The SC order comes at a time when the Aadhaar-enabled direct benefit transfer scheme for LPG (DBTL) has already been rolled back in all the 184 districts it was launched and the enrolment for Aadhaar itself has slowed down considerably in most parts of the country. Reports have said the DBT scheme could result in savings up to 1.2% of GDP for the government once it pan-India roll-out is complete.
A three-judge SC bench headed by justice BS Chauhan also ordered the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) not to share any information of the Aadhaar card holders with any other agency. The bench said biometric or any other data should not be shared with any authorities unless the person gives consent in writing.
Finance minister P Chidambaram, in his interim budget speech, reiterated that DBTL scheme would be rolled out throughout the country. In a recent interview to FE, however, the minister said Aadhaar needed to be overhauled. The transfer of LPG subsidies to the bank accounts of beneficiaries through the Aadhaar platform was believed to be easier to do than doling out food or fertiliser subsidies or other entitlements using the unique number and biometric database. But the DBTL scheme was stopped early this year owing to implementation that had hardly been impeccable. Political resistance and consumers raising a hue and cry over the hassles involved also led to suspension of DBTL in all districts it was rolled out.
Chidambaram had said in his interim budget speech: Let me reiterate that the government remains fully committed to Aadhaar under which 57 crore unique numbers have been issued so far and to opening bank accounts for all Aadhaar holders in order to promote financial inclusion.
In January, the Madras High Court had directed oil companies not to insist on the submission of Aadhaar cards for availing of direct transfer of subsidy. Social activists such as Aruna Roy filed a petition against the use of Aadhaar.
Political parties such as the Trinamool Congress and CPI(M) too opposed the Centre's move to link Aadhaar cards with DBTL.
However, several experts supported the Aadhaar programme, arguing that it would help make government spending for welfare schemes more efficient and less wasteful. Savings (by way of DBT) in different scenarios could be from 0.2-1.2% of GDP, depending on the schemes targeted and whether all the states participate," UBS Securities had said. At present, the government spends 10-12% of GDP on various social welfare schemes.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, said the savings in subsidies would alone be of R65,000 crore per annum thanks to the DBT scheme. He wanted to shift all welfare and subsidy benefits through Aadhaar-based cash transfer scheme. The government wanted to extend the DBT coverage to food, fertilisers, diesel, kerosene and educational scholarship schemes in a gradual manner.