Just a day after the centre said that Aadhaar will be mandatory to avail of the National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS), the government has reversed its stand to say that Aadhaar is “preferable, but “not a must” to benefit of what will be the world’s largest medical aid scheme.

The government initially put up a detailed notification announcing the mandatory requirement of Aadhaar, and pulled it down the next day stating that Aadhaar is in fact, not mandatory for NHPS.

Union Health Minister J P Nadda confirmed that “we will provide services to all eligible beneficiaries with or without Aadhaar cards.” Alternative government-issued IDs such as Ration Card, Voter ID Card, MGNREGA Card, can be produced, in case the beneficiary does not have an Aadhaar. According to circular, implementation agencies will be accountable for setting up Aadhaar enrollment centres for those who without an Aadhaar.

What did the government say earlier?

Announced in the Union Budget 2018-19, the NHPS will give an annual cover of Rs. 5 lakh to each family belonging to socially vulnerable section. On July 11, the central government issued a notification announcing that since the funds for NHPS flow from the Consolidated Fund of India, it falls under the purview of the Aadhaar Act, 2016. “A beneficiary eligible for receiving the benefits under the scheme shall be required to furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar number or undergo Aadhaar authentication. Any beneficiary desirous of availing the benefits under the scheme, who is not yet enrolled for Aadhaar, shall have to apply for Aadhaar by 31st March 2019,” the notification said, per The Economic Times.

In fact, Ayushman Bharat CEO Indu Bhushan even went on to say that beneficiaries could furnish an alternative ID on the first visit, “following which they would be expected to enrol for Aadhaar.” This detail was not however mentioned in the Union Health Ministry circular.

According to the notification, a person seeking treatment under the scheme must furnish one of the three documents — Aadhaar number, Aadhaar enrolment ID slip, or a copy of the request made for Aadhaar enrolment (if the individual has enrolled for Aadhaar, but is yet to receive it).

The notification specified that although beneficiaries can furnish an alternative ID, such as voter ID card or PAN card, to re-confirm their identity, in no event will an alternative ID document alone guarantee benefits under the scheme. In cases where people do not have Aadhaar due to the absence of an enrolment centre in the same block, taluka or tehsil, states have been asked to designate officials specifically for the task of registering requests for Aadhaar enrolment by noting down their names, addresses and mobile numbers. The order also urged states to launch web portals to enable this.

States were also asked to give “wide publicity” through media and “individual notices” to beneficiaries to make them aware of the requirement of Aadhaar under the scheme and that people be advised to enrol for Aadhaar by March 21, 2018. “The list of locally available enrolment centres shall be made available to them,” the order said.

What has been the government’s stance on Aadhaar for NHPS?

That the government issued an elaborate circular detailing the requirement of Aadhaar, and what must be done in its absence and also directed states to enrol people without an Aadhaar, along with a deadline, it remains open to question as to why the government has reversed its stand entirely on such short notice.
According to a report by The Wire, the Ayushman Bharat Scheme has been unclear about whether alternative IDs will be valid to avail of NHPS. According to tender documents related to the scheme, if a beneficiary reaches a hospital without an Aadhaar number, then “a signed declaration is taken from the Beneficiary that he does not possess an Aadhaar card and understands he will need to produce an Aadhaar or an Aadhaar enrolment slip prior to the next treatment.” The patient will also be told that “he is eligible and can get treatment only once without an Aadhaar or an Aadhaar enrolment slip.” They will then be given “a list of the closest Aadhaar enrolment centres” where they will be directed to do their enrollment and then return, in order to avail of the health service.