Amna Khatoon (65) wanted to make sure she was the first one to reach early on Friday. Behind her were 20 others, waiting in line. Assured of her place, the Malviya Nagar resident pulled her yellow blanket closer and prepared to go to sleep.
At the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) centre at Pragati Maidan Metro station, people began to line up outside a closed door around midnight to make sure they are among the 100-odd lucky ones whose information will be fed into the system to get an Aadhaar card.
The centre opens at 9 am. But by 4.30 am, over 20 people — including Khatoon — have already stationed themselves outside.
With banks, ration shops, telecom operators and, occasionally, even hospitals demanding Aadhaar numbers for rendering services, and the deadline to link bank accounts and phone numbers with Aadhaar fast approaching, enrolment centres have become hubs of activity — and apprehension.
For 36-year-old Ehsaan Ali, a daily-wage labourer from UP’s Moradabad, this is his second visit to Delhi in the past month.
“I have been trying to get an Aadhaar card made for past five months in Moradabad. Whenever technicians try to take my fingerprints, the machine refuses to recognise them. Someone asked me to come to Delhi and try here. I first came in January, but reached around 7 am. By that time, there were over 150 people in the queue ahead of me and I didn’t even get a chance to enter the office. I did not want to make the same mistake twice, so I reached Delhi on Thursday night and lined up outside the centre by 3 am. There were already four people ahead of me,” Ali said. Eventually, a third visit finally got him the assurance that the card would be delivered to his home soon.
According to the guard posted at the Pragati Maidan UIDAI centre, 100-120 people are given tokens each day, starting 8 am — an hour before it opens.
“When I come around 8 am, there are close to 100 people here already. Most are from Delhi, but we get many from other states too. They either have to get new numbers or make corrections to their cards,” the guard said.
Data shared on the UIDAI’s official website shows that Delhi has more Aadhaar cards than the total projected population of the city in 2017 (1.81 crore). The saturation rate, the data states, is the highest in the country, at 117.3%. Despite these figures, several hundreds line up outside Aadhaar centres every day to get themselves registered, lest they be denied essential services.
Like Khatoon, residents from Samalkha, Khanpur and Kapashera said they have to travel long distances and forego daily wages — often multiple times — to get an Aadhaar card made.
“My grandson checked the UIDAI website and told me that the Malviya Nagar post office was a centre. But when I went to get my card made, employees said they have not had the machines for many months. They advised me to go to Pragati Maidan instead,” said Khatoon, who is illiterate.
The Malviya Nagar post office is located on a quiet street near the main market. According to the UIDAI website, it is a permanent Aadhaar centre. But when The Indian Express checked about Aadhaar enrolment there, employees said they have not had the equipment or an employee who keys in the information, including biometric and iris scans, for “at least a year”.
“We heard that we will get a fresh set-up in a month’s time. A lot of people come to us each day, asking about Aadhaar enrolment. We have to turn them all away,” a cashier, who did not wish to be named, said.
According to the UIDAI website, there are 285 permanent Aadhaar centres in Delhi. All temporary centres were closed by August last year.
The Indian Express sent a detailed questionnaire to the UIDAI on February 8 and another on February 9, asking the authority why temporary centres were shut down in Delhi and if they had received complaints about permanent centres not functioning.
Questions were also asked on whether more centres are expected to come up in the coming months, and why the saturation percentage (percentage of Aadhaar cards as compared to the total projected population) was more than 100%.
The UIDAI did not respond to these queries.
Outside an Aadhaar centre at a private bank in Defence Colony, a line starts forming by 6 am. By 10 am, there are close to 30 people. The centre is open five days a week, between 9 am and 4 pm. A guard at the bank said he distributes around 60 tokens a day. But only 25-30 people are able to get new cards made or change information as there is just one official at the centre.
“Now that the March 31 deadline for linking Aadhaar with phones and bank accounts is drawing closer, we are seeing more and more people. The government needs to open more centres now, as it did two years ago,” said Ravi Jha (18) a resident of Kotla Mubarakpur, who was waiting outside the Defence Colony centre.
Standing outside the Pragati Maidan centre, 44-year-old Dinesh Prasad, who has travelled from Ghaziabad, shares a peculiar problem. “When I was 20, the tip of my index finger had to be amputated after an accident. At the centre in Ghaziabad, they said prints of all 10 fingers were required. So I came to Delhi for a solution.” He will have to wait, though — having reached at 10 am, he stands no chance of getting inside today. “I’ll return home and be back on Monday,” he said.