In Jagdamba Camp, a south Delhi slum, Sunita and Prem Kumar Upadhyay are caught in an Aadhaar bind, curtailing their family’s ration entitlement.
The family of six is getting provisions under the public distribution system (PDS) only for two as names of their minor children could not be enlisted in the ration card in the absence of their Aadhaar cards, the all important document to get benefits of the government schemes.
The Aadhaar is a 12 digit unique-identity number issued to Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data collected and maintained by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).
Explaining his predicament, Kumar says officials responsible for the Aadhaar enrolment at the time did not register children below 12 years, saying it was not “feasible”.
Now that all the four children have finally got their Aadhaar cards, the window to enlist their names in the ration card has closed.
As a result, Kumar, who owns a bag repairing shop, is now forced to buy provisions from the open market to meet the shortfall. His family has a priority card which entitles them 5kg ration (4kg wheat at Rs2 per Kg and 1kg rice at Rs 3 per Kg) per person listed on the card.
Sunita and Kumar are not the only ones in the Sheikh Sarai slum, to be deprived of their rights, though with more than a billion enrolments, the government is tomtoming the success of the Aadhaar project.
Only a few days ago, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister in charge of the UIDAI claimed linking of the Aadhaar with ration distribution has brought about more transparency and saved public money to the tune of Rs 14,000 crore.
The government is now making the linking of permanent account numbers (PAN) to Aadhaar mandatory ignoring the controversy over the project since the inception of UIDAI in 2009.
The Aadhaar has been challenged in the Supreme Court on several grounds, including national security, violating right to privacy, excluding some people from benefits of welfare programmes.
Since 2013, the top court has issued seven interim orders, directing voluntary use of Aadhaar and that no one should be denied benefits to which they are otherwise entitled, if they do not have the 12 digit number.
Notwithstanding such riders, the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 came into force on September 12 last year.
The Act makes Aadhaar mandatory to get subsidies, benefits and services provided by the State.
The government has expanded its scope to even filing of Income Tax returns.
However, activists affirm that making Aadhaar mandatory is unconstitutional and a complete disregard of the Supreme Court’s orders.
Reetika Khera, associate professor of Economics in IIT Delhi, accused the government of creating false impression that the SC orders have become redundant following the enactment of the Aadhaar Act.
“The most common trick used by the government to get around the court’s order is to state that those who do not have Aadhaar can continue to get their entitlements if they enrol for it and that the government will facilitate this.”
This is sugar-coating on a bitter pill, says Khera. “You just stop getting your entitlements – until you enrol for it. This is the reality of it, though the government vehemently denies it.”
The civil society has been alleging government is maintaining a double-standard on the issue.
“Though enrolment for Aadhaar is voluntary, you have to compulsorily enroll for it if you want any entitlements from the state,” pointed out Anjali Bhardwaj of Satark Nagrik Sangathan.
Some even say the identification number is a tool for the government to keep a tab on the residents.
Nandan Nilekani, the first chief of UIDAI, however, dismissed all concerns about Aadhaar-linked state surveillance: “Surveillance is the last thing on the government’s agenda. The mobile phone is a bigger tool of surveillance than Aadhaar.”
Ajay Bhushan Pandey, chief executive officer at UIDAI, said: “The Act ensures that no one is denied of any benefits for the want of the Aadhaar. It is required only for ensuring that the benefits reach the right individuals.”
Since 2012, the UIDAI has done 500 crore authentications, 100 crore eKYC transactions, 32 crore Aadhaar enabled payment system transactions, and not a single case of identity theft or financial loss has been reported over a period of five years, he claimed.
With ever increasing last-mile glitches, connectivity and network issues, machine malfunctioning, there is a growing criticism that in a bid to weed out the fakes, the government is depriving many deserving people of their entitlements.
For the anomalies, the UIDAI officials pass the buck to concerned departments that implement the welfare schemes.
The Aadhaar only helps various agencies and departments to identify a person, said a UIDAI official, adding if anyone is denied of his or her entitlement due to non-availability of the unique number, it is only because concerned officials are not properly following the law or the notification.
“There are more than 30,000 common service centres where people can update their existing details. They can also send details by post or email. There is a special provision to enrol a child below five years by linking his/her details at the enrolment centres or the Aadhaar ID of the parent,” he pointed out.
But those opposing the Aadhaar are not convinced. They argue technology is vulnerable to failures and is not a panacea for curbing corruption.
“Imagine if you had to board a flight or withdraw cash and your Aadhaar-based biometric authentication, mandatory for the transaction, fails, and you are requested to go re-enroll and wait for records to be updated,” Khera said.
Bhardwaj maintained that corruption could take place even in the welfare schemes that are based on Aadhaar authentication such as PDS.
“After the authentication, the ration shop owners can give less provisions than what is entitled, citing lack of availability or supply. In such a scenario, what can the beneficiaries do? There is no redressal mechanism in place. How will the thumb authentication ensure that the ration shop is not depriving the beneficiary?” she asked.
Amid these claims and counterclaims, the reality perhaps lies somewhere in between.
“The Aadhaar will solve only a part of the problem. It cannot be a one stop solution for all ails,” said a senior UIDAI official.
Read about the people entangled in the Aadhaar web of confusion:
IDENTITY CRISIS: Sabra Khatoon Ansari, Jagdamba Camp
Nine-year-old Sabra Khatoon’s sex on the Aadhaar Card is mentioned as ‘Male’. Due to the anomaly, she is facing severe identity problems to get benefits of various government welfare schemes such as Laadli and EWS medical card.
Her father MD Salam attributes the error to “chaos” at the Aadhaar enrolment centre where his daughter got her biometric data registered in 2014. He says several attempts by him to rectify the mistake went in vain.
MISSING LAADLI: Mahi, Motilal Nehru Camp, Near JNU
Mahi, born to Saroj and Prem Kumar Kanojia on August 4, 2016 could not be enrolled for the Laadli scheme as she did not have an Aadhaar card.
They said despite several visits to Aadhaar centre to get the all-important card for their daughter did not yield any result. They were sent back on the ground that the child is too young for the registration.
SCHOLARSHIP WOES: Swayam Gupta, Motilal Nehru Camp, Near JNU
The Syndicate Bank passbook of Swayam Gupta shows an entry of Rs 1200 on 24/11/2016 in his account. However, he cannot withdraw the money as his name in the Aadhaar card has been erroneously spelled as Shivam.
His mother Geeta was told by bank officials that her son will not be able to take out the money credited in his account to purchase books and uniforms due to the mismatch. Swayam studies in Class 4 in the government school at Sector 3, R K Puram.
“Kaagzon pe sarkar chaltee hai (government depends only on paper),” says Geeta Gupta, lamenting that just because of a clerical error her son is not getting his school scholarship.
PENSION PAIN: Rukampal, Jagdamba Camp, Malviya Nagar
Rukampal is not getting his monthly old-age pension because his age mentioned on the Aadhaar Card is less than the pensionable age.
As per the voter ID card, Rukampal’s age as on 1/1/2013 is 67 years, whereas his Aadhaar Card issued on 8/3/2012 mentions his year of birth as 1957, that makes him 55-year-old at the time of the enrolment.
To correct the mistake, Rukampal says he even paid Rs 300 to a local agent, who works at the Aadhaar enrolment centre to make a new Aadhaar card. Nothing came out of it.
After the Delhi government revised the old age and disability pensions, senior citizens in the age group of 60-69 years are now entitled to get Rs 2,000 monthly, while those above 70 years get Rs 2,500 per month.
“Iss burdape mein bhee koi sahayta nahee (there is no respite even in this old age),” he said.