Aadhaar: Mandatory, not mandatory, mandatory, not mandatory…

It’s been more than 700 days since the Supreme Court ordered setting up a Bench to discuss the mandatory nature of Aadhaar and we’re no closer to an answer.

WrittenBy:Meghnad S
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A few days ago a friend called me to ask about Aadhaar. She saw that I was constantly talking against it and had a simple question to ask: “Why won’t you get an Aadhaar?”

One has encountered this question multiple times. Every darn time, I launch into a tirade and tell them about the multiple flaws in the programme. I share links to pieces that explain the flaws bit by bit. But this time, I took a pause before answering. I was trying to figure out what is that one big reason that bothers me and would help me explain why I’m resisting. Turns out, I found my answer.

I fondly call Aadhaar the “Many-Headed Hydra”. For the uninitiated, Hydra is a serpentine creature from Greek mythology with multiple heads. If you cut off one head, another head pops up. Issue after issue keeps popping up regarding the programme making everyone scramble to make sense of the whole thing. But what is also happening in the process is that everyone (including me) ends up focusing more on the individual heads of the creature, not the creature itself.

There are issues ranging from data leaks, authentication failures, one-point surveillance system, profiling, biometric errors, inflated figures of ‘savings’ owing to Aadhaar and so much more. It’s truly mind boggling.

At the moment, a lot of people are worried about linking their PAN with Aadhaar. Many are confused by newspaper reports that go something like:

  • “Mandatory to link PAN with Aadhaar, otherwise PAN will be deactivated”
  • “SC says people without Aadhaar need not link PAN”
  • “People with Aadhaar need to link PAN before filing returns.”
  • “SC says PAN of those who don’t link it will not get cancelled”
  • “Aadhaar mandatory for filing IT returns”

By the end of it people were like: “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO EXACTLY GODDAMIT!?”

To answer that question as simply as possible: Yes you need to link Aadhaar with PAN but only IF you have an Aadhaar. If you don’t link it, literally nothing will happen except for the fact that you won’t be able to file your income tax returns this year. Your PAN card will remain valid and safe.

Even this simple answer is so convoluted. “Why can’t anyone just tell us already whether it is mandatory or not?” is the ultimate question nobody is able to answer. “Why are there so many lame Abbas-Mustan type twists and turns in this Aadhaar saga?”

Ultimately, the answer lies in the way the law is being interpreted and implemented. Let us zoom back together and look at what is really happening.

Aadhaar is Mandatory(?)

The government has been going all out making Aadhaar mandatory for availing different services. Starting with ration to PDS, to free medicine for patients with AIDS and even using ambulances. This has been going on for a while. The unfortunate reality of the situation is that, till the point where this was being implemented for welfare targeted only at the poor, most were able to ignore it.

“It will prevent leakage! Good only! So much corruption happens in welfare distribution,” was the often heard reasoning. But then Aadhaar was made mandatory for mobile phones, PAN and banking in quick succession. That is when people who were sitting on the fence started getting worried. These worries become bigger when random stories about errors in the linking keep popping up on their social media timelines. Some took a jump and enrolled, some decided to resist even more strongly.

You know what the weird part about all this making Aadhaar mandatory is?

It’s bloody illegal!

Sort of.

The Supreme Court, way back in October 2015, clarified that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for any schemes/services other than ration (PDS), employment guarantee (MNREGS), LPG distribution, pension, provident funds (EPF) and Jan Dhan Yojana.

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Other than this, the government passed a law in March 2017 making Aadhaar linking mandatory for PAN. This was, again, agreed to by the Supreme court but in the convoluted way I explained earlier. Another hearing followed which allowed linking of Aadhaar with mobile phones within an year.

So to recap, Aadhaar is mandatory for six welfare schemes, PAN cards (partially) and mobile phones.

Other than these, ALL other schemes/services/benefits for which Aadhaar is being made mandatory go directly against the earlier Supreme Court order. Including the bank account linking.

BUT the government continues its assault unabated. Even the regulations they cleared under the act were quite illegal and had many many loopholes. This is where the confusion begins.

Services denied

“Unless you link it, you won’t get the benefit,” says the government. “If you don’t do it by this deadline, you will be permanently denied.”

This is the general outlook of the present administration. It is quite ridiculous when you think of it, especially when they made it mandatory for even victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and getting into an ambulance!

All tax paying citizens expect certain standards of service delivery from their elected government (both state and centre). If those services are being held back because of an ID card which is riddled with errors and issues, and if people are denied those services due to no fault of their own, isn’t that a violation of the social contract between a government and its citizens?

For instance, take the latest notification about making Aadhaar linking with bank accounts mandatory within an year. If you don’t link it, your bank account will be deactivated. That’s an incredibly scary prospect, even for those with Aadhaar. It’s a veiled threat, forcing citizens to enroll for a flawed programme or risk losing their years of hard earned money.

