In a speech that Rahul Gandhi, the Vice President of the Congress party, made on January 17, 2014, he requested the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to provide 12 cooking gas cylinders a year at the subsided rate, instead of nine.
Since the request came from the Gandhi family scion, the normally slow Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government acted quickly for a change, and before the end of January 2014, the cap had been raised. From April 1, 2014, consumers will get one subsidised gas cylinder a month. This increase in cap is expected to increase the subsidy burden of the government by Rs 5,000 crore.
Along with increasing the cap, the government has also suspended the Aadhar card-linked Direct Benefit Transfer for LPG (DBTL) scheme. This scheme had been implemented in 289 districts in 18 states. In January 2014, it had been extended to a further 105 districts including Delhi and Mumbai. Under this scheme, the consumers bought the cooking gas cylinder at its actual market price. The subsidy amount was then transferred directly into their Aadhar card linked bank accounts.
So, a resident of Delhi, where the scheme was recently launched, while buying a gas cylinder would have had to pay Rs 1,258 for a 14.2 kg cylinder. The cost of the subsidised cylinder is Rs 414 in Delhi. Hence, the difference of Rs 844 would be paid directly into the Aadhar linked bank account of the consumer.
The trouble is that many people still do not have Aadhar accounts. And those who have it have not been able to link it to their bank accounts. Hence, the government has set up to review the DBTL scheme. In an election year, the worst thing that can happen to a government is that its subsidies do not reaching the citizens. By forming a committee to review the DBTL that discrepancy has been set right.
Anyone who has implemented even a very basic project would tell you that it is very important to do a SWOT(strengths, weaknesses opportunities, threats) analysis of the project. A basic SWOT analysis would have shown that the first problem in the DBTL scheme would be people not having Aadhar cards and those who had it, would not have had it linked to their bank accounts.
But the government and Nandan Nilekani, the chief of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), have been in a hurry to showcase Aadhar. UIADAI is in charge of implementing Aadhar. In fact, a recent report on the website of the Moneylife magazine pointed out that Nilekani is a member of almost every committee that has been making Aadhar mandatory “for citizens to access several services and benefits” from the government. Guess, he is not bothered about the conflict of interest his being on these committees creates, even after having held one of the top jobs at Infosys, one of India’s most ethical companies. In the recent past, the political ambitions of Nilekani have come to the fore. Does that explain his hurry to get Aadhar up and running and everywhere?
What is interesting is that the oil marketing companies (OMCs) (i.e. IOC, BP and HP) continued to insist on Aadhar linked bank accounts for subsidy payments in case of cooking gas, even after the Supreme Court ruled that Aadhar should not be made mandatory for availing any services. The September 2013 order had unequivocally said that “no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card in spite of the fact that some authority had issued a circular making it mandatory.”
Even before the Supreme Court had ruled, Rajiv Shukla, minister of state for parliamentary affairs and planning, had said on May 8, 2013, that the “Aadhaar card is not mandatory to avail subsidized facilities being offered by the Government like LPG cylinders.”
The irony is that the form Aadhar enrolment form clearly states that “Aadhar enrolment is free and voluntary”.
If enrolment into Aadhar is free and voluntary, how could the OMCs have insisted on Aadhar linked bank accounts for payment of cooking gas subsidies? And why did the Supreme Court have to rule that Aadar should not be made mandatory for availing any services? The situation should not have reached that stage. In the world of Nandan Nilekani and the government of India, free and voluntary, clearly means something that you and I do not understand.
Interestingly, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, did some straight talking on Aadhar (UIDAI was created by a notification of the Planning Commission in January 2009), at Davos in January 2011. “We will simply make it compulsory for those benefiting from government programmes to register for the UID number,” Ahluwalia remarked. And that is what seems to be happening. In Maharashtra, the government employees have been ordered to get Aadhar cards so that their salaries can be paid into Aadhar linked bank accounts. In Delhi, Aadhar is compulsory for marriage registrations.
Nilekani has tried to explain this by saying “Yes, [Aadhaar] is voluntary. But the service providers might make it mandatory. In the long run I wouldn’t call it compulsory. I’d rather say it will become ubiquitous.” As stated earlier Nilekani is a member of almost every committee that has been making Aadhar mandatory. In fact, as he put it in November 2012 “If you do not have the Aadhaar card, you will not get the right to rights.” When it comes to Aadhar, Nilekani and his masters have offered the nation a Hobson’s choice.
For more than four years now, the Nilekani led UIADAI has been collecting biometric information (photographs of the face, iris scans and fingerprints of all the 10 fingers) of the citizens of this country, without any statutory backing. The Aadhar card has been fostered upon the nation without any statutory backing. The Union Cabinet has approved the National Identification Authority of India Bill that will give statutory status to the UIDAI. But this bill hasn’t been introduced in the Parliament.
The joke, as always, is on us.
The article originally appeared in The Asian Age dated February 4, 2014.
(Vivek Kaul is the author of Easy Money. He can be reached at [email protected])