UP makes Aadhaar mandatory for mid-day meals: Will kids without UID go hungry?
Three months after the Union Human Resource Development ministry decided to make Aadhaar compulsory for mid-day meals, the Uttar Pradesh government has directed state schools to ensure that all the beneficiaries of the scheme have Aadhaar cards.
The government says the aim is to avoid corruption in the form of ghost beneficiaries. The list of legitimate beneficiaries has to be submitted to the state government by 30 June after which students who do not have an Aadhaar will not get free midday meals in schools.
The directive by the Uttar Pradesh government is facing criticism from all corners as it may end up depriving several children of the mid-day meal.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that state government schools are on vacation till next month. Another question that many are asking is how the enrollment of students with Aadhaar will take place as biometric authentication hasn’t worked well in the public distribution system (PDS) in states like Rajasthan or Jharkhand.
National Right to Food campaign convener Dipa Sinha told Catch, “As there have been many failures in biometric authentication over the past few years, it is dangerous to enforce it for mid-day meals for children”.
“The logic for doing this is very unclear. The point of Aadhaar is to de-duplicate. If the child is present in school, it should be reason enough for the child to get food,” she told Catch. She further added, “I have no idea how this move will benefit children as the quality of the meals are still sub-par in most regions. More than anything else, this move is ethically wrong.”
Reetika Khera, economist and social scientist who has worked extensively with Aadhaar and the mid-day meal scheme, feels that ghost identities aren’t the problem. “The independent studies that we have done in the country in terms of the number of children benefitting from the mid-day meal scheme is very similar to the government’s numbers as well. The inflation of records isn’t really the problem. There isn’t enough evidence that the ghost identities are misusing the facility.”
Khera told Catch that the issue with mid-day meal scheme isn’t corruption but quality. “Quality of food is a bigger concern. Unless more money is put into the scheme, quality cannot be enhanced. The government is distracting attention from the real issues by coming up ghost problems.”
The Opposition in Uttar Pradesh has criticised the Yogi Adityanath government saying that these attempts are being made by the central and state government to reduce the budget for social welfare schemes. Samajwadi Party spokesperson Udayveer Singh told Catch, “The BJP government is putting conditions to exclude more and more beneficiaries from social schemes. And the poorest of the poor are being taken advantage of because they usually do not have enough documentation.”
Singh even accused the Yogi government of slashing the budgets for the previous SP government's social sector programmes such as the Kamdhenu scheme and pension scheme. “Narendra Modi and Amit Shah promised to waiver farmer loans of Rs 36,000 crore. That money has to come from somewhere right?”
Abdul Samad, Director of Uttar Pradesh’s mid-day meal scheme, told Catch that children who do not have Aadhaar cards will be given one. He said that this process will be continued even after schools reopen next month.
“Students will not go hungry. We will ensure that every child going to school has an Aadhaar and will get a free meal,” he said.
Representatives from Uttar Pradesh Electricals and Uttar Pradesh Development Systems Corporation will go from district to district to enroll children under Aadhaar, Samad said.
There are many issues that the children enrolling for Aadhaar might face. For instance, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) recognises that the fingerprints of a growing child aren’t completely formed till the age of 14-15 years.
It says that children below the age of 6 years aren’t supposed to have Aadhaar and even after that age, the biometrics of the child needs to be updated every 3 to 4 years. Acording to UIDAI, if fingerprints of a person do not match the one on the Aadhaar card, the card becomes invalid. The mid-day meal scheme beneficiaries are between the age of 6 and 14 years.
Secondly, if children with Aadhaar cards are to be authenticated every day in school, it is not only tedious but also increases the burden on the school staff. Dipa Sinha told Catch, “Schools do not have enough teaching and administrative staff to manage the high number of students. By enforcing Aadhaar in mid-day meal schemes, one will only over-burden teachers and school staff”.
Thirdly, Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of malnourished and severely malnourished children (about 58 lakh) in the country, the state government admitted in Parliament in May 2016. In March 2016, 120 children in Uttar Pradesh’s Balhari were taken ill after having their mid-day meal. In 2014, around 90 children in Agra fell ill after they were given adulterated milk.
While Uttar Pradesh is the only state that has officially made a statement on enforcing Aadhaar for mid-day meals, others states may soon be following suit soon. Dipa Sinha, National RTF campaign convener says, “No other state has officially spoken about enforcing the central government’s directive, but may already have started enrolling children for Aadhaar or will start soon.”