The NDA government has made a case for expanding the use of Aadhaar, the controversial 12-digit biometric identity, in the Supreme Court, saying that limiting it would have a “deleterious” effect on social schemes.
The Centre’s dossier on defending the universal identity number claims Aadhaar’s use helped uncover fraud worth Rs 2,687 crore.
The government says if financial schemes such as Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana and pension programmes are excluded, it will defeat the “worthy goal of financial inclusion”. It has now put together case studies — not clearly identified or attributed — showing how Aadhaar has helped weed out “bogus” and “ghost workers” from the national database of the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee programme. In Andhra and Telangana, 12.78 lakh “bogus” workers were removed, saving Rs 127 crore, the document states.
On August 12, the government won a reprieve when the SC — which had earlier ruled against making Aadhaar mandatory — allowed it to be used for the public distribution system and cooking gas. Aadhaar had helped eliminate “unscrupulous elements from diverting the public resources for illegal purposes”, it had argued.
The court has now asked a constitutional bench to look into whether Aadhaar, which is based on biometric markers, violates citizens’ right to privacy.
Development economists, however, have contested the data. For instance, in AP and Telangana, of the 3.5 crore workers, 12.78 lakh were declared bogus. But of this, 2.7 lakh workers were already “dead” and eight lakh had migrated elsewhere. So, even “inactive workers” who had not taken any wages were counted as “bogus”.
“It is precisely because PDS and NREGA are essential for the right to life that Aadhaar must be kept out. Aadhaar is becoming a tool of exclusion in the NREGA and PDS, not inclusion,” said Reetika Khera, who teaches at IIT Delhi.