Putting to rest speculation about the fate of the previous UPA government’s most ambitious scheme — issuing Aadhaar cards and linking all benefits to this unique identity — the NDA government has given it a decisive push with Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself taking a keen interest in its rollout.
At a high-level meeting in July itself, Modi set a target of one billion Aadhaar enrolments “at the earliest”. The current enrolment is 700 million. He also endorsed Aadhaar-based Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) schemes, including for LPG, which the previous government had scrapped. Simultaneously, he asked government departments to implement the DBT scheme on priority in 300 districts where Aadhaar enrolment is over 80 per cent.
Aadhaar and DBT are big-ticket reforms initiated by the Congress-led UPA government, but their rollout was hit due to implementation bottlenecks. The then Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairman, Nandan Nilekani, updated both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi every month on the progress of the scheme.
The NDA government has taken the DBT scheme seriously, given the impact it can have on the government’s subsidy programme. The Prime Minister’s Office is studying a report prepared by the Planning Commission on utilising Aadhaar identification for transfer of benefits to the accounts of beneficiaries under the MGNREGA, pension, scholarship, public distribution system and LPG subsidies in the 300 districts.
Using Aadhaar further, the government has also made it the basis of several fresh proposals. It will soon introduce Aadhaar-based biometric systems to keep a watch on attendance of central government employees. The government is also studying enrolment of all prisoners using Aadhaar and linking the recently-launched e-passport system with Aadhaar by retrieving biometric data collected under the UID scheme.
In fact, Modi’s ambitious financial inclusion plan, the Jan Dhan Yojana, announced on Independence Day will also be based on Aadhaar. Essentially, bank accounts under the scheme will be opened using Aadhaar to satisfy the KYC norms. Clearly, the Modi government has sensed an opportunity to make the most of the groundwork already in place.
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Officials said the importance of Aadhaar for avoiding duplication, eliminating ghost beneficiaries and ensuring better targeting is not lost on this government. The UPA government’s big mistake was that it launched the DBT scheme towards the end of its tenure, and attempted to expedite its implementation with an eye on electoral benefits. However, inadequate groundwork and poor monitoring wrecked its plans.
The Modi government started work on Aadhaar/ DBT within the first 100 days of coming to power, with the PMO monitoring the schemes closely. So, there is every likelihood that the loopholes will be identified and plugged and the schemes implemented systematically.
Further, there were serious differences over Aadhaar within the UPA government itself.
There may be a hurdle or two still, including the BJP and RSS’s opposition to Aadhaar for including all residents in the country, and not just Indian nationals. When the UPA initiated Aadhaar, the BJP had expressed fears that illegal immigrants, including those from Bangladesh, may end up with Aadhaar cards and thus be eligible for cash benefits. The Home Ministry is yet to take a final decision on this.