... The curious case of a groundless foundation
This is a call out to Ranjana Sonawane, a tribal residing in village Tembhli in Maharashtra. Ranjana is the first Indian to have received her Aadhaar card in 2010. Now, I am no cynic. And you are all discerning enough to know that. But when it comes to the ‘inspirational, transformational’ talk about Aadhaar, the unique identification scheme implemented by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the agnostic in me comes alive. Not without a reason though. On that much celebrated day in the never-heard-of-before Tembhli, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while launching the Aadhaar scheme, said: “Unique Identification (UID) will help the hundreds of people in India, whose pride was hurt for so many years because of the lack of an identity. This will be their source of recognition from now on.” Today, the scheme in all its glory, with the promise of making India the most digitised nation in the world, is in shambles. Here, let me decode the mess for you.
Literal meaning: Support/Foundation.
Purpose: Under this Unique Identification scheme, every Indian citizen would be given a unique twelve-digit number. This number would enable them to avail many government schemes. Also, enable them to open bank accounts easily, get ration anywhere in the country and get subsidises under the direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme (more on this soon).
Present status: Supreme Court (SC) says the Aadhaar number is not compulsory for availing benefits.
Politics of it: Notwithstanding SC’s stand, the Union cabinet has now cleared the National Identification Authority of India (NIA) Bill, giving statutory backing to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which issues Aadhaar numbers. The Bill is likely to be taken up in the winter session of Parliament.
The issues: Earlier, the Parliament’s standing committee (PSC) rejected both the NIA bill to ‘regularise’ UIDAI’s actions and the UID scheme itself. The seven grounds on which the committee based its report were: lack of feasibility study, hasty approval, threats to national security, being directionless, using unreliable technology, need for privacy and data-protection and lack of coordination among government agencies involved.
Talking points: Ahead of next year’s general elections, the government, the opposition and the activists have a lot of playing to the gallery. But who is losing out?
The Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme: Under this scheme, benefits ranging from scholarships to pensions to cooking gas subsidies are supposed to be transferred directly to the Aadhaar-linked bank accounts of beneficiaries.
No benefits, only trauma: According to a news report in the national daily, The Hindu, “Though the Supreme Court has ruled that Aadhaar membership is not mandatory for accessing benefits, thousands of students in Jharkhand government schools who missed enrolling for the scheme, are unable to get scholarships. Even MGNREGS workers in Ranchi, which was a pilot district in 2011-12 for linking the rural job scheme to Aadhaar, have not been paid through Aadhaar since the government discontinued its pilot in three panchayats here 10 months ago.”
This is just one report from one pilot project. And this is pretty much the state of the entire nation. More importantly, this is exactly the dismay Ranjana faced, 3 years ago, bang after her 3 seconds of fame after receiving the country’s first Aadhaar card. “We have to sleep with hunger, there are no jobs in our village,” she was then quoted as saying.
How many more Ranjanas out there? Have they found their promised identity?