PMO’s Aadhaar card push: Mobilizing support via states a good idea

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done well to mobilize Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) states like Gujarat and Haryana to petition the Supreme Court on its order on the usage of Aadhaar card, and while regulators like The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) have also joined the petition, others like Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) and Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) are also expected to follow suit soon.

As Narendra Modi pointed out in his Silicon Valley speeches, Aadhaar is one of the pivots of his anti-poverty strategies. Since creating jobs is not going to happen in a hurry, Modi’s best bet is to ensure the poor get all the money that is meant for them.

If around half of this gets siphoned off along the way – that’s Rs 150,000 crore this year, for the centre alone – what kind of anti-poverty fight is Modi going to wage? Indeed, the petition by the Gujarat government puts it very well – with Harish Salve appearing for Gujarat, a bevy of top-notch lawyers will appear in the case representing various states/regulators – when it says that the SC needs to extend its own logic.

The SC – which allowed Aadhaar for PDS, but made it non-mandatory – the Gujarat petition says, ‘was guided by the right to food, which is contained in Article 21 of the Constitution … it is submitted that the schemes falling under other rights, viz, the right to work, right to receive old age or disability pensions under the Article 21, may also be treated equally’.

While Gujarat’s petition includes MGNREGA under Article 21, Sebi and RBI say that Aadhaar allows easier Know-Your-Customer (KYC) and therefore, allows a much easier participation in banking/stock markets – for the poor who wish to open bank accounts, Aadhaar is critical, especially so in the case of payments being made through mobile phone networks.

Given that the SC’s real hesitation in making Aadhaar mandatory relates to its possible impact on privacy, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) would do well to have a special presentation on that alone, to show that Aadhaar’s network is such that it cannot be used to get details of users – indeed, as thisnewspaper has pointed out there is enough data on various official websites such as the Election Commission and property tax ones to be able to construct detailed profiles of individuals – and then there is Facebook, not to mention that most apps on phones demand access to a user’s contacts and calendar and, often, location details. Getting Aadhaar through is vital for the Modi government, so it has to put everything it has to convince the SC of its credentials, apart from showing how it is critical for the poor to get their rights.