Leading up to the winter session of Parliament, India’s controversial user identification project Aadhaar appears to have hit troubled waters: The West Bengal Assembly has passed a resolution asking for the Central government to delink Aadhaar from the Direct Benefits Transfer scheme. According to the Economic Times, the resolution was supported by both the ruling party and the opposition in West Bengal (which is rather unusual because they’re bitter rivals). In a statement released on its website, the ruling political party, the Trinamool Congress, has said that on November 1st, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas sent an official notification to LPG dealerships, saying that LPG customers in three districts of Kolkata, Howrah and Coochbehar would need an Aadhaar card to avail of an LPG subsidy, and by February 1st 2014, all buyers of LPG would need an Aadhaar card to avail of the subsidy.

As the Trinamool Congress rightly points out, this appears to violate the Supreme Court verdict, which stated that Aadhaar is voluntary, and not necessary to avail essential government services. The Indian government had tried to make Aadhaar mandatory, by linking essential services with it, and allowing government departments to make it mandatory for particular schemes. However, The Supreme Court of India passed an interim order that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for government services. The Centre, UIDAI and three oil PSUs — IOCL, BPCL and HPCL — had later on moved the Supreme Court seeking modification of its earlier order. The Supreme Court has now sought responses of all states in two weeks on the constitutional validity of the nationwide scheme being implemented by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

A move by the Reserve Bank of India to enforce the inclusion of biometric sensors in all new credit card swiping machines to enable use of Aadhaar-based biometric authentication while making  card-based payments has also been questioned by MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar. The Central government had been criticised by a parliamentary standing committee, but recently responded, given that the The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 bill is going to put to vote in Parliament shortly. In our opinion, the response does not address many key issues.

The statement from the Trinamool Congress is included below.

Trinamool Congress statement demanding rollback of Aadhaar being made mandatory for LPG subsidy

West Bengal woke up on November 1, 2013 to the news of an official notification sent by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to the LPG dealerships, which came into effect that very day. LPG customers in the 3 districts of Kolkata, Howrah and Coochbehar would need an Aadhar card to avail their LPG subsidy. Further, by Feb 1, 2014 customers without Aadhar numbers would need to buy their LPG cylinders at the prevailing market rate (currently about Rupees 984 compared to Rupees 412.5 for subsidized cylinders).

What is shocking to citizens is that merely a month ago on September 23, 2013, the Honourable Supreme Court of India passed a verdict in response to a PIL seeking a stay on the implementation of the UID/Aadhar Scheme, stating that enrollment under the Aadhar scheme is completely voluntary and not necessary to avail essential government services. The UIDAI along with the oil PSUs and the government have filed a review petition in the Supreme Court on Oct 15, 2013 BUT the SC has NOT reviewed its earlier verdict yet. Hence, the current notification by the Petroleum Ministry is completely illegal and in total violation of the SC’s verdict.

It is necessary to review the history of the Aadhar programme in the context of the card not having a mandate for universal coverage in India. Aadhar/UID was set up in July 2009 but by late 2011 the Home Ministry expressed serious reservations that the enrolment process was not as foolproof as the National Population Registry (NPR), a mandatory register under the Home ministry, which enrolled citizens using a strict house-to-house canvassing method involving community verification. In December 2011, a 31-member Parliamentary Committee categorically rejected the National Identification Authority of India Bill, the proposed law under which UIDAI and Aadhaar were to function, and even suggested that the data already collected be transferred to the NPR. Finally a compromise was reached in January 2012 where UIDAI would directly enrol another 40 crores people (in addition to the 20 crores it already had) across 16 states while the NPR would handle the remaining 60 crores in the other states. As a result, the entire process of delivering a unique identity to all citizens has been delayed and Aadhar does not have universal coverage in India yet. In a country like ours where illiteracy is rampant and the average citizen is already burdened with different cards for different purposes- voter ID card, PAN card, BPL card – another card only serves to burden the common citizen.

In West Bengal, Aadhar cards have not reached all the people so how can this card be possibly used as a means to get LPG subsidy? What happens to people who have not yet received their cards for no fault of their own? Moreover, the UIDAI is unable to guarantee that all the people of these 3 districts will receive their cards by February 1, 2014! This government is cracking joke after joke at the expense of the poor – first by limiting the number of subsidized LPG cylinders and then by trying to deny even the few subsidized cylinders by asking for a mandatory Aadhar card that has not reached the people!! The All India Trinamool Congress demands that the government fully complies with the verdict of the Honourable Supreme Court immediately and withdraws this notification.