It’s the lynchpin: 92% of Indian adults have Aadhaar, but where’s its legislative framework?


 

A month after Chennai was battered by a flood, victims were in for a pleasant surprise. About 1.4 million people received Rs 700 crore as flood relief through banks in what may have been the quickest and most transparent transfer in India after a calamity.

This example, when juxtaposed with the spread of Aadhaar coverage to 92% of India’s adult population, should push NDA to get its act together quickly. Aadhaar’s rich potential needs to be supported by an appropriate legislative framework, which should be on the government’s priority list for the budget session of Parliament.

About Rs 6.3 trillion, or 4.2% of GDP, is spent every year on subsidies by all layers of government. But the extent of subsidies which actually reach intended beneficiaries is anybody’s guess because a lot of vulnerable people in India find it difficult to get the paperwork mandated to prove their identity. Aadhaar, a digital identification system, overcomes most of these problems.

Its provision of a verifiable identity from any location opens up access to a number of public and private services for people. Opportunities multiply for individuals. For government, it gives a chance to enhance the welfare system by eliminating wastage and reaching the right person.

Aadhaar is part of a package of measures to enhance governance which is undergirded by communications technology. It comes with challenges which need to be tackled through appropriate legislation among other things.

Yet NDA has shown extreme casualness about such legislation. It is over five years since the previous government introduced a bill, deemed unsatisfactory by BJP, to provide a legislative framework. This bill subsequently made no progress.

Given Aadhaar’s potential, Modi government’s support for it and questions raised by the Supreme Court, the absence of a sense of urgency to fill this legislative gap is mystifying.

Aadhaar is a bipartisan idea. Both BJP and Congress have seen merit in it and many state governments endorse it. So a lot of ground to garner political support for a bill has already been covered. It’s time for an ironclad legislation which addresses legitimate concerns, including privacy.

BJP has to take the initiative to get this legislation in place and Congress should support it as a lot of the groundwork to get Aadhaar up and running happened during UPA tenure. This is a bill which has the potential to directly improve opportunities for many people and, therefore, needs broad-based political support.