The much talked about and hyped Aadhaar card still remains a mystery to many, but the rush at the registration counters tells a different tale. On closer look one finds that though people are rushing to the centres to get their Unique Identity (UID) cards, they do not know the exact purpose.
Most citizens believe that since it is a government document, it is required. However they do not know if it is mandatory to have an UID or not.
Narayan K, a businessman operating from Chickpet, got his Aadhaar card made a year ago. He says that the card was made right at his door step; “Since I was not losing anything I got it made – without spending money or time, unlike other government documents. But I have just kept the card in my cupboard as it is of no use.”
The businessman had been told that Aadhaar would be a valid government document, but was surprised to note that it did not have his date of birth, even though he had been required to furnish proof of age while applying for the ID. On inquiry from the counter officials, he was told that it is a proof of nationality and nothing more. “But I was not convinced, I tried the numbers available on the UID website but they proved to be of no use as the helplines are constantly busy and officials are not available to talk to citizens,” says Narayan.
Lakshmamma, a domestic help residing near KR Market, has similar feelings: “I stood in the queue for an entire day and got my card made. I was told that the card will help me get aid from the government – benefits in food ration, subsidies in medical treatment and other facilities. But it has all come to waste. It is just lying at home like any other card. I was also told that it will help in bank transactions, but they have been the same as before with no changes.” She also got her card made a year ago.
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Those who haven’t got their cards yet seem to be more positive about it. Jahnabi B, a resident of Indiranagar, Bangalore, who is yet to enroll for the card says, “I will get it done at the earliest as I was told that the Aadhaar number is important for provident funds transfer from one office to the other.” Jahnabi has heard that in case she wants a transfer of her Provident Fund savings from her present employer to a new employer, or withdraw the same, she would need to furnish an Aadhar number to the bank and to the PF office for faster processing. This convinces her of the need to get one.
What is the use of Aadhaar?
Strangely, even the UID authority has not much to share that can help to throw more light on the use and application of Aadhaar. The UIDAI merely mentions that Aadhaar will have many benefits. It affirms that the UID is a proof of identity and “seeks to be a gateway to services,” being sufficient “Know-Your-Customer” information for many things like opening a bank account, getting a mobile connection and availing other State government services.
Nandan Nilekani, Chairman of the UIDAI, however confirms that the Aadhaar number does not stand as a substitute for other forms of identity. “The other proofs of identity exist for particular purposes,” says Nilekani. He also points out that the decision to use the Aadhaar number for various services is that of the agency implementing the service and is not taken by the UIDAI.
“In India, the purpose of the UID project is very simple; it is to give every Indian resident a unique number, preventing the kinds of duplication that currently exists. The complexity of the issue lies in ensuring that everybody in a population of 1.2 billion gets a unique number, and therein lies an enormous challenge of scale and technology. But issuing a unique number is just one part of the challenge. The other part is making sure that this number is used effectively. For this purpose, the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) is providing an online authentication capability. In such a scenario, we will be able to verify online anyone claiming to be Mr. XYZ with the unique number 123 as actually being that person. This combination of de-duplication and having unique numbers on one end, and the existence of online authentication at the other end is the core of the solution that the UIDAI is seeking to achieve.”
Nandan Nilekani, Chairman, UIDAI
A senior official from Indian Oil, handling Indane, who does not wish to be named, says that 50 districts have been identified by the central government for linking the UID number of citizens with their LPG accounts, especially among the weaker sections of society, and enabling banks to directly transfer subsidy to them, thus eliminating other agents. In Karnataka, Mysore, Tumkur and Dharwad have been chosen. Over 70% of customers have been covered in Mysore, while work in Dharwad and Tumkur is yet to start. “We have been told to link Aadhaar with LPG subsidy and for consumers, UID number is being taken, as per the government’s scheme,” said the official.
In case of banks, benefits are yet to start for customers. An official from Indian Overseas Bank, who also wishes to remain anonymous, says that the benefits of Aadhaar work mostly for the weaker sections and those residing in rural and semi-urban areas. Once government orders are obtained, customers UID numbers will be taken to ensure financial aid is transferred directly to their accounts.
When will Aadhaar card be used by government agencies?
This, however, leaves a grey area around the question of when the UID will actually prove to be necessary for availing LPG subsidy, or sufficient documentation for opening a bank account or receiving direct transfers under any particular scheme. Nilekani stresses the need to ensure that there is no exclusion from services due to the non-availability of an Aadhaar number during the period of transition.
Even as the queues outside Aadhaar enrollment centres in Bangalore get longer, Dr DS Ravindran, Chief Executive Officer, Centre for E-governance admits that there is no scheme linked to Bangalore currently, to the best of his knowledge. “There is a direct cash transfer programme, where there is service delivery to Bangalore, but details of it are yet to be clarified. We are yet to understand why there is a rush at the centres and what is driving them in such large numbers,” wonders Ravindran.
What are the details on the card?
The UID card physically contains the name, sex, address, year of birth along with the 12-digit unique number assigned to the holder.
As Ravindran points out, it is not a valid document of date of birth, but is an identity proof of the person residing in India and in a particular address during the time of enrollment.
Adding to this, Ashok MR Dalwai, Deputy Director General, UIDAI regional office, Bangalore, says, “we are relying on the biometric, demographic (data) or even a combination of both while issuing the UID number. We are now thinking of including the date of birth in the card, rather than the year of birth alone.” The main benefit of the UID, he says, is that it recognizes an individual as a citizen of the nation and gives one a unique number; it also provides authentication facilities for verification of a person and ensure provision of services.
Another UIDAI official, on conditions of anonymity, reveals that over time and through experience, the team has learnt that inclusion of many personal details (such as date of birth) other than those initially included will make the card complete. But the question is how to do so now, after so many cards have been issued. The authority is thus grappling with the question of whether all cards should be called back, cancelled and re-issued or if there might be any other possibility.
The official also rules out the possibility of any kind of duplication, saying that the whole system is computerized and centralized, despite the existence of multiple data collection agencies across the country. “We would get to know that a person has already registered and it will show on the system. This will eliminate duplication. It is also being largely advertised to the masses that if they register once anywhere in India, they need not go anywhere else.”
According to officials from the e-governance department, who are vested with the responsibility for Aadhaar enrollment, over 20 lakh Bangaloreans have been issued the card so far. There are 68 centres in Bangalore alone, with 300 systems enrolling citizens.
An easier process?
While its actual use may still be far from clear, citizens do say that getting an Aadhaar card is easier, faster and better than procuring any other government document. Comparing it with the ration card or even a voter-identity card, Namrata M, a student points out that communicating with officials during the Aadhaar enrolment is much easier. They are multi-lingual, unlike officials involved in other government processes.
Moreover, corrections in case of Aadhaar card can be made immediately on the screen and there are usually no mistakes when the card arrives by post, unlike in case of the voter-ID or other government card.⊕