Mandatory Aadhaar

Author: 
Nantoo Banerjee

The Supreme Court has time and again reminded the government that the use of Aadhaar card can’t be made mandatory. But, to the surprise and chagrin of state governments and the common man, especially the poor and the needy, the BJP-led union government seems to be sparing no opportunity to link more and more centrally sponsored schemes with Aadhaar to the utter disregard of the apex court orders. The latest notification making Aadhaar mandatory for small students upto grade VIII standard, covered under the mid-day meal programme, by the union ministry of human resource development (MHRD) has come under fire from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
In Delhi, both Trinamool Congress and Congress MPs have sent notices to the Rajya Sabha chairman demanding a debate on the issue. Mamata Banerjee called the centre’s decision “inhuman”. Vijayan termed it as “absurd.” Last week, following Mamata Banerjee’s nation-wide call to protest against making Aadhaar mandatory for mid-day meals, the centre issued a statement saying “in case of Mid-Day Meal scheme and the Integrated Child Development Scheme, the schools and Anganwadis have been asked to collect the Aadhaar number of the children beneficiaries and in case a child does not have Aadhaar, the school or ICDS functionary will be required to provide enrolment facilities to a child and till Aadhaar number is assigned, the benefits will continue.” Thus, the centre did not entirely withdraw its earlier notification. It merely allowed the scheme to continue until other children are assigned an Aadhaar number.
Aadhaar linkage has been made mandatory to avail of benefits under some three dozen central schemes, including Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan. Aadhaar will soon be made mandatory for all 84 schemes covered so far under direct subsidy benefit transfer programme. From subsidised kerosene oil for the poor to crop insurance by farmers and concessional rail fares for senior citizens, all are being mandatorily brought under Aadhaar. Worse still, the government is insisting that those entitled to concessions pay at full rates for the subsidised products and services before getting the subsidised amount reimbursed in their Aadhaar-linked bank accounts. Apparently, this is to let such poor consumers know exactly how much financial help they are receiving from the centre. Such an act appears to be a height of arrogance on the part of the centre, treating the recipients of subsidies as a bunch of beggars. This also totally disregards a common sense explanation that the subsidies are given to the needy and weaker sections as a state policy because these people can’t financially afford to procure those important products or facilities at their listed market rates.  The government does not pay for subsidies and concessions from its own pocket. Tax payers, direct and indirect, pay for it. They include almost every citizen, including the poor and incapacitated, since almost all consumers come under the indirect tax net. The payment of subsidies on account of food under the public distribution system, fertilisers and seeds, jobs for the unemployed in rural areas for a minimum number of days, kerosene and limited number of household cooking gas cylinders, financial inclusion under Jan Dhan Yojana etc. does not absolve the democratic government of its duty to ensure a minimum living standard for the needy and poor, whose votes elevate political netas to power. If the nation’s economically deprived have been the ultimate source of power for all political parties, they deserve a better treatment from their governments.
Only last year, a Constitution Bench led by former Chief Justice H L Dattu, clarified that linking of Aadhaar for providing such services as MNREGA, Jan Dhan Yojana, pension and provident fund schemes may be allowed by the government, but they will only be on a voluntary basis and no person shall be deprived of any benefit for want of Aadhaar. The Supreme Court had earlier restricted its use to public distribution system and LPG subsidy. The apex court also reminded the Central government that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for any services. The court ordered the government to remove a condition making it mandatory for the students to give their Aadhaar numbers for various scholarship schemes. A bench led by Justice V Gopala Gowda recalled an order of the top court in October 2015 whereby it was clarified that “the Aadhaar card Scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this Court one way or the other”. But, a letter sent by the Central government to chief secretaries and administrators of all states and union territories stated that only online application under the National Scholarship Scheme will be accepted and “it may be noted that submission of Aadhaar is mandatory.”
The government’s seemingly arrogant and unreasonable dictats on making Aadhaar mandatory for all central aided and sponsored schemes, without any legal sanction, provision, or approval, and challenging the Supreme Court and even its most powerful Constitution Bench orders are being interpreted as a contempt to court by many. Our constitutional system does not allow the executive to overrule Parliament and the judiciary which are independent of each other. The government is fully aware of that. One only expects that the better sense will prevail and the government will get the Aadhaar bill passed in Parliament before giving Aadhaar a legally ‘mandatory’ status for all its citizen-connect aid schemes. (IPA)

Thursday, 16 March, 2017