What the Aadhar Bill is all about

Ever since the central government passed the Aadhar Act as a money bill in Lok Sabha, there have been critics voicing their concerns on certain provisions in the bill which they see as infringing privacy rights of the citizens. In this post, I shall try and dissect what exactly does the Act say & whether concerns expressed by critics have any merits attached to them.

The principal purpose of introducing The Aadhar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits & Services) Bill 2016 was to plug the endemic leakages in the delivery of various subsidies provided to different classes of citizens by the central government. The subsidies would be delivered to the more deserving citizens by linking their Jan Dhan Account with the unique social identity number under Aadhar. The Narendra Modi government would use the JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhar, Mobile Payments) Trinity to cut corruption and thus save huge amounts of funds by directly delivering subsidies into the bank accounts of the citizens by using mobile payments, keeping in line with the Prime Minister’s vision of making India a cash-less economy. Already, a pet project of delivering LPG subsidies through Aadhar has saved the exchequer funds in excess of 15000 crore. One might think that a future where social security payments of every kind would be digitised and paid directly into the bank accounts of the recipients with as limited leakages as possible is something that would be desired for rather strongly.

But that does not seem to be the case. The opposition along with some ‘activists’ have expressed many of their concerns with the bill. One is the compulsory requirement of an Aadhar number to avail the subsidy, two, the biometric data collected under the Aadhar system would put the privacy of citizens at risk and three, foreign immigrants can obtain an Aadhar number and thus, have access to subsidies provided by the Indian government.

All the above concerns might appear genuine but provisions of the bill alongside other evidence render them completely debunked. For one, the the bill clearly specifies that if a citizen does not have an Aadhar number, the government would wait for him/her to apply for it and in the time being, use some other means for identification. Moreover, since 99% of the adult population is already enrolled under Aadhar, the argument against compulsory requirement is utterly misplaced. Two, the bill provides that Aadhar would not be used as a proof of citizenship and the concern that immigrants from, say Bangladesh, would become legitimate citizens by obtaining Aadhar, assuming that they are indeed able to obtain it, is disingenuous at best. Finally, the concern that the biometric information collected under Aadhar jeopardizes the privacy of citizens is based on a weak premise because the bill clearly states that the information would only be divulged in the interest of national security or under a court order. Also, there are strict provisions against any unauthorised access to the database. Thus, the argument on privacy concerns is political in nature and has very little merit to it.

The Aadhar Bill is a revolutionary step towards turning India into a more financially inclusive society & such a crucial piece of legislation needs to be backed by all sections of society without any political prejudices. The key, however, lies in implementation and given the available evidence, I would say that the future appears bright.

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