“Only subsidy and not service has been made conditional on providing the Aadhaar number”

The Supreme Court order on Aadhaar is expected to provide relief to more than 24 lakh people in 20 districts who would have got locked out of access to subsidised LPG gas cylinders for not having valid UID cards that are linked to banks.

The court in its interim order said no one should be denied benefits of a government scheme for lack of Aadhaar cards.

The government and Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) sent petitions asking for relief but the Supreme Court refused to alter the ruling, instead setting an early date of October 22 for the final hearing.

OMC argument

The OMCs told the court that the scheme to transfer subsidy, in cash, for the LPG cylinders had been launched in 20 districts in June 2013. The second phase in another 34 districts was planned for September and in another 44 districts for October.

They also informed the court that the policy was to cut off subsidy to those consumers who had not got their Aadhaar cards linked to the bank accounts as well as their LPG connections. The cut-off would take place after a three-month grace period. The cut-off date for the 20 districts officially began in the beginning of September.

The OMCs then admitted that only 60 per cent of the consumers had got their Aadhaar numbers linked to both banks and LPG distributors. The others “may enrol themselves in due course – when they will become eligible to receive the subsidy for balance entitlement,” the plea said. They was a possibility that these were all cases of fake or duplicate LPG connections, in which case they may never enrol.

Out of 50.88 lakh cards that were checked for duplication, the authorities found that 45,000 cardholders with multiple connections, the OMCs told the court.

The application by the Unique Identification Authority of India is carefully worded to couch this concern. “There is no disruption of service (supply of LPG at market price) to consumers who do not provide Aadhaar, as only subsidy and not service has been made conditional on providing the Aadhaar number.”

Though the OMCs talk of 40 per cent of the consumers in the first phase still not being linked to receive the cash subsidy, the authority’s application reads: “Consistent with the resolution of the government that there is no undue hardship during the makeover to Aadhaar enabled systems, the scheme is being introduced in a staggered manner in districts with a high proliferation of Aadhaar.”

The Union Cabinet note for the National Identification Authority of India Bill, finalised some days before the application before the court, reveals more.

It said that till August end, 49.42 lakh consumers had got their subsidy paid in cash for LPG cylinders out of the total of 73.66 lakh consumers holding connections.

The Cabinet note is also self-contradictory in parts. In one part, it talks of making the UID mandatory only for public benefits when the UIDAI programme is fully rolled out and Aadhaar numbers are issued to all residents. But for the cash against the LPG scheme, the government has already pushed to make it mandatory.

In another part of the note, the government states that the entire investment in the UID scheme would become ‘infructuous’ if Aadhaar is not made compulsory for government schemes once it’s fully rolled out.

The OMCs, again running against the government’s logic of making Aadhaar mandatory only when it is fully rolled out, have pleaded before the court that not permitting authorities to implement the cash subsidy for the LPG scheme in its present shape would cause immense problems and trigger “serious doubts and confusion and uncertainty in the minds of several crores of residents in India who have already enrolled for Aadhaar, regarding the validity and usefulness of Aadhaar.”

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