Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg

Aadhaar Judgment: Starvation Death Debate Far From Resolved

While the Supreme Court upheld the validity of Aadhaar, it barred private firms from insisting on the biometric ID for authentication. But one key aspect, according to Reetika Khera, professor at IIM Ahmedabad, remains unresolved: starvation deaths.

Khera’s study found a mention in the 567-page majority judgment of the top court. There’s no official government data on starvation deaths linked to lack of Aadhaar card. Khera, however, found there have been at least 25 deaths between 2015 and 2018 because poor beneficiaries couldn’t access to the public distribution system due to lack of the 12-digit number.

The benefits of Aadhaar in welfare programmes are tenuous, if they exist at all. Between 2017 and 2018, 25 deaths are directly attributable to Aadhaar. 
Reetika Khera, Associate Professor, IIM Ahmedabad

Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, who represented the Aadhaar-issuing body UDIAI in the Supreme Court, said fears of people like Khera are misplaced.

Rather than axe the programme, provide solutions so that it can be improved. Work with the system. That’s the right positivist approach rather than be a skeptic and try to criticise everything which is new. 
Rakesh Dwivedi, Advocate Who Represented UIDAI 

The Supreme Court upheld that Aadhaar can be made mandatory to avail government-paid welfare services. That covers distribution of rations through the public distribution system. Taking a serious note of reported starvation deaths, the top court referred to the government’s assurance that no individual will be denied rights just because of lack of Aadhaar card.

The government, however, has maintained that there have been no Aadhaar-related deaths due to starvation despite these being widely reported in the media.

Khera doesn’t buy the government’s argument, hoping that there will be a rethink on Aadhaar like the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

We are taking hope from the history of section 377 where, in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled against us but in 2018 they had to reverse their verdict. I still believe that one day we will have our day.
Reetika Khera, Associate Professor, IIM Ahmedabad