The interim order on not issuing the cards to undocumented migrants will come in the way of enrolling the poor

The Supreme Court issued an interim order on September 23, 2013, on a public interest litigation challenging certain aspects of the UID Aadhaar project. As reported by the media, the interim order brings out two main points: (1) Aadhaar enrolment of immigrants living in India without proper papers should not be done, and (2) Central and State governments must not deny essential services and benefits solely on the basis of non-enrolment in the project.

The introducer

The first point concerns the Aadhaar system itself. An Aadhaar applicant needs to provide proof of identity (including age) and address using one of several approved documents, such as an electoral photo identity card or passport, before his/her biometrics are captured. But very poor people, for example pavement dwellers, may have no identity document with proof of age, and certainly no address. However, the Aadhaar system caters to such people with the Registrar (State government) notifying a trained introducer who, in effect, contacts the enrolment centre staff, vouching for the person who states that he is Mr. X of so-and-so address is indeed Mr. X of that address.

Thus, the biometrics captured are shown to belong to Mr. X with those details. In practice, the introducer may know only a fraction of the people without such documents who apply for the Aadhaar card by sight or acquaintance, and he/she could unwittingly introduce an immigrant without proper documentation. Even if the introducer knows Mr. X by sight or acquaintance, he has really no means to know whether he is a citizen or a legal resident. The apex court’s order that immigrants without proper documentation must not be enrolled effectively puts introducers “out-of-business,” and thus the poor who have no documents cannot be enrolled. Clearly, the Aadhaar project has not foreseen the risk of immigrants without proper documentation getting themselves enrolled, with attendant security risks.

Benefits

The second point concerns benefits, since the court has said “the Centre and State governments must not insist on Aadhar cards from citizens before providing them essential services.” Thus, for example, oil companies will need to supply LPG cylinders by receiving the subsidised cost at delivery for customers who are not Aadhaar-enrolled, and Public Distribution System ration shops will need to provide rations to entitled persons on the basis of valid ration cards.

The UIDAI may appeal against the apex court’s order especially since Rs.50,000 crore has been spent. Meanwhile, the interim order requires the Central and State governments to provide essential services and benefits to the public without insisting on Aadhaar enrolment.

(Major General S.G. Vombatkere, who retired as Additional Director General, Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi, writes on strategic and development-related issues.)

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