Invisible people: Aadhaar versus particularly vulnerable tribal groups -Jean Dreze
Many families depend on two entitlements for survival: social security pensions and rations from the public distribution system
Particularly vulnerable tribal groups, earlier known as primitive tribal groups, are the sort of people you may never meet unless you take the trouble to look for them. In Jharkhand, they live in small hamlets scattered over the nooks and crannies of the state’s undulating forests. Without a purpose and some local guidance, it is unlikely that anything will take you there.
Last month, the Sahayata Kendra (help centre for rural workers) in Manika block of Latehar district completed a house-to-house survey of all the PVTG families in the block, and also in the adjacent block of Satbarwa in Palamu district. We found 325 PVTG households — spread over 18 hamlets — in these two blocks, compared with 256 listed in the Socio-Economic and Caste Census of 2011. All of them belong to the Parhaiya community. They came across as uprooted people, who have been deprived of their traditional resources and are now struggling to latch on to new sources of livelihood.
PVTG families in the area used to subsist mainly on forest-based activities such as hunting, gathering, selling minor forest products (roots, berries, wood, mahua, tendu, lac, herbs, among others) and manufacturing simple items from straw, bamboo and such. Not so long ago, the forests of Jharkhand were dense with flora and teeming with wildlife, but recent environmental degradation has taken a toll. Today, most PVTG families in Manika and Satbarwa subsist on a little farming, casual labour, and residual forest-based occupations such as making ropes or baskets. Some of them work as seasonal labourers in the rice fields or brick kilns of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and occasionally migrate to more distant places.
Public facilities in PVTG hamlets are abysmal, in spite of some recent progress. None of the 18 hamlets we visited seemed to have a well-functioning school. Few had their own anganwadis, keeping child development services out of reach of most PVTG children. Health centres, banks and administrative offices are far away and public transport is nil. Government officials rarely visit these hamlets. Isolation, poverty and low education levels have turned PVTGs into sitting ducks for exploitative contractors and middlemen.
In this situation, PVTG families depend critically on two entitlements for their survival: social security pensions and food rations from the public distribution system.
Under a Supreme Court order of May 2, 2003, in the right to food case, Antyodaya ration cards are to be distributed to all PVTG households. This entitles them to 35 kgs of foodgrain per month from the PDS at a nominal price; in fact, for free in the case of Jharkhand. Among the 325 households we surveyed, 87 per cent were on the Antyodaya list. Further, Antyodaya households reported that they were receiving the bulk of their PDS entitlements: about 33 kgs per month on an average. This is good news of sorts in a state where PDS grain used to be siphoned off with abandon by corrupt dealers. Even the reduced levels of pilferage, however, are unacceptable, and a significant minority of PVTG households is still deprived of Antyodaya cards.
Turning to pensions. All PVTG families in Jharkhand are entitled to a pension of Rs 600 per month — if not under an existing old-age, widow or disability pension scheme, then under the state government’s special pension scheme for PVTGs. The survey, however, reveals that only two thirds of all PVTG households in the area are receiving a pension. One reason for this is that many pensions have been discontinued in recent years owing to Aadhaar-related problems. The main problem is that all pensioners in Jharkhand are now required to meet the e-KYC (electronic Know Your Customer) banking norms. This means that Aadhaar must be seeded in their bank account and also that the seeding must be verified through biometric authentication. In the absence of biometric facilities at the bank, pensioners have to go to a Pragya Kendra (customer service centre) for authentication, take a certificate from there to the bank, and then hope that the bank will complete the formalities in good time. Lapses, errors, glitches and delays abound. For pensioners, especially for the elderly, these hurdles are daunting. Many of them do not know what they are supposed to do or how to seek assistance if a problem arises. None of this has changed — so far — after the recent Supreme Court judgment on Aadhaar.
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