By Abhijit Roy
After opposing the erstwhile UPA government’s dream project, Aadhaar programme through its inception and rollout, and vowing to junk it as soon as it come to power, the Modi government has ultimately accepted its significance in tagging the social programmes that can be a firm foundation for financial inclusion in the remote sector as well.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley, in its recent budget speech has reiterated that a bill giving it statutory backing, will come in the parliament.
Acting upon; both the house has passed The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016. The bill aims to ensure targeted services to intended beneficiaries by assigning them unique identity numbers.
These numbers will be given to each person who has stayed in India for 182 days in the year preceding the date of application. For all its game-changing promise, this 12-digit biometric-based ID plan has been blocked at every step, most seriously by the Supreme Court which had ruled that it could not be made a prerequisite for any public benefits and also by privacy concerns.
While it had been planned as the enabling architecture for all social provisions that had been forced to roll out as an executive order and further hobbled by the court.
The government has made a good case for the surpassing utility of Aadhaar, saying that it was not a forcible imposition, but it may be required if one seeks a social entitlement or other transfer from the government.
Aadhaar is a precise way of getting money across, keeping government spending honest, preventing ghost accounts and leakage.
It has also surfaced the malpractices prevailing in the system. Take the case of Andhra Pradesh where, as per 2011 census there are only 21 million households but 24.5 million ration cards.
When Aadhaar had been tried out for LPG connections and PDS benefits, it had made a big difference by weeding out bogus beneficiaries. This can dramatically ease financial inclusion as electronic KYCs and micro-ATMs take banking to remote areas.
This attempt should also build strong privacy safeguards, and make sure that the functioning is not undermined by the same recurring concerns.
Though the passing of such a law had become important after the Supreme Court issued an interim order in October 2015 saying the Aadhaar number cannot be made mandatory for availing benefits or subsidies or services of the government.
The court had said that the Aadhaar card scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by it.