Clear confusion

Clear confusion

The Supreme Court’s restraint order on the Aadhaar card project is a setback to the UPA government which conceived it and has been implementing it for the last five years. The court has made it clear that no citizen can be denied the benefits and services of the state for not possessing the card.

It has also barred the issuance of the card to illegal immigrants. The court order has revived the many controversies that have surrounded the scheme from the beginning. Differences over the need for and use of the card have existed even within the government. It has spent thousands of crores of rupees on the scheme and has so far covered almost one-third of the population under it. It is a poor reflection on the government if there is no clarity on some basic aspects of the plan even now.

There is no legislative backing for the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which issues the Aadhaar cards. The enabling draft bill was opposed by a parliamentary committee which suggested many changes about three years ago but the government has not pursued it further till now. The court seems to have taken note of this. If the government thinks there is no need for legislation, why did it bring forward one in the first place? Such confusion marks other aspects of the scheme also. While it has sometimes announced that Aadhaar cards are optional, and not mandatory for availing benefits, some ministries have insisted on linking them to the beneficiaries’ bank accounts, as in the case of LPG consumers. The Aadhaar card is claimed to be only a proof of identity, not of citizenship, but there are no strong safeguards against its misuse. There are also widespread concerns over privacy and security of data. These should also be addressed convincingly.

The need for a technological tool for effective transfer of benefits to the people cannot be disputed. Direct transfers will minimise wastage and leakage and fraud by eliminating intermediaries. About two crore of the over 14 crore LPG connections in the country are thought to be fake.  Some states have much more PDS beneficiaries than their entire population. Apart from effecting large savings for the exchequer the UID scheme can also ensure that the benefits actually reach those for whom they are intended. The court’s intervention should prod the government  to remove the conceptual, legal and practical deficiencies which have been associated with the scheme now.

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