Jharkhand minister admits Simdega girl’s death ‘a big failure of the government’

Jharkhand minister admits Simdega girl’s death ‘a big failure of the government’

Jharkhand Food and Supplies Minister Saryu Rai tells Newslaundry that her family was denied ration but won't admit if it was due to non-linkage with Aadhaar.

By Amit Bhardwaj

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The Jharkhand government has been under fire ever since the death of 11-year-old Santoshi Kumari has hit the headlines. A resident of Simdega district’s Karimati village, Kumari died on September 28 due to alleged starvation. Her mother Koyli Devi claimed she was denied ration as the card was not linked to an Aadhaar card. Now Jharkhand PDS minister Saryu Rai in conversation with Newslaundry has put his own government in the dock. Even though Rai said the probe by the district administration shows that Kumari died of illness, he accepted the family was denied ration.

“The claim that she was denied ration, is true. Her ration card was deleted on July 22,” the BJP minister said. He added that during a video conference with the district administrations across the state on March 27, PDS chief secretary Raj Bala Verma directed them to declare ration cards not linked to Aadhaar cards invalid.

“On April 5, in a written communication, I asked the principal secretary of my department that on what basis such an order was passed. I am yet to get a response,” Rai told Newslaundry.

Importantly, after the Simdega death, no one in the state is ready to own up to the Aadhaar linkage order. According to Rai, even Chief Minister Raghubar Rai said he has not passed any such order. “The Chief Minister has not passed any such order. It’s been four to five months that I sought a clarification from the chief secretary but I am yet to get an answer.” Surprisingly, the minister has not even received the exact number of ration cards deleted due to non-Aadhaar linkage. This puts serious question marks on the Raghubar Das government’s working style.

Rai, the Jamshedpur West MLA, said, “The orders which are being passed from the top level are not being implemented and those being implemented are not known [to ministers].”

Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said that a probe team formed by the Central government will visit Jharkhand’s Simdega to investigate the issue. Rai accepted that it is an embarrassing moment for the state government. However, he maintained that this will make his job easier as the people responsible will be found soon.

“We will have to accept that this is a big failure of our government. These are indications that we need to reform our mechanism,” Rai said.

“I am not concerned, whether I will remain a minister in this government or not,” Rai said. “Badi karwai to bade padh par baithe logon par honi chahiye (Strict action should be taken against the senior officers responsible for this crisis.) This will not change until they are penalised.”

The veteran BJP leader and minister said Aadhaar is not mandatory for getting ration in the state. “It was a one-time order. I have clearly communicated that if any district has issued such order [mandatory Aadhaar], it must take it back. If someone continues to emphasis [on Aadhaar linkage] then such officers should be held responsible.”