Govt. stats on Aadhaar coverage "puffery", includes dead, petitioners tell SC

The petitioners have challenged several notifications issued by the government making Aadhaar mandatory for select welfare schemes.

Updated - June 23, 2017 06:45 pm IST

Published - June 23, 2017 04:57 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

An Aadhaar biometric identity card, issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), is arranged for a photograph in Mumbai, India, on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. India's Finance Ministry will recommend bold tax reform to ensure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's growth-crimping cash ban wasn't in vain, people familiar with the matter said. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

An Aadhaar biometric identity card, issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), is arranged for a photograph in Mumbai, India, on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. India's Finance Ministry will recommend bold tax reform to ensure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's growth-crimping cash ban wasn't in vain, people familiar with the matter said. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

The government statistics as told to the Supreme Court that 95.1% of the entire population is covered by Aadhaar, which has already seen 115.5 crore enrollments, is sheer "puffery" and includes the dead too.

This is how petitioners Shanta Sinha, former chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and Ramon Magsaysay awardee, and activist Kalyani Sen Menon responded on Thursday to the Centre's claim that Aadhaar is too beneficial and widespread to be spurned on the basis of the narrow ideology of a "few elite".

The petitioners have challenged several notifications issued by the government allegedly making Aadhaar mandatory for select welfare schemes and accessing benefits.

Recently, in a separate litigation, the Supreme Court upheld the Aadhaar-PAN linkage.

The rejoinder filed by the petitioners, represented by advocate Vipin Nair, contended that the government and the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) has attempted to "conflate" Aadhaar's acceptability.

"Aadhaar enrollment has been open to residents [a wider or at the very least a distinct class] rather than citizens for enrollment; Enrollment has been done on the back of coercive measures where people have been denied or have feared disruption in entitlements until they apply or obtain Aadhaar; Aadhaar enrollment has been without adequate verification and in many instances the respondent itself has stated that the enrollment has been over 110% of the recorded population in many States giving concerns as to fraud within the system," the rejoinder said.

It said the "basis of the percentage and the numbers include persons who are deceased".

The rejoinder quotes an RTI response of December 28, 2016, wherein the government itself stated that 99.9% persons who had an Aadhaar obtained it on the basis of two pre-existing IDs. The government said that till 2016, when over 105.1 crore residents had enrolled, only 8,47,366 – or 0.08% – got Aadhaar through “introducer system.” Hence, the claim that Aadhaar has rather than being an instrument of exclusion instead resulted in inclusion is deeply flawed.

Doubts over DBT savings

The government's claim that Rs. 49,560 crore was saved from the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme for 2014-15 and 2015-16 was "incorrect and a gross exaggeration," it said.

Each such figure is disputed, its methodology of computation has not been revealed. The rejoinder points to the first large chunk of savings "incorrectly" alleged by the government with respect to the PAHAL (Pratyaksha Hastaantarit Laab) scheme amounting to Rs. 26,408 crore, which forms more than half of its total estimated savings of Rs. 49,560 crore. The estimated savings of Rs. 26,408 crores are further derived from periods of 2014-15 being Rs. 14,672 crore, 2015-16 being Rs. 6,912 crore and for 2016-17 being Rs. 4,824 crore.

However, an audit of the savings claim for the entire PAHAL scheme done by the CAG  for April — December 2015 points out that most of the savings (92%) is due to the fall in LPG price in the international market, and only 8% (₹1764 Crore) can be attributed to various initiatives (UID being just one among them) that reduced the demand for subsidised cylinders.

The CAG analysis also noted that the government inaccurately classified 3.34 crore inactive connections as active connections illegally drawing subsidised LPG prior to the launch of PAHAL scheme.

The second large chunk of savings that has been claimed is with respect to PDS with a purported deletion of 2.33 crore ration cards up to 2016-17, resulting in a purported saving of Rs. 14,000 crore.

But the government itself had earlier stated that only a fraction of the total ration card deletions can be attributed to Aadhaar.

"The respondent has neither published any methodology used to estimate the savings claimed nor has provided data points used in the methodology," the rejoinder contended.

It added that Aadhaar resulted in exclusion and deprivation of fundamental rights.

The court is scheduled to hear the case on June 27.

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