Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday — that Aadhaar card can be used only for availing subsidies under the public distribution system and buying kerosene and cooking gas, and that too voluntarily — has jolted the Election Commission of India (ECI).
The apex poll body, which has put mammoth efforts in encouraging 34 crore voters across India to link their Aadhaar (Unique Identification) with the Election Photo Identification Card (EPIC) from March to mid-August this year, will now have to initiate the de-linking exercise.
Maharashtra’s chief electoral office said they completed the exercise last month as per the direction of the ECI. “Over 1.8 crore voters in the state had furnished their Aadhaar numbers for seeding with EPIC between March and August. We had started the exercise following the interim SC order on August 11,” said a top official.
Under the National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP), the ECI had launched massive campaigns and newspaper ads across the country for six months, requesting voters to link the two identities.
Over 34 crore voters across the country took the pains and followed the ECI’s directives. They are now fuming. “Such haphazard implementation of the scheme frustrates all those who took efforts to follow government directives. Those who ignored are happier now,” said Brajesh Sharan, a Mumbai-based banker.
The ECI had hoped to complete linking of voters’ ID details with their Aadhaar data by August 15, enabling an error-free electoral roll. It was also looking at a more realistic deadline of 2015-end, while also ruling out 100% coverage.
After a slew of blows to the unique identity or UIDAI programme, the Centre, Reserve Bank of India, stock market watchdog SEBI, telecom regulator TRAI, and a number of states moved the SC for extending the voluntary use of Aadhaar card to other services.
The government’s ambitious UIDAI scheme has been challenged in court over privacy concerns because it uses biometric data — fingerprint and iris scans.
Is this the end for Aadhaar for other schemes?
Unlikely. Though the BJP government had opposed the Aadhaar scheme until it was in opposition, the Narendra Modi government has given it a new push since coming to power last year. “For now, the ruling will remain, until a Constitution bench hears the case. The Centre is likely to move court to seek hearing from the larger bench,” said a law professor of Mumbai university.