an officer, L Somashekhar, to meet Sajida and the other leprosy patients on December 4. After seeing Sajida and the others, the UIDAI has generated Aadhaar numbers for six patients at the leprosy home without biometrics. “The six patients had no biometrics and no address. We have provided the hospital address for all and people like Sajida have been given exemption from biometrics. I have also certified the patients. We should have their Aadhaar numbers in a week,’’ said Dr Zai.
“An Aadhaar number has been generated for each of the six persons in the hospital. There are no biometrics where the patients could not provide them,’’ Somashekhar, who visited the hospital on Monday, said. On Tuesday, as the Aadhaar number generation process was under way, Sajida, out of the blue, received her pension for October. “We had biryani and kebabs yesterday after she received the pension,” said Tahira, a young patient in the bed next to Sajida’s.
“The pension for October was sent suddenly. It might be the result of the letters we sent about the condition of the patient. The pension for three other months are pending for Sajida. Maybe it will be sent when the Aadhaar number is linked,’’ said Zai.
For Sajida, who took her pension by signing on a paper given by a postman, the procedures involved in getting an Aadhaar number were mystifying. “Will they still need my signature?” she asked.