The Supreme Court is right in saying that an individual’s access to state transfers should not depend on whether he/she has an Aadhaar card. Not possessing this card should not be treated as some sort of offence. But if the court’s ruling ends up undermining the disbursal of Aadhaar cards, it would be most unfortunate.

The basic idea behind distributing the Aadhaar card is to facilitate direct and accurate transfer of welfare benefits — in food, fertiliser, pensions, scholarships, low-cost housing and cooking gas — to the bank account of the beneficiaries.

Aadhaar, with its biometric identification, can curb fraud arising out of diversion of such funds to ghost or duplicate beneficiaries. A November 2012 report on Aadhaar brought out by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy estimates the leakages, essentially due to impersonation in 22 welfare schemes, at 7-12 per cent of the total subsidy of over Rs 300,000 crore. This is no small sum.

Therefore, a whole class of cheats, touts and rent-seekers would hate to see everyone getting an Aadhaar card.

Similarly, a number of bona fide, ordinary citizens struggling to receive their entitlements will wish for an Aadhaar card, once they know how much they stand to benefit.

The Government should implement Aadhaar with greater resolve, covering the entire population by 2018-19, as envisaged, if not earlier. More than 400 million have already been covered. Before full coverage, it should not insist on linking welfare payouts to the Aadhaar card (as attempted in the case of cash transfer of LPG subsidy); the Supreme Court is right here, as the citizen should not be penalised. But the petitioners have gone further — or rather, digressed — to question the merits of Aadhaar on flimsy grounds.

Fears of ‘illegal migration’, raised by the petitioner and the Home Ministry, are overblown. When residence proof and biometrics are taken into consideration, what’s the problem? Generally speaking, the ‘privacy’ argument lacks substance.

The state does not need Aadhaar to snoop into our lives. Besides, it is worth wondering whether an economy with such a low tax-to-GDP ratio needs more financial privacy or less. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Aadhaar concerns itself with the modalities of disbursing subsidy rather than the petitioner’s exaggerated fears.

Aadhaar should indeed play a central role in subsidy payouts. It will ensure that millions of ordinary people get their entitlements without being harassed by intermediaries.

It is laudable that Aadhaar has been conceived as an unique card, rather than one that is restricted to a category of people, such as ration-card users, voters and taxpayers.

If Aadhaar brings fraudulent transactions to a stop and establishes a money trail, why complain?

Read also: Is Aadhaar the way for welfare payouts? - No

(This article was published on September 27, 2013)
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