India's ID system a huge success, critics barking up the wrong tree
Aadhar has helped the government to provide services to millions.
By Arun Jaitley (Top Post)
Published: Sun 6 Jan 2019, 7:53 PM
Last updated: Mon 7 Jan 2019, 12:18 AM
The idea of having a Unique Identity Number (UID) for every citizen of India was conceived by Nandan Nilekani during the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government. Unquestionably, the credit goes to him for conceiving, initiating and implementing the idea. Aadhaar, however, was non-statutory. There was no law governing it. This triggered a serious legal challenge. The UPA itself was a divided house. While Nandan Nilekani pushed hard, a senior minister blocked it. The-then prime minister was indecisive. The enrolment continued, though at a very moderate pace.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), then in Opposition, had some reservations particularly with regard to non-citizens being enrolled. Immediately after the formation of the present government, a presentation was made to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Nilekani, where I was also present.
At the conclusion of the presentation, the Prime Minister consulted others present and, decisive, as he is, immediately took the decision to go ahead with the idea of Aadhaar.
The legal hurdle
The UPA legislation was inadequate. It provided for the methodology by which the UID would be issued. It did not contain adequate safeguards on privacy. It did not mention for which purpose the UID would be used. The NDA Government re-examined the issue and the legislation was completely changed. The pith and substance of the new law was that government spends a large part of the public resources on subsidising the poor. This subsidy became an indefinite amount which is given to an unidentified section of the people. There are many claimants who don't exist. Several others are not entitled to it. There are several cases of duplication and thus the unique identity based on biometrics would eliminate these aberrations and relief would travel only to the intended. This was the thrust of the new law. After the new law was passed in the parliament it was challenged before the Supreme Court of India. The Supreme Court upheld the whole concept of unique identity and rejected the challenge that it violated the Right to Privacy. It held that Aadhaar meets the concept of constitutional trust, limited government and good governance and empowers marginalised section of society. It also introduced several safeguards to ensure that it is not misused. The judgement of the Supreme Court added balance to the concept of Aadhaar.
The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, was passed by the Parliament on March 16, 2016. It was notified on March 26, 2016. Several other Sections of the Act which had initially not been notified, were notified on September 12, 2016. In the last 28 months over 1.22 billion Aadhaar numbers have been issued. Ninety-nine per cent of the adult population of India above the age of 18 stands covered.
Many state support schemes, including some by the direct benefit transfer (DBT) mechanism have been linked to Aadhaar. Around 228 million of PAHAL and Ujjwala beneficiaries are given cooking gas subsidies through DBT in their Aadhaar linked bank accounts. About 582.4 million ration card holders are linked. Nearly 103.3 million The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) card holders get paid through DBT in their bank accounts. So do the 19.3 million beneficiaries and other beneficiaries of the national social assistance programme. The Income Tax Department has already linked 210 million PAN card holders with their Aadhaar numbers.
Nearly 25.790 billion authentications have been undertaken till date. Everyday 27 million authentications are done. UIDAI has the capacity of 100 million transactions to be authenticated per day.
The Indian government estimates that Rs900 billion have been saved by the use of the Aadhaar. Several duplicate beneficiaries, non-existent beneficiaries and fake beneficiaries have been eliminated. The Digital Dividend Report prepared by the World Bank estimates that India can save Rs770 billion every year with the use of Aadhaar. The savings through Aadhaar can fund three schemes of the size of Ayushman Bharat (National Health Protection Scheme).
In most schemes, the direct benefit transfers take place in beneficiaries' bank accounts (nearly 635.20 million so far) that had been linked with the unique identity as on December 15 last year. The total number of subsidy transactions through Aadhaar are almost about 4.25 billion. The total amount of subsidy transferred through Aadhaar now equals Rs1.69 trillion. With the elimination of middlemen the benefits go directly to the bank accounts. This is a unique technology implemented only in India. The monies saved through Aadhaar is money fruitfully employed for the poor elsewhere.
Aadhaar is a game changer. Its evolution tells the same story. The UPA because of its contradictions and indecision remained half-hearted about Aadhaar. Instead of taking credit for it, Congress lawyers challenged it in the court and appeared as the anti-technology, anti-Aadhaar faces. A decisive prime minister made it possible.
Two individuals deserve a special credit. Nandan Nilekani, who started it and Dr Ajay Bhushan Pandey, who subsequently provided it with the direction and expansion. He masterminded the government strategy to repel the legal challenge.
Arun Jaitley is India's finance minister