There is a lot of confusion regarding the implementation of Aadhaar project in Assam. Except Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, in all other States, Aadhaar will have to be mandatorily linked to PAN card and bank accounts by 31 March, 2018, as per the revised deadline by Supreme Court ruling. The earlier deadline of 31 December, 2017 to furnish Aadhaar details is still applicable to avail of social security scheme benefits, pensions, PPF and small savings schemes, mutual fund investments and insurance policies. The Aadhaar-mobile SIM linking should also be completed by February 6, 2018 under e-KYC verification, the Centre has told the apex court. There are already reports of pensions being withheld to around 53,000 senior citizens and disabled persons in Uttarakhand for failure to submit Aadhaar details. This, despite 98% Aadhaar saturation in that State as per UIDAI figures up to November 30 this year! The problems with Aadhaar linking can therefore be imagined for a State like Assam with only 7.3% coverage till date, and much uncertainty as to when it will be resumed. In Assam, the government first decided to complete the update of tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) which is expected to be an accurate and tamper-proof record of citizens in the State. The idea was to subsequently merge the NRC records with Aadhaar database and then formally introduce Aadhaar cards in Assam. UIDAI had started Aadhaar enrolment process in Golaghat, gaon and Sonitpur districts (on a pilot basis) which was later suspended from December, 2016. The NRC update process, after missing several deadlines, is expected to be completed by 2018. Meanwhile, with the Central government moving relentlessly to link the 12 digit Aadhaar number with an ever-widening list of services, people hailing from Assam were left high and dry. Students going outside the State last year suffered a lot while applying for scholarships, opening bank accounts and even seeking gas connections. Filly, the Assam government this year decided to go for Aadhaar rollout without linking it to the NRC exercise. The powers-be in Dispur got the justification for this de-linking after the Centre pointed out that Aadhaar is proof of residence only, not citizenship. So the Aadhaar and NRC exercises in Assam will proceed in parallel to their culmition (hopefully) next year.
But the all-too-familiar story of delays and confusion that has characterised NRC exercise in Assam, threatens to be repeated in Aadhaar enrolment too. For NRC inclusion, people had to submit many documents to prove their ancestral relations. The government should think of easing the system instead of complicating it. It is not clear exactly when the Aadhaar project will get going in Assam, and whether it can be completed within year 2018. Following a decision last September, the Assam government has formed a State Aadhaar Implementation Committee headed by the Chief Secretary as its chairperson. A roadmap has been prepared. The committee has divided the State into 10 zones for effective rollout of Aadhaar cards. About 7,500 permanent enrolment centres and 2,500 mobile enrolment centres will be set up for the purpose. Further, the committee has approved a draft of request for quotation (RFQ) that will be floated for inviting bids from agencies to carry out the project. The Aadhaar cards will be sent to individuals by post free of cost. As such, address proof will be must for enrolment. There is also the question of Dispur having trained manpower in sufficient numbers to register demographic information and biometric details of people like iris patterns and fingerprint. Till the project takes shape, the State government should carry out an awareness drive to clear the air about Aadhaar. This is because the project was to have begun in December first week but may only begin by January end at the earliest, following the Centre’s latest decision not to engage private agencies in the project due to privacy and safety concerns. These concerns have already elicited a landmark verdict of the Supreme Court that the right to privacy of citizens is inviolable. There are as many as 28 separate writ petitions challenging the very validity of Aadhaar scheme in the apex court, and the fil hearing is scheduled on January 17 next.
Even though the work on Aadhaar is yet to start in Assam, cell-phone messages from Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) asking LPG consumers to submit Aadhaar number for resumption of LPG subsidy have created confusion among the people. Many LPG consumers received a message recently which read, “Since you have not submitted Aadhaar at LPG distributors, your subsidy transfer is kept on hold. Please submit your Aadhaar immediately to resume subsidy transfer”. Moreover, even as someone from Assam logs on to any Central government scheme, he or she has to stop at the Aadhaar roadblock. So it is high time the Central government makes an altertive arrangement for people of Assam, as well as sister NE States like Meghalaya and galand where Aadhaar enrolment has been barely over 16% and 55% respectively. It has been argued in Supreme Court how the Central government was cleared to link Aadhaar only with 6 schemes, but how that list has grown to 139 schemes. Despite the SC bench ruling that Aadhaar is not compulsory, the series of instructions, especially from various Central Ministries and fincial institutions, has even bamboozled government officials. These conflicting directions need to cease, if people are not to be harassed in the me of Aadhaar. The heavy rush witnessed in Guwahati at the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India in the past few days, indicate the public anxiety over this upcoming project.