Though the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has already issued 786 million biometric IDs, it is not surprising the Supreme Court has reiterated its stand 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”. After all, despite the UIDAI’s progress, over a third of Indians are still without a biometric ID—so making an ID mandatory for government schemes ensures a large section of the population don’t get the benefit of various government programmes. That, however, is something UIDAI can deal with later since, over a period of time, it will have covered the entire population. What is going to be more time-consuming is linking this with bank accounts—only 100 million people have both an ID and a bank account linked to it. Given the government’s success with the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, presumably this too is something that can be fixed.
The real problem, however, comes after this since, once everyone has a bank account linked to an Aadhaar number, how do you determine whether a person is eligible for a subsidy? This is where the government has a serious problem. The rural development ministry was supposed to have a Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) conducted in 2011, to enable states to rank households on their socio-economic status and prepare a list of BPL families. While it aimed at providing complete data by 2013 by doing a door-to-door enumeration, progress has been tardy.
Till now complete data is available in only 119 of the 640 districts that cover 13 states and Union Territories. In 9 states, all the districts been covered. Among the larger states, 28 out of 30 districts in Karnataka have been covered. In states such as Bihar, the enumeration has been completed in only 2 out of 38 districts. Fortunately, there are draft lists available for 549 districts—curiously, there is not even a draft list for Tamil Nadu. In which case, the Centre needs to ensure these draft lists are converted to final ones at the earliest. Only once this is done will it be possible to go ahead and start using direct benefit transfers (DBT) for foodgrains—under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), roughly two-thirds of India’s population is entitled to get wheat and rice at roughly 10-15% of the current market price. There is the issue of whether data collected for 2011 will still be valid in 2015, but for now the important thing is to get started with what data there is. And one way to incentivise states to help finalise the lists is to say that states without final lists will not be eligible for benefits under the NFSA—if left to the states, it is unlikely there will be much progress on cash transfers under the NFSA.