Recently Parliament has passed ‘Aadhar’ (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, as a money bill to facilitate its safe passage, as government lacks majority in Rajya Sabha and thus never wanted to face embarrassment, which it faced in case of Land Acquisition (Amendment) and GST Bill. Safe passage of ‘Aadhar’ (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill is being considered as a ‘game changer’ and a big success.
Politics on the Bill
‘Aadhar’ was given legal status by the previous UPA Government, as provision was made to give unique identity to all residents (including children) by assigning a 12 digit number on ‘Aadhar Card’. Then UPA government could not get the ‘Aadhar’ Bill 2010 passed due to intense opposition from Bhartiya Janta Party and other opposition parties. During Lok Sabha elections of 2014, Bhartiya Janta Party had opposed ‘Aadhar Card’. However, after coming to power the party thought that it is a good proposition, as with the help of Unique Identity (UID) of residents’ financial subsidies and other public services could be targeted more efficiently. This was also felt that the apprehensions expressed about the assault on privacy could be taken care of by making appropriate statutory provisions. Realizing that the Government lacks majority in the Rajya Sabha, it was decided to bring this bill as ‘money bill’, to avoid defeat in Rajya Sabha. However, we must also understand that though ‘Aadhar’ Bill 2010 and ‘Aadhar’ (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill 2016 are seemingly no different from each other, there are number of dissimilarities with the two.
2016 Bill and Privacy Concerns
According to ‘Aadhar’ Bill 2016, if a person has resided in the country for 182 days or more, he/she is entitled to get an ‘Aadhar Card’. According to this bill, a person is entitled to avail of a subsidy or a service from the government; he must either posses an ‘Aadhar Card’ or has applied for the same. These provisions were not there in ‘Aadhar’ Bill 2010. According to ‘Aadhar’ Bill 2016, information related to an Aadhaar number holder’s fingerprints and iris scan shall not be published or displayed publicly, except for purposes specified by regulations. When authenticating an individual’s identity, the UID authority cannot reveal information related to iris scan and fingerprints to the entity requesting for authentication. All these provisions were not there in ‘Aadhar’ Bill 2010. Therefore one can say that an attempt has been made to address the concerns about privacy in ‘Aadhar’ Bill 2016.
In order to grant legal status to ‘Aadhar’, ‘Aadhar’ Bill 2010 was unsuccessfully attempted by then UPA government. NDA under the leadership of BJP had opposed ‘Aadhar’ Bill 2010 on the plank that lot of private information are taken while making ‘Aadhar Card’ and if this data goes to other people, privacy is disturbed. Later on courts have also given their ruling against granting legal status to ‘Aadhar’ and make it an essential condition to take the benefits of government support.
Earlier, when the concept of ‘Aadhar Card’ was brought in and later on Indian Unique Identity Authority (UIDAI) was given statutory recognition there was no clarity about the usage of the same. For general public this was merely an easy way to get identity card. Easy availability of ‘Aadhar Card’ without there being any proof of citizenship, gave rise to apprehensions that this instrument may provide legitimacy to the foreign intruders (especially from Bangladesh).
Why is the New Aadhar Bill a Game Changer?
Once Rajiv Gandhi, our former Prime Minister, during his tenure, had said that 85 percent of the money sent to poor and general public, does not reach the intended beneficiaries and evaporates in the way. Experience so far reveals that the food subsidy, and petroleum subsidy given by the government does not fully reach the intended beneficiaries and there is a lot of leakage in between. Apart from this, in order to provide food security to the people, government has to maintain huge buffer stocks and providing the same to the intended population, government has to spend huge amount from its budget. According to erstwhile Planning Commission, to transfer a food subsidy to the intended beneficiaries of one rupee government has to spend Rs. 3.85. Similarly the benefits of Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MGREGP) do not fully reach the intended beneficiaries. Fertilizer subsidy given for chemical fertilizers goes to the companies and does not reach the farmers fully. A decade back it was impossible to even think of transferring the benefits from the government directly to the targeted beneficiaries.
Thanks to the techniques, today, it is possible to transfer the benefits of subsidy and other services directly the bank accounts of the beneficiaries, without much cost. For this, what we need is a bank account and a unique identity of the beneficiaries. Earlier, because of hic-ups in opening a bank account and requirement of minimum balance, a poor person was unable to open an hour account. However, under Jan-Dhan Yojna, nearly 18 crore new bank accounts have been opened with zero balance requirements. In fact, along with this, extremely low cost new insurance schemes, have also been launched, encouraging more people to open their bank accounts.
According to official figures, out of 127 crore population, more than 100 crore possess ‘Aadhar Card’. 93 percent of adult population today has ‘Aadhar Cards’. In 25.5 crore bank accounts,Aadhar number is registered. Persons, with less than 18 years of age can also get their ‘Aadhar Card’, however, very few of them have actually got their cards made. Therefore, it means that universal coverage of ‘Aadhar’ is possible in near future, especially after passage of ‘Aadhar’ Bill 2016. With almost universal coverage of back accounts of households and Aadhar card, now it has become easier to transfer benefits, directly to the targeted population. This scheme may save billions of rupee, as now LPG subsidy, food Subsidy, MNREGA wages and many other benefits can reach the targeted beneficiaries without leakage. According to the government, this could save 70 thousand crore to the exchequer. If this is correct, ‘Aadhar’ Bill 2016 will prove to be a big ‘Game Changer’ for the nation.