Researchers are now pointing to the fact that this linking and payments made through Aadhaar based systems might actually encourage money laundering! This is the exact opposite of what Aadhaar is supposed to do.

Every time something like this happens, petitions are filed in the Supreme Court against it. Lawyers cry foul and remind the court repeatedly that the Gormint is violating SC’s original order.

People panic, panic people

Whenever Aadhaar is made mandatory for a particular service, people who use that service start panicking. “OMG OMG! If I don’t link it, I’ll get denied!” they say and rush to either get a new Aadhaar or link their existing one with this new service.

The deadline nears, newspapers start reporting it and fail (conveniently?) to mention in BIG BOLD WORDS the fact that it goes against SC orders. Conversely, they go all out to report the news when SC upholds certain provisions selectively (like mobile phones & PAN linking).

A few days before the deadline hits, SC decides to hear a batch of cases and reminds the government, “Hey! So you can’t make it mandatory. Kinda.” They also add, “By the way, ANOTHER larger bench will decide all of this.”

The biggest threat today to this Many-Headed Hydraadhaar is this ‘larger bench’ that keeps popping up every now and then. About two years ago, the Supreme Court assured that larger concerns regarding Aadhaar such as “whether Aadhaar violates the fundamental right to privacy or not?” (YES IT DOES!) or “was the Aadhaar Act passed in Parliament a money bill or not?” (NOT!), will be handled by a constitutional bench.

Fun fact: till today, they can’t even decide on the size of the bench (five judges or seven?) It’s been two years!

After every interim ruling by the Supreme Court, Government is like, “Yeah OK, you’re the boss. We’re extending the deadline… But if people don’t link before that. THERE WILL BE CONSEQUENCES!”

SC is like, “Meh. See you next time.”

The larger constitutional bench is never set up. It’s become a carrot being dangled before those worried about Aadhaar. Keep ’em hopeful, keep ‘em engaged, seems to be policy at play. Who exactly is behind all of this, nobody knows.

More enrollment & linking: CHECK!

In all this utter bloody confusion, a considerable chunk of people keep registering and linking Aadhaar because they’re worried about being denied services. Obviously.

It’s a pattern. It’s like a game being played. To go with this nonsense main course of hard cold legalese being dished out, a side-dish equivalent of irresistible potato fries is served. It’s called ‘PR’. There is a deluge of propaganda around Aadhaar to keep pushing it and make sure it has a tiny place inside every citizen’s brain.

To defend the programme, the government keeps throwing up figures of how much ‘savings’ Aadhaar has resulted in. They conveniently don’t mention the fact that this figure is not due to preventing leakages in welfare schemes or reducing corruption, but is due to denying welfare to people completely! If an old lady doesn’t get pension or ration because her Aadhaar authentication is not working, the government screams: “She didn’t get pension? TOTALLY SAVED THAT MONEY YO! #Win”

There are multiple heart-breaking videos like these where people have gone to rural India to see what is really happening there, outside of the deluge of big media propaganda.

Last year, the CAG even trashed the government figures on savings in the LPG distribution scheme. Researchers went even further this year and proved that the formula the government was using to calculate savings itself was wrong. In one case, it resulted in showing an inflated savings figure by much as 200 times! What’s more, every statement in defence given by Aadhaar backers is being countered and reasons are being given for why their claims are incorrect.

And yet, despite all of these glaring holes, the PR juggernaut of UIDAI chugs on unabated. They want people to ‘believe’ in the project. Have ‘faith’ in it. They don’t want it questioned. The programme has become a solution for EVERY possible problem related to governance. It’s like God. God has all the solutions and we cannot question God, remember?

If people do ask for legit data to see how efficient the programme actually is, they simply don’t give it. #NationalSecurity

The citizens are stuck in the middle of this outrageous storm which is oh-so-complicated and oh-so-confusing. There is this eerie feeling that something is not right, but they have no option but to go with it. The government and UIDAI is making all of us believe that they’re doing the right thing. That Aadhaar is the right way to go.

“Because if you don’t do the right thing and get an Aadhaar,” says the government, “There will be consequences and you will be punished. Ok?” The citizen nods vigorously, “OK OK I’m doing it! I’m sorry! Please don’t make my life worse than it actually is!”

Sounds oddly like a new-age religion now, doesn’t it?

The annoying game of “mandatory… non-mandatory… mandatory again!” has been going on for a while. It’s been more than 700 days since Supreme Court ordered setting up a bench to answer this question once and for all, but it never happened. Justice delayed is justice denied, isn’t it?

My guess is that when the court does set up the bench and hears the epic Aadhaar case, the government will say: “See? So many people are enrolled! So many schemes and benefits are linked to it! If you roll it back now, it will be an utter disaster. The government machinery might collapse because Aadhaar is so entangled with everything.”

What will you do then, Supreme Court? What will you do then?

The author can be contacted on Twitter @Memeghnad



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