On Tuesday, the Apex Court ruled that the Aadhar card will be optional for availing welfare schemes of the government. No personal information of the holders of such cards shall be shared by any authority, the court said. The Apex Court bench, which issued a range of directions, said that the Centre shall publicise through the medium of electronic and print media that the card is not mandatory to avail the government schemes. Moreover, the unique identification card will not be used for any other purposes except PDS, kerosene and LPG distribution system. However, the court made it clear that even for the above services, the card will not be mandatory.
The debate on whether the sharing of information by the UIDAI on other government platforms infringes on the right to privacy will be dealt with a large bench and discussions on the subject should be left for another day. The issue, which our policy makers must deal with, is whether the availability of Aadhaar card system precedes the last-mile delivery of welfare schemes. Although the government has said that no intended beneficiary will suffer due to a lack of an Aadhaar card issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)-the facts on the ground seem to suggest otherwise. “In leveraging Aadhaar to weed out fakes and duplicates, it has to be ensured that no eligible person suffers or is denied any benefit or service, merely for the lack of an Aadhaar card,” Union Minister Rao Inderjit Singh said in a written reply submitted before the Rajya Sabha earlier this year. Much of the excitement surrounding the Aadhaar card has to do with its intended benefits.
According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (<g data-gr-id="55">NIPFP</g>), “substantial benefits would accrue to the government by integrating Aadhaar with schemes such as PDS, MNREGS, fertiliser and LPG subsidies, as well as housing, education and health programmes. The benefits arise from the reduction in leakages that occur due to identification and authentication issues”.
Although such a conclusion is entirely plausible; the <g data-gr-id="31">NIPFP</g> study was criticised by noted economist Reetika Khera. According to her, Aadhaar-integration can resolve only certain types of leakages, for which reliable data is unavailable. The <g data-gr-id="32">NIPFP</g> authors do not deny this, claiming that they have been “elaborately careful in pointing out its limitations”, which includes not having adequate data. It must also be noted that like many over-hyped government projects there was no feasibility study and no cost-benefit analysis that preceded the launch of the UID project. Moreover, the project has been consistently plagued by fake ID’s being issued and repeated forgeries being commonplace.
One problem of linking Aadhaar to government schemes like MNREGA is that it may end up being exclusionary in nature. As a recent World Bank report states, identification systems can quickly turn into a source of social exclusion; one only need look at the abuse of BPL cards in India. Also lying unaddressed is the technology involved in making the card. The scheme involves an imperfect matrimony of four complex technologies: biometrics, mobile phones, personal computers and the internet. Only one link in this system needs to fail for the entire enrolment process to become distressing for users. When the previous government introduced Aadhar-based pilot projects across various districts to determine whether welfare services are delivered to the doorstep of the intended beneficiary, the problems it ran into include poor internet connectivity, bank technology upgradation, lack of security, doubts over the integrity of banking correspondents deputed by the state government.