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Blind at birth, man denied government’s old-age pension

Mohammed Sheikh Gaffoor falls in the below-poverty-line category and he and his wife have three sons and three daughters
Mohammed Sheikh Gaffoor in front of his house in Godda.
Mohammed Sheikh Gaffoor in front of his house in Godda.
Bhola Prasad

Animesh Bisoee   |   Jamshedpur   |   Published 30.03.22, 01:46 AM

A 70-year-old visually impaired man in Jharkhand has not received the government’s old-age pension for the past six years because the authorities have allegedly been insisting on an Aadhaar in contravention of a Supreme Court directive.

The plight of Mohammed Sheikh Gaffoor, blind at birth, has shone the spotlight on another anomaly — the lack of proper implementation on the ground of the 2018 Supreme Court judgment that upheld the validity of the NDA government’s Aadhaar enrolment but struck down or diluted certain provisions to limit the compulsory use of the unique identification document to extending subsidy benefits and checking money laundering.


The Supreme Court had said the State can seek Aadhaar details for welfare schemes but made it clear that nobody can be denied government benefits over the failure to produce the document.

A senior IAS officer and a civil society group member said on the condition of anonymity that many agencies providing last-mile services were following the first part of the order while remaining oblivious to the directive that none can be refused benefits for non-production of Aadhaar.

The pension disbursal authorities’ alleged insistence on Aadhaar for the old-age pension led to Gaffoor being subjected to another unending cycle of harassment. The elderly man said in a video interview uploaded on social media that for the past six years, he has been denied an Aadhaar card by staff at the local Pragya Kendra, or common service centre, at his native Manzar Buzurg village in Godda district on the ground that his damaged irises could not be scanned.

Godda is 380km from Jharkhand capital Ranchi.

The Aadhaar (Enrolment and Update) Regulations, 2016, of the central government mention that for residents who are unable to provide any of the required biometric information, “the Authority shall provide for handling of such exceptions in the enrolment and update software, and such enrolment shall be carried out as per the procedure as may be specified by the Authority for this purpose”.

On July 3, 2019, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the then minister for electronics and information technology, had told the Lok Sabha in a written response that “every resident, including persons with disability/ missing biometrics, is eligible for Aadhaar”.

Gaffoor said he had been visiting the local Pragya Kendra and the offices of the local Khaitpura panchayat and Basantrai block for resumption of his old-age pension and also for Aadhaar enrolment but in vain.

His monthly pension was Rs 300, provided by the Centre, when he stopped receiving it in 2016, the year the Union government passed the Aadhaar Act providing legal heft to the unique identification number in its effort to tie it to the delivery of services.

The Jharkhand government in November last year added Rs 700 to the old-age and disabled pension kitties, which makes Gaffoor eligible for a monthly dole of Rs 1,000. The Centre’s share of Rs 300 is paid under the National Social Assistance Programme.

Gaffoor falls in the below-poverty-line category and he and his wife have three sons and three daughters.

According to Mohammed Gulzar, a social activist in Godda, he came to know about Gaffoor’s plight from one of the elderly man’s daughters who teaches in a school run by an NGO. “Gaffoor is born visually challenged. He used to receive old-age pension till 2016. The family has the updated passbook of the bank account into which the pension amount used to be deposited,” Gulzar said.

“However, the pension stopped a few months into 2016. When they enquired, they were told that they needed to submit the beneficiary’s Aadhaar card. Since 2016, they have tried more than seven times to get an Aadhaar card done but the applications were rejected on the ground that his damaged irises could not be scanned,” he added.

“The family is poor and the pension amount would have been really helpful,” Gulzar said. Two of Gaffoor’s sons work in agricultural fields as hired labour while one is studying in a madarsa. One of his three daughters is married.

Gulzar and the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a coalition of rights outfits in the state, on Saturday tweeted the video interview of Gaffoor and tagged Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren.

Godda deputy commissioner Bhor Singh Yadav and some cabinet ministers to draw their attention to the elderly, disabled man’s travails.

Gaffoor told The Telegraph that his family was “dependant on the pension” and that it would be of great help if he received the dole.

In the 2018 ruling, the Supreme Court had noted: laid down that while the government was free to use Aadhaar for various welfare schemes, the identification document cannot be a pre-condition for giving benefits such as pensions and scholarships to students.

The court had noted: “Services like health-related services, and those related to food, pensions and daily wages claimed under Section 7 of the (Aadhaar) Act have been denied because of biometric failure. Biometric infrastructure operates on a probabilistic system, which cannot be ‘one hundred percent infallible’. Thus, the State needs to take steps to prevent the denial of benefits by adopting alternate methods for verification of identity. This is absent at present, resulting in a violation of Articles 14 & 21.”

 “Pension, it is well settled, is not a largesse or bounty conferred by the state…. Pensioners grow older with passing age. Many of them suffer from the tribulations of old age including the loss of biometrics. It is unfair and arbitrary on the part of the State to deny pension to a person entitled to it by linking pensionary payments to the possession of an Aadhaar number or to its authentication. A right cannot be denied on the anvil of requiring one and only one means of identification.”

“The pension disbursing authority is entitled to lay down regulations (which are generally speaking, already in place) to ensure the disbursal of pension to the person who is rightfully entitled. This aim of the government can be fulfilled by other less intrusive measures. The requirement of insisting on an Aadhaar number for the payment of pensionary benefits involves a breach of the principle of proportionality. Such a requirement would clearly be contrary to the mandate of Article 14.”

The deputy commissioner of Godda, Bhor Singh Yadav, told this newspaper on Sunday that he was not aware that Gaffoor was being denied pension on the ground of non-possession of Aadhaar and promised to resolve the issue by this week.

Jharkhand director of social security, Anjanayelu Dodde, said a deputy commissioner can make exemptions to biometric requirements for Aadhaar cards.

On November 15 last year, chief minister Hemant Soren had during the state’s foundation day programme announced that Jharkhand had become the first state to have a universal pension scheme for the elderly, widowed and the disabled.

In other states, such pension is offered only to BPL families and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Additional reporting by our Delhi Bureau

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