Mandatory or not
Recent reports indicate that the use of Aadhar card is set to become mandatory for all Central and state government subsidies and benefits that require funding from the central exchequer. Speaking to a leading national daily, Ajay Bhushan Pandey, CEO of the UID Authority of India, said that government agencies will have to ensure all beneficiaries are enrolled under UID. "Ministries will have to notify schemes for which Aadhaar number is required.
In case someone does not have Aadhaar, he will be asked to enroll for the same. If you are asking for Aadhaar and if enrollment facilities are not in a convenient location, the agency has to ensure that people are not left in the lurch," Pandey said. In other words, the onus will now be on various government agencies to ensure that beneficiaries have Aadhar numbers to access benefits ranging from subsidies and pensions. As per the recent Aadhar Act passed earlier this year by Parliament, an Aadhar card has become a necessary document for the “receipt of certain subsidies, benefits, and services”, even though the Supreme Court ruled that it cannot be made mandatory. The court had restricted the use of Aadhaar to the transfer of cooking gas subsidy, the public distribution system, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), all types of pension schemes, the employees’ provident fund and the Jan Dhan Yojana.
The mandatory provision for Aadhaar card should be waived until there is 100 percent coverage. Despite the Centre’s assurances, there are doubts whether government agencies, both at the Central and state level, possess the requisite incentive to ensure that no one is left out. Ground reports from rural India have noted how many beneficiaries have been denied key services entitled to them. “For instance, MGNREGA functionaries have cancelled job cards on a large scale for the sake of achieving '100 percent Aadhaar seeding’ of the job-card database,” says Jean Dreze, a reputed academic who conceptualised and drafted the first version of the rural jobs programme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). “MGNREGA workers have been offloaded by rural banks on Aadhaar-enabled ‘business correspondents’ who proved unable to pay them due to poor connectivity.” These workers were denied access to subsidies and benefits because they did not have an Aadhar card or poor internet service.
When the previous UPA government introduced Aadhar-based pilot projects across various districts to determine whether welfare services are delivered to the doorstep of the intended beneficiary, it ran into many problems. These include poor internet connectivity, bank technology up gradation, lack of data security, doubts over the integrity of banking correspondents deputed by the state government. Truth be told, these problems have not disappeared under the current NDA government. Even though this newspaper has been critical of the government’s Unique Identification System (UID), there is little doubt that if implemented with proper safeguards, the Aadhar Bill could become one of the most progressive pieces of socio-economic legislation in the country’s history. Votaries of the system often argue that the technology used could stem political and bureaucratic corruption in the delivery of social schemes through direct income transfers. Much of the excitement surrounding the Aadhar card has to do with these intended benefits.
However, as argued above, key structural concerns remain, and the current system will only prevent specific types of leakages, such as those related to duplication in beneficiary lists. Poor states, where Centrally-sponsored schemes are most needed, are not adequately prepared to deal with the fundamental structural issues that stand in the way. Moreover, the UID Authority of India’s own Biometrics Standards Committee has noted that retaining biometric efficiency for a database “has not been adequately analysed”.
According to UIDAI officials, approximately 82 percent of Indians have been enrolled, which besides adults also includes children, at the current rate of 6 lakh enrollments per day. This significantly reduces the possibility of exclusion on a large scale and makes seeding schemes with Aadhaar easier, officials said. Despite the government’s claims, there will be those who will be denied benefits for want of an Aadhar card. One can understand the government’s desire to make it mandatory. But it will go against the very interests of many citizens that it seeks to serve.