All-pervasive Aadhaar

Print edition : April 28, 2017
By making Aadhaar mandatory for subsidies, pensions and a host of other benefits, the government is fast succeeding in its project to bring everyone on board.

THE Narendra Modi-led government’s recent decrees making Aadhaar mandatory for those seeking to receive a host of government benefits, and even for obtaining mobile connections, and for actions such as filing income tax returns, have removed every pretense that enrolment in the universal identity card scheme is voluntary any more. It is yet another instance of the government arm-twisting the citizens into signing up for the scheme despite the official promise since its inception that it would not be made mandatory and subsequent apex court statements supporting it.

One of the biggest areas of impact is the Centre’s direct benefit transfer mission involving tens of crores of beneficiaries and several thousand crores of rupees every year. According to data from www.dbtbharat.gov.in, some 32.92 crore beneficiaries received a total of Rs.1,61,620 crore in subsidies, assistance, or other forms of benefit in the four years between January 1, 2013 and January 31, 2017. The transfers involved payments made to workers under the MGNREGS scheme, cooking gas subsidies, scholarships and social assistance. Overall, the seeding of Aadhaar with beneficiaries’ data was 78 per cent. However, only 27.37 per cent of all funds transferred were through the Aadhaar Payments Bridge, “a system that facilitates seamless transfer of all welfare scheme payments to beneficiary residents’ Aadhaar-enabled bank accounts”.

The government has made Aadhaar mandatory for mid-day meals too, impacting the lives and education of millions of children. Statistics from the Ministry of Human Resource Development show that at least 10 crore children across the country benefit from the mid-day meal scheme, whose budgeted estimate dipped from Rs.11,937.00 crore in 2012-13 to Rs.9,236.40 crore in 2015-16 before rising again to Rs.9,700 crore in 2016-17.

As on March 15, 2017, seven States and the Union Territory of Lakshadweep had achieved 100 per cent Aadhaar saturation on the basis of a projected 2015 population, according to the Unique Identification Authority of India. Using the same yardstick, 11 States had achieved 90-99 per cent saturation.