A card that makes the population count

The Aadhaar card, which was brought in to provide every citizen a social security number and a proof of identity, has enrolled over 900 million Indians

“It’s just another card that we carry around,” said Mohammed Hassen, a private taxi owner who lives and works in Central Delhi, when asked about his Aadhaar card and if he thought the multi-crore single number identification scheme was useful.

Haseen, however, hurriedly added that “he faced absolutely no problem in getting the card”.

“Unlike the PAN card or the voter ID card, getting an Aadhaar card was easy. A camp was organised where our identity was verified and documented. In a month, we got our unique identification number. We were told that this number would be all that is needed for filing tax returns, getting loans, booking tickets and getting facilities under government schemes. However, I am yet to use it exclusively anywhere,” he said.

Fast closing in on the billion mark, Aadhaar — brought in to provide every citizen a social security number and a proof of identity — has enrolled over 900 million Indians in the last seven years since its launch.

At present, the card can only be used for subsidies under the public distribution system and for purchasing kerosene and cooking gas — that too voluntarily.

The Aadhaar card cannot be used to avail services like opening bank accounts and getting phone connections for now, the Supreme Court had recently directed.

After the UID programme was dealt a slew of blows, the Centre, Reserve Bank of India, stock market watchdog SEBI, telecom regulator TRAI, and a number of States had moved the Supreme Court for extending the voluntary use of Aadhaar card to other services.

While Aadhaar may not have been able to accelerate to capacity, what can’t be denied is the fact that “it has made people count”.

“The invisible population of Delhi are finally numbered and accounted for. It has given them a voice and has brought them into the system. Aadhaar being a robust verification code doesn’t allow duplication, which cuts out corruption and eliminates exploitation,” said Sunil Kumar Aledia of Centre for Holistic Development.

But, the Central government’s ambitious unique identity (UID) scheme has been challenged over concerns of privacy since it uses biometric data like fingerprints and iris scan.

It has been accused of “invasion of privacy of the common citizen”.

Maintaining that whether it is for the poor or illiterate, privacy is sacrosanct, Gopal Krishna from the Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties, who has been writing on this issue, said: “Members of the Union Cabinet who are guilty for passing on data of Indians to foreign biometric and surveillance companies must be censured and held accountable by Parliament and State legislatures.”

According to senior government officials, work is under way to make the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) the sole agency for enrolment of residents and collection of biometric data. “There is also a move to discontinue enrolment under the National Population Register of the Home Ministry,” he explained.