The irony is that the Aadhaar form clearly states that ‘Aadhaar enrolment is free and voluntary’. If enrolment into Aadhaar is free and voluntary, how could the OMCs have insisted on Aadhaar linked bank accounts for payment of cooking gas subsidies?
In his speech on January 17, 2014, Rahul Gandhi, the vice-president of the Congress Party, requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to provide 12 cooking gas cylinders a year at the subsided rate, instead of nine.
Since the request came from the Gandhi family scion, the normally slow Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government acted quickly for a change, and before the end of January 2014, the cap had been raised. From April 1, 2014, consumers will get one subsidised gas cylinder a month. This increase in cap is expected to increase the subsidy burden of the government by `5,000 crore. Along with increasing the cap, the government has also suspended the Aadhaar card-linked Direct Benefit Transfer for LPG (DBTL) scheme. This scheme had been implemented in 289 districts in 18 states. In January 2014, it had been extended to a further 105 districts, including Delhi and Mumbai.
Under this scheme, the consumers bought the cooking gas cylinder at its actual market price. The subsidy amount was then transferred directly into their Aadhaar card linked bank accounts. So, a resident of Delhi, where the scheme was launched recently, while buying a gas cylinder would have had to pay `1,258 for a 14.2 kg cylinder. The cost of the subsidised cylinder is `414 in Delhi. Hence, the difference of `844 would be paid directly into the Aadhaar linked bank account of the consumer. The trouble is that many people still do not have Aadhaar accounts. And those who have it have not been able to link it to their bank accounts. Hence, the government has set up a committee to review the DBTL scheme. In an election year, the worst thing that can happen to a government is that its subsidies do not reach the citizens. By forming a committee to review the DBTL, that discrepancy, hopefully. will be set right.
Anyone who has implemented even a very basic project will tell you that it is very important to do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of the project. A basic SWOT analysis would have shown that the first problem in the DBTL scheme would be people not having Aadhaar cards and that those who have it, would not have had it linked to their bank accounts. But the government and Nandan Nilekani, the chief of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), have been in a hurry to showcase Aadhaar. UIDAI is in charge of implementing Aadhaar. In fact, a recent report on the website of the Moneylife magazine pointed out that Mr Nilekani is a member of almost every committee that has been making Aadhaar mandatory “for citizens to access several services and benefits” from the government. Guess, he is not bothered about the conflict of interest his being on these committees creates, even after having held one of the top jobs at Infosys, one of India’s most ethical companies.
In the recent past, the political ambitions of Mr Nilekani have come to the fore. Does that explain his hurry to get Aadhaar up and running and everywhere? What is interesting is that the oil marketing companies (OMCs) — IOC, BP and HP — for a while insisted on Aadhaar linked bank accounts for subsidy payments in case of cooking gas, even after the Supreme Court ruled that Aadhaar should not be made mandatory for availing any services. The September 2013 order had unequivocally said that “no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card in spite of the fact that some authority had issued a circular making it mandatory”. Even before the Supreme Court had ruled, Rajiv Shukla, minister of state for parliamentary affairs and planning, had said on May 8, 2013, that the “Aadhaar card is not mandatory to avail subsidised facilities being offered by the government, like LPG cylinders.”
The irony is that the Aadhaar enrolment form clearly states that “Aadhaar enrolment is free and voluntary”. If enrolment into Aadhaar is free and voluntary, how could the OMCs have insisted on Aadhaar linked bank accounts for payment of cooking gas subsidies? In the world of Mr Nilekani and the Government of India, free and voluntary clearly means something that you and I do not understand.
Interestingly, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, did some straight talking on Aadhaar (UIDAI was created by a notification of the Planning Commission in January 2009), at Davos in January 2011. “We will simply make it compulsory for those benefiting from government programmes to register for the UID number,” Mr Ahluwalia remarked. And that is what seems to be happening. In Maharashtra, government employees have been ordered to get Aadhaar cards so that their salaries can be paid into Aadhaar linked bank accounts. In Delhi, Aadhaar is compulsory for marriage registrations.
Mr Nilekani has tried to explain this by saying, “Yes, (Aadhaar) is voluntary. But the service providers might make it mandatory. In the long run I wouldn’t call it compulsory. I’d rather say it will become ubiquitous.”
As stated earlier, Mr Nilekani is a member of almost every committee that has been making Aadhaar mandatory. In fact, as he put it in November 2012, “If you do not have the Aadhaar card, you will not get the right to rights.” When it comes to Aadhaar, Mr Nilekani and his masters have offered the nation a Hobson’s choice.
For more than four years now, the Nandan Nilekani-led UIDAI has been collecting biometric information (photographs of the face, iris scans and fingerprints of all the 10 fingers) of the citizens of this country, without any statutory backing. The Union Cabinet has approved the National Identification Authority of India Bill that will give statutory status to the UIDAI. But this bill hasn’t been introduced in the Parliament yet.
The joke, as always, is on us.
The writer is the author of Easy Money. He can be reached at [email protected]
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