A discreet office in India's sprawling business lane —Mumbai's Cuffe Parade — signals inclusiveness for the aam aadmi. Several migrants, who struggled to establish their identity in the city, now withdraw money at their desktop by just offering a finger impression.
Yogesh Harichandra Munde had a petty job in the building where Nandan Nilekani headed the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). Munde had no bank account in absence of a local residence proof.
Last March, a senior UIDAI official convinced him to enroll for a unique identification or an Aadhaar number. He did. Within days of getting an Aadhaar, he had an account in a public sector bank and now withdraws money to meet his daily expenses from biometric authentication enabled micro-ATMs at the UIDAI office.Just 40% of 1.2 billion Indians have a bank account in India, thus debarring a large number of poor from the government's inclusive growth strategy. The problems are multi-faceted for around 400 million poor people in the country who find establishing their identity as the biggest stumbling block to access welfare measures.
Nilekani's Rs 18,000 crore UID project promises to tackle the identity aspect in the next 18 months by providing a 12-digit Aadhaar number to be linked with a no frills bank account.
Mangal Bedia, 65, of Ramgarh district in Jharkhand, was among the first Indians to withdraw her old-age pension from such an Aadhaar-enabled account at her door-step last week. "It was easy," she says, after getting online biometric authentication from the Bangalore UIDAI strategic database in less than ten seconds.
Many, like Ranjana Sonawane, who received the country's first Aadhaar number from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2010 in Tembli in Maharashtra, are still waiting for the benefits. Manasa Puduvettu of Bangalore considers getting an Aadhaar number a waste as it is not valid in any government office.
Nilekani, who describes Aadhaar as a development initiative, says the challenge is to replicate the model across India for all government welfare schemes. "We have a well tested platform and now we have to scale it up to cover 1 billion plus people," he says, admitting to the teething problems.
Not an easy task even though a cabinet committee decided to split the task of biometric enrolment between UIDAI and the Home Ministry's Census commissioner. RS Sharma, UIDAI's director general, said minimising the failure rate of Aadhaar-based applications for disbursing the annual Rs 1,50,000 crore of subsidy would be a "tough" task.
The good, the bad, the ugly: ground reports from across the country
Till date Aadhaar numbers distributed 29 lakh
Total persons enrolled 32 lakh out of a population of 34 lakh
Tripura leads in implementation of the Aadhaar project . The state was the first in the northeast to begin the project. "About 85 % of people have been issued the card in the state and the achievement is remarkable," says state rural development minister Jitendra Choudhury. By March, enrolment of all state residents would be completed.The Union Rural Development ministry presented an award to the Tripura government for the success of the state in executing the project. Interestingly 90 to 95% enrolment was completed in rural areas which means more work was done in villages. Of 3.4 million people, Tripura has covered 2.9 million at a cost of nearly Rs 20 crore.
Despite the success, opposition parties allege financial embezzlement in the scheme. "Crores of rupees have been manipulated by the top brass of the ruling CPI(M) and government officials," says Congress member and leader of opposition in state assembly Ratan Lal Nathand. He says the Congress would launch a stir against those guilty of corruption.
Syed Sajjad Ali
Till date Aadhaar numbers distributed 3.6 crore
Total persons enrolled 5.1 crore out of a population of 8.3 crore
Hyderabad resident Mohan Acharya, 35, applied for UID in early 2011 and received the card in March 2011. As an auditor of National Rural Health Mission schemes in Andhra Pradesh, he has seen how benefits meant for the poor get diverted first-hand. This misuse can be stopped to a great extent by the Aadhaar card, he says.
Andhra Pradesh has taken a lead in the Aadhaar scheme. According to Harpreet Singh, Commissioner of Civil Supplies Department, of the total population, 5.1 crore have already been covered and the remaining 3.4 crore people would be covered after April 2012.
"By March 31, we will cover an additional 40 lakh people," Singh said.
He said enrolment is above 90% in around ten districts. In the rest, enrolment is between 10-15%.
