Aadhaar beneficiaries to cross billion mark

With a billion Indians set to get a 12-digit Aadhaar number by the end of next month, the government is finalising the process to give the project legislative backing and remove the uncertainty surrounding the biometric-based unique identification mechanism.

Over 970 million Indians had been issued Aadhaar numbers by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) as of January 31. Aadhaar was launched by the UPA-2 government under the chairmanship of Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani. The government introduced the National Identification Authority of India bill in the Rajya Sabha but it could not be cleared. It was rejected by a parliamentary panel.

Now with PM Narendra Modi backing the project, the government is planning to push the bill, pending in the Rajya Sabha, in the budget session of Parliament starting later this month. “We are discussing whether to get the same bill passed or to move new amendments. We will finalise our stand soon,” a source said. The move could help the government address a concern raised by the Supreme Court that Aadhaar was rolled out without legislative backing.

In several meetings in the past year, the PM reiterated how Aadhaar could be crucial to the success of his government’s financial inclusion schemes such as the Jan Dhan Yojana which aims to provide universal access to banking services to every household.

The government is also considering the option of converting the legislation into a money bill. “This option is being discussed. A money bill does not have to go to the Rajya Sabha where the BJP-led NDA is in a minority,” the source added. Recently, a group of secretaries constituted by Modi to come up with innovative ideas to improve governance recommended that Aadhaar be turned into a money bill.

Last August, the SC ruled that while Aadhaar could be used for public distribution schemes such as providing food grains and kerosene, it could not be made mandatory. As the project was initiated by the UPA government followed by the Aadhaar-based direct benefit transfer, the government expects support from the Congress in the RS.

“With a billion mobile phones and 23 crore bank accounts linked to Aadhaar, the delivery of benefits and services will become efficient and transparent. It will plug leakages in schemes ensuring benefits reach people’s doorstep,” said ABP Pandey, director-general, UIDAI.