In an ideal world, the government should never have allowed its Aadhaar programme to get enmeshed in the debate over the right to privacy being a fundamental right, and should have just focused on how no privacy could be breached due to Aadhaar’s secure architecture. But now that Aadhaar has got trapped in that mess, it is important for the government to make the most of the respite it got last week when the Supreme Court allowed the use of Aadhaar numbers on a voluntary basis for getting MGNREGA benefits, the employees provident fund and pension schemes as well as for the Jan Dhan Yojana—till now, this could be used only for LPG and various PDS schemes. In any case, with 92 crore persons already on the Aadhaar platform and some of them beginning to get ration and LPG benefits—7.2 crore in the case of LPG—via Aadhaar-seeded bank accounts, restricting the benefits seemed odd.
The government, for its part, has to plug away at trying to convince the court of Aadhaar’s security and the benefits got from using Aadhaar for various social sector spending—voluntary use of Aadhaar has already ensured Rs 14,672 crore savings in LPG subsidy due to the blocking of 3.34 crore bogus accounts in FY15, 3,567,471 income tax returns filed electronically have PAN linked to Aadhaar which makes refunds much easier, 42% of the 18 crore PM Jan Dhan bank accounts were seeded with Aadhaar at the time of its first anniversary in August—and the list is an ever-expanding one now, even if Aadhaar use in getting a passport, opening bank accounts and getting mobile connections is left out.
Having got the respite it has, the government now has to work very quickly on making as many of its schemes Aadhaar-ready so to speak. Though the SECC data seems to exaggerate the number of poor in the country, the fact is that it is a list that the Centre and the states agree upon—so, at the earliest, the names of this list have to be linked with Aadhaar numbers for those that have them; and to the extent these people have bank/post-office accounts, those have to be linked as well so that direct cash transfers can start for them. But why, the argument will be made, will people want to seed their accounts if the process is voluntary? This is where the government has to drive home the point anyone with a ration card is well aware of, that roughly half the rations meant for people simply do not reach them due to theft along the way—with Aadhaar, this can no longer happen. Also, to the extent ration shops determined how people got their benefits, Aadhaar-based cash transfers free people to spend what they want to. The government needs to change Aadhaar from a mandatory requirement to something people want given the huge benefits it confers. And, as and when Parliament functions, getting a firm statutory status for Aadhaar also needs to be done.