Aadhaar: How people are caught in the middle of unique number web

In Jagdamba Camp, a south Delhi slum, Sunita and Prem Kumar Upadhyay are caught in an Aadhaar bind, curtailing their family’s ration entitlement.

The family of six is getting provisions under the public distribution system (PDS) only for two as names of their minor children could not be enlisted in the ration card in the absence of their Aadhaar cards, the all important document to get benefits of the government schemes.

The Aadhaar is a 12 digit unique-identity number issued to Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data collected and maintained by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

Explaining his predicament, Kumar says officials responsible for the Aadhaar enrolment at the time did not register children below 12 years, saying it was not “feasible”.

Now that all the four children have finally got their Aadhaar cards, the window to enlist their names in the ration card has closed.

As a result, Kumar, who owns a bag repairing shop, is now forced to buy provisions from the open market to meet the shortfall. His family has a priority card which entitles them 5kg ration (4kg wheat at Rs2 per Kg and 1kg rice at Rs 3 per Kg) per person listed on the card.

Sunita and Kumar are not the only ones in the Sheikh Sarai slum, to be deprived of their rights, though with more than a billion enrolments, the government is tomtoming the success of the Aadhaar project.

Only a few days ago, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister in charge of the UIDAI claimed linking of the Aadhaar with ration distribution has brought about more transparency and saved public money to the tune of Rs 14,000 crore.

The government is now making the linking of permanent account numbers (PAN) to Aadhaar mandatory ignoring the controversy over the project since the inception of UIDAI in 2009.

The Aadhaar has been challenged in the Supreme Court on several grounds, including national security, violating right to privacy, excluding some people from benefits of welfare programmes.

Since 2013, the top court has issued seven interim orders, directing voluntary use of Aadhaar and that no one should be denied benefits to which they are otherwise entitled, if they do not have the 12 digit number.

Notwithstanding such riders, the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 came into force on September 12 last year.

The Act makes Aadhaar mandatory to get subsidies, benefits and services provided by the State.

The government has expanded its scope to even filing of Income Tax returns.

However, activists affirm that making Aadhaar mandatory is unconstitutional and a complete disregard of the Supreme Court’s orders.

Reetika Khera, associate professor of Economics in IIT Delhi, accused the government of creating false impression that the SC orders have become redundant following the enactment of the Aadhaar Act.

“The most common trick used by the government to get around the court’s order is to state that those who do not have Aadhaar can continue to get their entitlements if they enrol for it and that the government will facilitate this.”

This is sugar-coating on a bitter pill, says Khera. “You just stop getting your entitlements – until you enrol for it. This is the reality of it, though the government vehemently denies it.”

The civil society has been alleging government is maintaining a double-standard on the issue.

“Though enrolment for Aadhaar is voluntary, you have to compulsorily enroll for it if you want any entitlements from the state,” pointed out Anjali Bhardwaj of Satark Nagrik Sangathan.

Some even say the identification number is a tool for the government to keep a tab on the residents.

Nandan Nilekani, the first chief of UIDAI, however, dismissed all concerns about Aadhaar-linked state surveillance: “Surveillance is the last thing on the government’s agenda. The mobile phone is a bigger tool of surveillance than Aadhaar.”

Ajay Bhushan Pandey, chief executive officer at UIDAI, said: “The Act ensures that no one is denied of any benefits for the want of the Aadhaar. It is required only for ensuring that the benefits reach the right individuals.”

Since 2012, the UIDAI has done 500 crore authentications, 100 crore eKYC transactions, 32 crore Aadhaar enabled payment system transactions, and not a single case of identity theft or financial loss has been reported over a period of five years, he claimed.

With ever increasing last-mile glitches, connectivity and network issues, machine malfunctioning, there is a growing criticism that in a bid to weed out the fakes, the government is depriving many deserving people of their entitlements.

[Copyright By Sarika Malhotra, Hindustan Times]