Andhra Pradesh is also seeding the Aadhaar database to generate a smart card that will replace ration cards and plug leaks in public distribution.
Aadhaar numbers distributed 2.6 lakh
Total enrolment 29.9 lakh of 7.21 cr
Since his electronics company was associated with one of the vendors dealing with the Aadhaar card process, RM Ebenezer, 41, applied for it.
It was easy — standing in queue for a few minutes, filling up a form with personal details and logging biometrics. The card arrived within a month. "Although it has not been of much use so far, I intend to get it for my family too, as it might just become the most important card in India," says the Chennai resident. "In times to come, it surely will become the all-important card or number that would be a living proof of one's existence," he says.
Aadhaar numbers distributed: The authorities do not know
Total enrolment 74 lakh of 2.77 cr
Narinder Kumar, 45, who runs a small mobile store in Chandigarh, is the lone bread-winner in his family. Last year Kumar applied for an Aadhaar card. He received it in December. Though he is proud of his new identification, he is yet to use it. With Chandigarh not yet starting public distribution based on UID, Kumar is still getting rations based on his ration card.
He has, however, been able to get a mobile connection based on the card. "The card is definitely my identity and I have also approached a bank for a loan to start a business. They have told me that this proof will be sufficient."
Aadhaar numbers distributed: 2 crore plus
Total enrolment: 3.8 cr of 11.2 cr
Until now he used other documents for his official work. However, nine months after the Aadhaar enrolment, his family is still waiting for their cards.
Pose, who could only complete secondary school education, says the Aadhaar card is a modern concept but poor people will benefit from it. "We may not understand how it is made, but it will help the poor and less educated people if administrative work becomes less tedious at government offices."
Till date Aadhaar numbers distributed: 10 lakh
Total enrolment: 17 lakh of 10.3 crore
Bihar's government had conceived the e-Shakti project in 2007 to bring in contactless smartcards for NREGA workers to collect textual and biometric data. It was launched in February 2009. But after the formation of UIDAI and appointment of Bihar's Rural Development department as its registrar, the state government has now decided to dovetail the e-shakti project with UID to avoid duplication of work. "An important aspect of the e-shakti project is to create a demographic and biometric information database of rural Bihar," says state Rural Development Minister Nitish Mishra.
Till date Aadhaar numbers distributed 82 lakh
Total persons enrolled 1.4 crore out of a population of 6 crore
Manasa Puduvettu, 23, from Bangalore, is a newly married graduate and now a home maker. In August, 2011, there was a huge advertising campaign for the Aadhaar scheme in newspapers, television and hoardings. "I was told that it is very important to have an Aadhaar card to prove our nationality. People said it helps identify anti-social elements if we possess a UID card."
She thinks it may also help her get a job. Puduvettu pressured her husband and they both spent a whole day at a UID booth and completed the formalities. In January, the couple got their Aadhaar cards. They were overjoyed with the notion of having "achieved something".
But now, she says, it is useless. "It is not valid anywhere including government offices. So this UID is a waste. When I go to the RTO or a bank, they are not bothered about this card, but only ask for a ration card, telephone bill or voter ID. I don't know why the government is wasting money on this."
Till date Aadhaar numbers distributed 20 lakh
Total persons enrolled 20 lakh out of a population of 4 crore
Shantilata Mahapatra, 55, got to know about UID from neighbours when enrolment began in her locality. The Bhubaneswar resident enrolled herself in September last year and got her card in January. But she has not yet figured out what the card is meant for.
"Nobody, neither the neighbours nor those enrolling us, could tell me the benefits of getting the card. Officials said they were just obeying orders of superiors and had no idea what benefit the cards offered," she says.
Mahapatra says the card has not made any difference to her life so far. "I already have a voter identity card to prove my identity while availing of government facilities or for banking. Maybe the UID will be a superior proof of one's identity," she says.
Enrolment for the UID in Odisha began in April 2011. However, enrolment temporarily stopped in January because of lack of funds. They hope to resume enrolment in April.