Video Production: Pawanjot Kaur, The Reporter’s Collective
(This story is a collaboration between The Quint and The Reporter’s Collective.)
Meet Samidha Khatoon, a 20-year-old mother of two infants. Samidha’s husband is a daily wage labourer and they can not afford food for their children. Her only hope to feed her children is the free nutritious food provided at the anganwadi centre in her locality.
Under India’s Supplementary Nutrition Programme, anganwadis provide nutritious food to millions of children under 6 years of age, pregnant women, and lactating mothers. But the Union government’s decision to make Aadhaar a must for the scheme could close the door on Samidha’s children.
Her children do not have the unique identity and Samidha can’t get their Aadhaar IDs made.
Previously undisclosed documents accessed by The Reporters’ Collective reveal that the union government has made Aadhaar compulsory for all beneficiaries of the nutrition programme.
This was written down in the guidelines sent to states in March 2022.
The guidelines on nutrition mission even “advise” women and children to produce Aadhaar every time they come to receive ration from anganwadi centres.
No Unique Identity of Children Below 6, Says CAG
The Centre’s new rule threatens millions of children under 6 who don’t have Aadhaar.
The anganwadi workers we spoke to in Delhi told us that very few beneficiaries in their centres had their Aadhaar IDs verified and many deserving beneficiaries will lose access to nutritious meals if Aadhaar cards were made compulsory.
According to official records, across India only 23% of the children below 5 years of age have Aadhaar identification. All those who don’t have Aadhaar will be denied their share of nutritious food.
The government’s attempt to mandate Aadhaar comes ostensibly to remove “fake beneficiaries” of the nutrition scheme.
This also comes despite the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling that children can’t be denied any services or benefits for the lack of the unique identification number.
A recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India also questioned Aadhaar for children below five.
“UIDAI does not capture biometrics of minor children below five years for generating Aadhaar, the basic condition for issue of Aadhaar i.e. uniqueness of identity was not being met.”
The Union government was trying to push Aadhaar for quite some time. This was for boosting the Poshan Tracker – a mobile application software used by anganwadi workers to feed details of beneficiaries and the services provided to them.
Impact on the Scheme
On 30 November 2021, four months before the guidelines were out, the Women and Child Development Ministry gave an ultimatum to the states to link Aadhaar details of beneficiaries with the Poshan Tracker by 15 December.
It said the allocation of funds under the Supplementary Nutrition Programme would be based on the data fed into the mobile application.
A detailed questionnaire was sent to the Women and Child Development Ministry regarding the impact of making Aadhaar compulsory despite the Supreme Court’s ruling and when only 23% children below 5 possess the unique identity. We have not received a reply yet.
The Reporters’ Collective spoke to Dipa Sinha, Assistant Professor of Economics at Ambedkar University Delhi. Sinha is also associated with the Right to Food Campaign that advocates people’s right to food and the universalisation of nutrition-related schemes.
She told us that since the supplementary nutrition programme is majorly funded by the Centre, its guidelines will force the states to provide food to only the beneficiaries who have Aadhaar identity.
The stress on states to link Aadhaar of all beneficiaries to the Poshan tracker ultimately falls on anganwadi workers.
The guidelines enforcing Aadhaar ask officials of anganwadi services and anganwadi workers to help those without Aadhaar get their cards made.
When The Reporters' Collective spoke to anganwadi workers in April they said that their incentives might also depend on feeding Aadhaar verified data into the tracker.
While the Union government hails the use of technology in India’s nutrition mission, Dipa Sinha told us that the Poshan Tracker doesn’t provide any useful information on the status of the nutrition programme.
(Tapasya T is a member of The Reporters' Collective, a journalism collaborative that publishes in multiple languages and media.)