SC deadline on Aadhaar set to put Assam in a Catch 22 situation
Assam is set to face a paradoxical situation with regard to linking of Aadhaar with various core services after the Supreme Court refused to extend the deadline beyond March 31. The state has not yet begun the process of gathering data for Aadhaar except at a few places which was done earlier.
On February 23, a five-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra rejected a plea filed by senior advocate Shyam Divan seeking extension of the deadline. Divan has been engaged in a number of legal battles pertaining to Aadhaar in the apex court.
The state government had already informed the apex court via Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) about not being able to meet the deadline.
“The Assam government has already intimated the Supreme Court through the UIDAI (about not being able to meet the deadline). So, there is no need to panic (for linking the Aadhaar card),” parliamentary affairs minister, Chandra Mohan Patowary told the Assam Assembly on February 21. He informed that 92 per cent of the population in the state were without the card.
Patowary was replying to a question raised during the zero hour of the Assam Assembly on behalf of chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who is also holding the General Administration Department portfolio – the department responsible for Aadhaar.
The issue was raised by the All India United Democratic Front MLA, Aminul Islam, who pointed out that the people in the state are apprehensive about various services like bank accounts and LPG connections getting frozen as the process of Aadhaar card distribution will begin only from March this year.
Aadhaar is a 12-digit number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to all citizens.
The biometric data like thumb impression, eye scan and a photograph will be collected from the applicants. The applicants will also have to submit proof of age, address and identity for an Aadhaar number.
Once the Aadhaar cards are allotted, the details will be linked with bank accounts, mobile phone numbers, government welfare schemes, etc.
Patowary further assured that the Income Tax Department has already excluded Assam from linking Aadhaar by March 31.
Missing deadlines since December 1
In Assam, where the Aadhaar linking process was delayed due to the update of the National Register of Citizen (NRC, the enrolment was slated to start from December 1 but the process has been jumping dates since then.
The process has been delayed thrice – from December 1 to January on to the second week of February and now, as informed in the Assembly, to March 15.
“The government has identified 1,241 locations to set up 'Aadhaar Kendras' for starting the process of Aadhaar distribution in the state and they will be ready to offer services by March 15,” Patowary said.
Patowary said the delay was caused because the UIDAI has cancelled the distribution of Aadhaar cards through its empanelled enrolment agency.
“The distribution process of Aadhaar cards was expected to begin from December 25 last year by a UIDAI empanelled enrolment agency. But on December 4, UIDAI informed the state government of scrapping the process to give the cards through the agency,” he added.
Since the biometric data of the applicants are security issues, the Supreme Court had instructed that the process should be conducted by the government departments and not any private agencies.
After that, the process was delayed and was expected to start from second week of February.
According to Ranjan Chakraborty, secretary of GAD, the further delay to March 15 has been due to the delay in finding government agencies for the task.
“Deputy Commissioners of all the districts have been asked to start the Aadhaar process and locate government offices that can be used as “Aadhaar Kendras” for the enrolment purposes. They have also been instructed to appoint government employees as ‘verifiers’. But the selection process is taking time as such government establishments are limited in number with its officers remaining busy with regular work. But the work will start soon,” Chakraborty said.
Meanwhile, the process has already begun in the banks as per the UIDAI directive to involve banks and post offices that handle KYC (Know Your Customer) approved savings accounts.
“We have already started distributing forms to KYC account holders on the basis of basic identification proofs, and have given them dates when their biometric data will be collected. The dates will be after May,” a public relation officer of State Bank of India said.
In 2004, the enrolment process was carried out in three districts - Golaghat, Nagaon and Sonitpur - as a pilot project and an office was also set up in Guwahati. A total of 24,05,286 persons (7.1 per cent) of the total 3,40,68,394 population were enrolled but further enrolment had been halted.
Assam falls at the bottom of the chart on Aadhaar in the Northeast. Meghalaya with 14.3 per cent completion is above Assam while Tripura tops the list with 89.2 per cent enrolment.