The biometric-based Unique Identification or Aadhaar number for every resident above five years of age was one of the most ambitious programmes by the central government.
Aimed at changing the way government spends money for the betterment of the people, Aadhaar would have reduced social sector spending by one-fourth, said a 2010 Planning Commission study.
However, hasty implementation of the programme led to a public interest litigation being filed in the Supreme Court.
One issue was how the government allowed private individuals to collect demographic details of residents without a law on data protection and privacy. Providing an identity and residence validity to illegal migrants remained controversial with the BJP opposing the scheme’s universal ambit.
A Parliamentary committee headed by former finance minister Yashwant Sinha junked a draft UIDAI law, accusing the Centre of pushing the scheme through the back door. A new draft UIDAI law has not been firmed up so far.
SC’s observation that government services cannot be denied to anyone not having an Aadhaar deals a final blow to the target of enrolling 1.1 billion residents by 2014. Aadhaar numbers have been issued to 410 million people.
The order can slow down UPA’s game changer direct benefit transfer (DBT) of entitlements as it can’t push people to enroll anymore. The government ensured enrollment by making Aadhaar mandatory to avail social security pension and scholarships.
Cooking gas subscribers in around 289 districts were to get subsidy directly into their Aadhaar linked bank accounts by early 2014. Many states like Delhi, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh made Aadhaar mandatory for services like registration of property and obtaining birth and caste certificates.
These measures were adopted to make the voluntary Aadhaar mandatory. That may not happen if the court’s order prevails.