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Press Release, March 15, 2016: The New Bill Makes Aadhaar Compulsory!

Posted by Amber Sinha at Mar 16, 2016 10:11 AM |
We published and circulated the following press release on March 15, 2016, to highlight the fact that the Section 7 of the Aadhaar Bill, 2016 states that authentication of the person using her/his Aadhaar number can be made mandatory for the purpose of disbursement of government subsidies, benefits, and services; and in case the person does not have an Aadhaar number, s/he will have to apply for Aadhaar enrolment.

 

Nandan Nilekani, the former chairperson of the Unique Identification Authority of India had repeatedly stated that Aadhaar is not mandatory. However, in the last few years various agencies and departments of the government, both at the central and state level, had made it mandatory in order to be able to avail beneficiary schemes or for the arrangement of salary, provident fund disbursals, promotion, scholarship, opening bank account, marriages and property registrations. In August 2015, the Supreme Court passed an order mandating that the Aadhaar number shall remain optional for welfare schemes, stating that no person should be denied any benefit for reason of not having an Aadhaar number, barring a few specified services.

The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, however, has not followed this mandate. Section 7 of the Bill states that “a person should be authenticated or give proof of the Aadhaar number to establish his/her identity” “as a condition for receiving subsidy, benefit or service”. Further, it reads, “In the case a person does not have an Aadhaar number, he/she should make an application for enrollment.” The language of the provision is very clear in making enrollment in Aadhaar mandatory, in order to be entitled for welfare services. Section 7 also says that “the person will be offered viable and alternate means of identification for receiving the subsidy, benefit or service. However, these unspecified alternate means will be made available in the event “an Aadhaar number is not assigned”. This language is vague and it is not clear whether it mandates alternate means of identification for those who choose not to apply for an Aadhaar number for any reason. The fact that it does make it mandatory to apply for an Aadhaar number for persons without it, may lead to the presumption that the alternate means are to be made available for those who may have applied for an Aadhaar number but it has not been assigned for any reason. It is also noteworthy that draft legislation is silent on what the “viable and alternate means of identification” could be. There are a number of means of identification, which are recognised by the state, and a schedule with an inclusive list could have gone a long way in reducing the ambiguity in this provision.

Another aspect of Section 7 which is at odds with the Supreme Court order is that it allows making an Aadhaar number mandatory for “for receipt of a subsidy, benefit or service for which the expenditure is incurred” from the Consolidated Fund of India. The Supreme Court had been very specific in articulating that having an Aadhaar number could not be made compulsory except for “any purpose other than the PDS Scheme and in particular for the purpose of distribution of foodgrains, etc. and cooking fuel, such as kerosene” or for the purpose of the LPG scheme. The restriction in the Supreme Court order was with respect to the welfare schemes, however, instead of specifying the schemes, Section 7 specified the source of expenditure from which subsidies, benefits and services can be funded, making the scope much broader. Section 7, in effect, allows the Central Government to circumvent the Supreme Court order if they choose to tie more subsidies, benefits and services to the Consolidated Fund of India.

These provisions run counter to the repeated claims of the government for the last six years that Aadhaar is not compulsory, nor is the specification by the Supreme Court for restricting use of Aadhaar to a few services only, reflected anywhere in the Bill. The “viable and alternate means” clause is too vague and inadequate to prevent denial of benefits to those without an Aadhaar number. The sum effect of these factors is to give the Central Government powers to make Aadhaar mandatory, for all practical purposes.

 

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