PUBLIC | FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 13TH, 2013, Shillong Times
By Ramesh Kanitkar

We had thought that the reforms undertaken since the early 1990s in our country would have ushered in an era of less governmental control over its citizens in their everyday life. Sadly, that has not happened. Under the guise of welfare measures, government has tightened its stranglehold over common citizens and made their lives more miserable. The beneficiaries have been mostly middlemen and corrupt government servants. In the 1990s, a ration card or a passport was the primary identity document for all.

Those who needed could draw food rations and kerosene for cooking by displaying this card. They could also obtain passports, obtain school admission for their children and purchase vehicles. The scare of a massive Bangladesh infiltration into India during the NDA regime (1999-2004) made government change this policy and insist on voters’ identity cards. By that time, lakhs of bogus ration cards were circulated by corrupt government servants. In 2011, Maharashtra proudly declared that 42 lakh bogus cards were circulating in the state.

We had thought that voters’ identity cards or passports would be the final solution to all our identity problems. That was not to be. The UPA government introduced the “Aadhar” scheme in a hurry, without legal backing, even as data for the “National Population Register” under the Citizenship Act was being collected by the ministry of home affairs. In their hurry to be populist, UPA’s political managers did not care about this contradiction. “Aadhar” was introduced with all its defects to gain one upmanship over other political parties in the so-called welfare measures.

Some suspicious persons also tried to claim Indian citizenship based on “Aadhar” cards, which, fortunately, was laid to rest in a recent case by the Bombay High Court, stating that “Aadhar” or even Indian passports did not prove that they are Indian citizens unless their parents were also Indian citizens. However, this may recoil on the UPA coalition since the promised benefits have not yet started flowing to the needy due to the mismatch between promises (glitzy television commercials promising a better life for the poor) and the hard reality on the ground, when thousands of the needy are still waiting for their cards.

Despite all the soothing tales by Congress politicians, there is tremendous frustration among the poor, who are being exploited by middlemen for obtaining new cards to avail of the so called benefits. Do the Congress party managers feel that this would result in more votes?

Ordinarily, such thoughtless administrative steps would inconvenience only the general public and not government servants. However strange thing is happening in the country, collection of fresh data on all their Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe employees, including very low paid government servants.

The procedure is so tortuous that they have to fill up a five-page form indicating their father’s and grandfather’s names, with their caste details and attaching certificates from the tehsildars after digging out authentic government records from their villages located far away from their places of posting. A 55-year-old low paid employee, recruited in 1983, who is working as a watchman in a local government office has revealed that he has to travel a day’s distance to his village in the hope of retrieving the records. If he does not produce the records, his next month’s salary will not be paid. Middlemen are already approaching him with tantalising offers on how to get certificates for cash.