Aadhaar card – Boon or bane?

Aadhaar card – Boon or bane?

February 1, 2014

It was touted as the one-identification-for-all solution; no other were needed for establishing proof of identity, proof of residence, getting government benefits, opening accounts, etc. Yet over the years, Aadhaar has run into a maze of roadblocks questioning its validity, propriety and security.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) came up in 2009 – without any legal backup, which was to come with the passage of the National Identification Authority of India Bill the next year. However, the standing committee on finance headed by Yashwant Sinha found too many problems with the bill and asked for revision. The government did not provide any clarifications then and the project continued to run simply on an executive order.

•    The Unique Identification Authority of India has been established under the Planning Commission for which a notification was issued in January 2009.

•    Importantly, the agency UIDAI has no legal backing, as the National Identification Authority of India Bill has not been passed.

•    The agency provides a unique identification number to all persons resident in India, but not identity cards.

•    The agency will maintain a database of residents containing biometric and other data.

•    It is headed by a chairman, the former Infosys CEO, Nandan Nilekani, who holds a cabinet rank.

The Aadhaar logo

The scheme is voluntary, yet it is being pushed by the central and Congress-ruled state governments by linking it with agencies making it mandatory in ways. For example,

•    Recently, the Maharashtra government insisted marriages could not be registered without UID numbers.

•    The registrar of the Bombay High Court is also reported to have insisted for UID numbers for disbursement of salary to staff.

•    Under the DBT scheme, various pensions and scholarship payments are linked to Aadhaar.

Yet the government, in reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, had said on August 23, 2013 that Aadhaar card is not mandatory to avail of subsidies under government schemes including on domestic cooking gas.

Nandan Nilekani

Court rulings

Then, the Supreme Court of India ruled on September 23 that Aadhaar numbers were not mandatory for availing of government benefits and services like gas connections, vehicle registration, scholarships, marriage registration, salaries and provident fund. This interim order was passed in a public interest petition moved by retired Karnataka high court judge KS Puttaswamy, who alleged the unique identity (UID), or Aadhaar, scheme didn’t have parliamentary sanction and was rolled out only by the executive, without discussion in Parliament.

It also objected to the issuance of the 12-digit number to illegal immigrants. Now the intelligence bureau (IB) has raised the same concern. Its objection is that the numbers are issued without checking the veracity of the individual’s address, which is the standard procedure in the case of the national population register (NPR). The IB said that the authorities need to be more cautious while considering Aadhaar as proof of residence in conflict areas such as Kashmir and the north east. People can enrol for Aadhaar even without proof of residence through an introducer. No checks are done to ascertain whether the person is living at the address claimed before the UIDAI. As a security source has said: “The Aadhaar number is not a proof of residence... but only where a person claims to live.”

Opposition regarding this issue has even come from government sources. "This is a country where phone companies carry out antecedent checks before giving a phone... but there are no checks and balances before giving a terrorist a new identity," a government official said.

On January 23, 2014, the Madras High Court directed the state oil companies not to insist on the submission of Aadhaar cards for availing of direct transfer of subsidy. Replying to a PIL by SM Ananthamurgan, who said gas agencies were insisting on Aadhaar card, a Divison Bench of Justices R Sudhakar and VM Velumani of Madurai Bench said the Supreme Court was already hearing the issue, and till the apex court decided on it, LPG agents or the oil companies should not insist on production of Aadhaar card or submission of numbers.

Point to note: P Chidambaram had himself objected to this as home minister.

As published in a major national daily, a senior UIDAI official gave this rather vacuous explanation for issuing Aadhaar to illegal immigrants: “At least Aadhaar is trying to put them on the radar; thereafter, you can throw them out, as Aadhaar doesn’t give them legitimacy.” What is the use of spending so much on enrolling if the idea is to make their cards untenable? The government has spent a huge Rs Rs.3,500 crore on the Aadhaar programme from beginning (January 2009) till September 2013. There should be other better methods to identify such immigrants.

Why NPR is better

The IB has pointed to the differences between the Aadhaar project and the National Population Register (NPR) enumeration being conducted by the Registrar General of India (RGI).

•    NPR also registers non-citizens living in India, but only after a government enumerator visits the household for collecting biographical data and confirming that the person does indeed stay there.

•    These biographical details along with a photograph are displayed locally to invite claims and objections, unlike the UIDAI project, which relies on documents furnished by the applicant at the enrolment centre.

•    As per a report in a major daily (on December 5), the Aadhaar project has issued over 21 crore ID numbers, with the aim of covering 60 crore byMarch 2014.

•    Whereas, NPR has completed biographic data entries of 117.75 crore people and recorded biometrics of more than 19.7 crore.

Data leakage

Early last December, a national newspaper had reported that one of the software service providers to UIDAI receives funds from In-Q-Tel – the not-for-profit venture capital arm of the CIA. The service provider, New York-based MongoDB, has signed a contract with UIDAI but it has not been announced yet, the report said. The firm would enable the authority in ‘capturing and analysing data’ related to the Aadhaar project.


As per financial services secretary, DK Mittal in a recent comment, as per RBI guidelines, Aadhaar is enough for meeting know-your-customer (KYC) requirements for no-frill accounts. But for large accounts, an address proof is also required along with Aadhaar. However, Narendra Singh, chairman and managing director of the public sector bank, Bank of Maharashtra, has contradicted it by saying that Aadhaar number is being used only as an identity proof since there is a possibility that the address printed in the card has changed.

Is it really mandatory?

The basic contention, and arguably the correct one, is that since many people, including in West Bengal, have not got the card despite registration, non-availability of Aadhaar numbers should not be made an excuse to deny subsidy and benefits to people under various schemes.

On December 2, 2013, the West Bengal Assembly passed a resolution, supported by the Opposition as well, that said the Centre should immediately withdraw its decision to link the cards with Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT). The reasoning behind the resolution is… 

•    Only 15 per cent people of the state had got the Aadhaar cards.scheme.

•    In such a scenario, 85 per cent of the people would not be able to get nine subsidised LPG cylinders as the Centre had linked the Aadhaar card to the direct cash transfer to the respective bank accounts.

•    The decision of the Centre would put the common people into tremendous hardship.

•    The Centre legally cannot make biometric enrolment mandatory.

•    The entire process was unscientific as there was a scope for margin of error to the extent of 20 per cent.

On January 31, the central government reversed its own earlier decision, that was a victory for the government of West Bengal as well as for the countless other like-minded individuals all over the country. That was, that the Centre suspended its ambitious project of transferring subsidy on LPG cylinders directly into accounts of consumers using the Aadhaar platform. This is also a reflection of the Supreme Court and Madras High Court rulings mentioned earlier which had stated that Aadhaar numbers cannot be made mandatory as Aadhaar did not have parliamentary sanction.

Is it a boon or a bane?

The mission statement of UIDAI, as per its website is: The role that the Authority envisions is to issue a unique identification number (UIDAI) that can be verified and authenticated in an online, cost-effective manner, which is robust enough to eliminate duplicate and fake identities.

However, in view of the above issues, does it really look to achieve this aim?

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Comments (1)
J Turner Reply
February 01, 2014
Aadhaar card is all about control in the new world that will be emerging with China and India at the forefront. Boon or bane it is inevitable.
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