Make no mistake. Enrolling for Aadhaar is now mandatory if you wish to avail a government benefit or subsidy. The alternative mechanism to deliver you the service if you do not have an Aadhaar will kick in, that too temporarily, only if you enrol for an Aadhaar at once.
By enforcing this, the government is taking its chances with the Supreme Court that, through two orders last year, laid out the road-map on how GoI should proceed while paying benefits using Aadhaar as a base.
Paragraphs 1 and 2 of the four-point Supreme Court order on August 11, 2015, are critical here. “The Union of India shall give wide publicity in the electronic and print media including radio and TV networks that it is not mandatory to obtain an Aadhaar card. The production of an Aadhaar card will not be a condition for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen.” Subsequently on October 15, while allowing government to include more schemes in which benefits can be paid using Aadhaar, the apex court reiterated in Paragraphs 4 and 5 of its order, “We impress upon the Union of India that it shall strictly follow all earlier orders passed by this Court.… We will also make it clear that the Aadhaar card scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till
he matter is finally decided by this Court one way or the other.”
While the Supreme Court is clear that enrolling for Aadhaar is not mandatory, through Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act passed by Parliament this March, GoI has effectively made Aadhaar enrolment mandatory for receiving any subsidy, benefit or service for which expenditure is borne out of the Consolidated Fund of India. According to the Section, an individual should either furnish proof of possession of an Aadhaar number or, if not assigned one, make an application for enrolment.
What has caused some confusion is an added proviso that if an Aadhaar is not assigned to an individual, he shall be offered alternate and viable means of identification for delivery of the service. This has been interpreted in some quarters as an individual being able to receive benefits even without an Aadhaar by alternative mechanisms. This matter was raised in Parliament last Friday.
However, information and broadcasting minister Venkaiah Naidu cleared any uncertainty when he issued a statement on behalf of the government the same day. He added a couple of crucial explanatory phrases to Section 7 to state that a person not been assigned an Aadhaar number “shall be enrolled for Aadhaar” and offered alternate and viable means of identification for receipt of subsidy, benefit or service “till Aadhaar number is assigned to him”. In short, Aadhaar enrolment is indeed mandatory if one wants a benefit on a second occasion.
The irony of all this is that Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act has not been operationalised yet. On July 12, the government issued a notification operationalising only Sections 11to 20, 22 to 23 and Sections 48 to 59 of the 2016 Aadhaar Act — not Section 7.
The reason behind the government’s big push is March 2017 as the target to complete Aadhaar enrolment of all 1.28 billion Indians, the current enrolment figure standing at roughly 1.04 billion as of today. Many in the government feel the ‘mandatory-voluntary’ debate is infructuous as 99% of all adults in the country — apart from Assam and Meghalaya where the Aadhaar exercise is not on — already have an Aadhaar number and they are the majority recipients of government benefits.
The real gap is in the 5-18 year category, where students would need an Aadhaar to receive any government scholarship, and the 0-5 age category. Nearly 21crore people in these two age groups are still to get an Aadhaar. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has now been asked to tailor its strategies to speed up enrolment in these age groups and run campaigns in the high-saturation states to enrol any adult who is without an Aadhaar. The inspiration for Aadhaar remains the US Social Security Number that was introduced in 1935. This has, over the years, seen a range of services come under its ambit and has virtually become the national identification number in the US.
The concept here is very clear: if you want a government benefit, there cannot be a situation where you can say, ‘I will neither give an Aadhaar nor apply for it.’ The government says it has aright to check if the money being given by it is reaching the right beneficiary, and you don’t have a choice.