For decades ration card has been used by millions in India to draw ration of food, fuel, or other goods issued by the Government of India. They are primarily used when purchasing subsidized foodstuffs (wheat, rice, sugar ) and kerosene. The cards have been used since World War II and their use continues in the 21st century. They are an important subsistence tool for the poor, providing proof of identity and a connection with government databases. India’s public distribution system (PDS) is based on the ration card, which it uses to establish identity, eligibility, and entitlement. Gradually, a driving licence replaced the ration card for the purpose of providing proof of identity and a proof of residence. For all official purposes a driving licence became a legal document to open a bank account or to serve as a document authenticating proof of residence. Then came in the passports as legal tender for verification of date of birth, or proof of residence and other details. THEN IN 1993 came the voter I-card which came to be accepted as a legal document for the purpose verifying date of birth of an individual as also the place of residence. For all official purposes the authenticated document changed from ration card, driving licence, passport, voter I-D and then came in aadhar card with biometrics incorporated in the card.
Aadhar slowly came to be accepted as a valid document for all official purposes starting from opening a bank account to applying for a new passport. Though claimed to be foolproof, all the identity cards were faked with fake driving licences being floating in the market for a premium, voter I-cards were also found to be fake and so did the passports and the ration cards. The only valid document which the government claimed was foolproof was the aadhar card as it had the biometrics of the user.
Ration card eligibility is cross-checked with other related, Aadhaar-linked databases. This approach is designed to improve the audit trail, add efficiency and prevent corruption. It results in direct benefit access for eligible people and annually saves billions of rupees from corruption. Further people are now being advised to link their aadhar number to their bank accounts to filter duplicate accounts and black money trails. In fact, of late government has issued orders to the bankers not to open any new accounts without a valid aadhar number. The aadhar has also been linked to the permanent Account number (PAN) of the income tax department.
Now practically for any service, aadhar number has been made mandatory, be it certain bank transactions or registering a new connection or getting a new mobile telephone connection. Of late mobile service providers have been pressurising consumers to link their aadhar numbers to their phone numbers in the absence of which their connection can be deregistered and services barred.
However, aadhar does not seem to be as foolproof as it is being claimed. There was the news a personal data being stolen from aadhar of individuals. The government denied any such incident, but has at the same time increased security of aadhar headquarters.
Not only this, the biometrics stored on a particular aadhar number has failed at times. There have been instances where the finger prints of an individual did not match the ones stored on his aadhar card data. Similarly the pupil screening failed to match the original pupils. These and similar cases are putting people to discomfort and inconvenience.
If the aadhar is meant to be a kind of social security card as in the western countries, then the government must ensure fast service in issuing a card. Though aadhar card centres have been opened at several branches of nationalised banks, the service seems to be lethargic. While the issuing time for a new card is said to be a week, it does not happen. Just keep checking your receipt number on the aadhar website and all you get is a bland reply – “your card is under process, check after a few days.” Delays cause corruption. So it is quite possible that a person in urgent need of an aadhar card will fall prey to a fake from unscrupulous people who are on the look out for such people.
By simply making the service mandatory, this cannot happen.
The government must ensure quick service for those sincerely wanting to enroll . The process of enrolment cannot be painfull where a person is forced to visit a centre several times maybe because the biometric machine is not functioning or something else. Whatever the excuse, aadhar enrolment turns out to be an exercise in futility if there is no sufficient numbers of aadhar centres with functional infrastructure.