At its inception, India’s ambitious Aadhaar programme promised to provide a registered identity to people pushed to the margins of society, so they could prove they existed. Six years later, that idea seems to have fallen flat.
Just 0.3% of the 840 million Indians with the 12-digit biometric-based unique identification number didn’t have any identity documents before they got an Aadhaar card, government data show.
The programme aims to help citizens tap into government and financial services while minimising bureaucratic hassles and thwarting corrupt officials who stuff welfare databases with fake names and steal money meant for the poor.
People can enrol for Aadhaar in two ways. They can submit authenticated documents to establish their identity and place of residence. These include an array of identity proofs people already have, such as voter cards, passports, ration cards, driver’s licences and PAN cards.
The second option is going through an “introducer” system in which an Aadhaar number holder authenticates the credentials of an applicant. This means that a person can get an Aadhaar card without possessing any other documents.
“The introducer system was termed a way out to provide an identity document to a large number of Indians who don’t have it at their place of residence,” says Reetika Khera of IIT-Delhi, who has in the past questioned the efficacy of the project worth Rs 30,000 crore.
Now, a government response to an RTI application by Ujjainee Sharma and Trishna Senapaty shows that of the 840 million Indian residents with Aadhaar, just 219,000 got the unique number through the “introducer” mechanism.
This means 99.7% Aadhaar holders have acquired one more identity card, which does not have any public service utility right now.
The identification project, one of the previous UPA government’s flagship programmes, has been riddled with controversies, with the Supreme Court repeatedly asking the Centre to not make Aadhaar mandatory and a bunch of petitions against the disputed biometric data collection process.
UIDAI officials, however, counter the argument against Aadhaar, saying the system would plug leakages in delivery of government schemes and subsidies.