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Aadhaar hassles

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  14 May 2017 12:00 AM GMT

The Central government’s latest notification exempting residents of Assam, Meghalaya and J&K along with senior citizens and NRIs from mandatorily quoting their Aadhaar number to obtain PAN cards and file income tax returns, will provide some respite to tax payers in the two NE States. After all, while the Aadhaar enrolment rate in the rest of the country is over 90 percent — the project has remained suspended in Assam after covering barely 7% of its population, as well as in Meghalaya with 9% coverage. But people from these two States going outside are facing a lot of hassles because they do not possess Aadhaar cards. In particular, students have reported much trouble in securing admissions outside, opening bank accounts, applying for LPG connections and various services. Their problems are not ending anytime soon unless their home States take up their cause with the Centre. Last month, the Union HRD ministry notified that students seeking scholarships and fellowships from UGC and AICTE will have to declare their Aadhaar numbers by the end of June. Though this notification too has excluded Assam, Meghalaya and J&K, students from these States will still have to do extra legwork and suffer delays in processing. Considering the way the government functions with right hand not knowing what the left is doing — students, patients, traders, professiols, tourists and others from this part of the country will continue to be dogged by Aadhaar woes outside due to coordition slip-ups between ministries/departments/public bodies. During the recent special session of Assam Assembly, Parliamentary Affairs minister Chandra Mohan Patowary informed the House that the Aadhaar exercise will be re-started in the State. It will be carried out by the General Administration Department and monitored by the Home Department. Mindful of the All Assam Students Union (AASU)’s opposition to Aadhaar which stalled the exercise in the State three years ago, Patowary has pointed out that possessing Aadhaar card is no proof of citizenship. So there is no need to wait for completion of the NRC update before beginning the issue of Aadhaar cards, and both exercises can proceed simultaneously, the minister has said. It is ironical that Patowary is now stating the obvious, for Aadhaar card has been meant for ‘residents’ of India since its inception.
Whether a resident also happens to be a citizen is not a huge problem for most other States, which is the reason Aadhaar coverage is between 81% to 100% (and even above) in other States excluding the Northeast. Within the NE region too, Tripura leads with 94% coverage, followed by Sikkim (92%), Manipur (70%), Mizoram (66%), Aruchal Pradesh (65%) and galand with 55% coverage. When the AASU opposed the Aadhaar exercise in Assam, arguing that these 12-digit unique identity number encoded cards will be accessed by illegal Bangladeshi migrants, the BJP too had made common cause with the students organisation. The exercise did not get any farther than a pilot project in just three districts Golaghat, Sonitpur and gaon. The Congress government then in the State did not have the gumption to push the project to other districts, even though the UIDAI project was a UPA initiative. After the rendra Modi government adopted this project with gusto, Aadhaar has now become mandatory for beneficiaries availing of government schemes and benefits, including Right to Food, Mid-Day Meal in schools and seeking LPG connections. Though the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that Aadhaar card is not mandatory, it later allowed the government to ‘collect it voluntarily’ for extending benefits under public distribution system (PDS), LPG subsidy and opening of Jan Dhan bank accounts. But while presenting the Union Budget this year, the government amended the Income Tax Act by inserting a section for compulsory linking of Aadhaar with PAN card and filing tax return. Next week, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a plea to restrain the Centre from making Aadhaar mandatory till its constitutiol validity is decided. Civil liberty groups challenging this law contend that their right to privacy would be compromised as the government will be able to subject them to lifelong digital surveillance. They have pointed out that the law as it stands now, can compel a resident of India to furnish his/her fingerprint and iris pattern as biometric data for Aadhaar enrolment, that refusal to do so will make the person a crimil, that there is no provision for the person to opt out of Aadhaar and get the persol information deleted, and that Aadhaar database can be accessed by private groups too. So while Aadhaar as a mandatory document is an issue that will be threshed out in the apex court in the coming days, it need not be confused as a citizenship document, as it has been in Assam. This will save needless trouble for the people both in the State and those going outside for various reasons. However, there must be no scope for misuse of Aadhaar cards in the State, as it has happened with ration cards and panchayat residency certificates whose status as NRC linkage documents are presently under the apex court’s scrutiny.

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