It is ironic, but also telling of the times we are in, that the Aadhaar programme—once termed a game-changer—currently seems to be under a cloud. This is a pity given the huge promise and potential of the Aadhaar-enabled payments infrastructure. Of course, there are serious shortcomings in the UPA-run programme that need to be addressed, and a lot has already been said about these in the past. For instance, the Supreme Court ruling early this year pointed out the discrepancy of mandating Aadhaar for receiving government benefits, when the programme was still defined as being voluntary. Yet, this and other concerns like privacy and security of the database can be fixed through legal and operational measures; the crux of the problem, for this government, lies elsewhere.
Over the past few years there have been two enrolment programmes operating in the country: the National Population Register under the Registrar General of India, i.e., the Home Ministry, and the Aadhaar programme by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), an executive authority under the Planning Commission. While both the NPR and the UIDAI enroll all usual residents of the country and both register biometric data, UIDAI does not verify citizenship during enrolment. This is rightfully the job for the NPR, under the Home Ministry, to distinguish between citizens and non-citizens under the broad category of usual residents. Clearly, if the UIDAI number is to be used for delivering government benefits, this lacuna has to be fixed to ensure that non-citizens are not deriving benefits. Given that the genesis of the NPR lay in internal security concerns, the work is being carried out under the amendments to the Citizenship Act of 1955 and the Citizenship Rules of 2003. On the other hand, the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 is still pending approval in Parliament. Unfortunately, without statutory backing, the UIDAI has remained vulnerable to criticism, even when the infrastructure built around Aadhaar-authentication has proved its utility many times over, not just in DBT but also in easing KYC requirements for the unbanked.
It is important to remember Aadhaar is not just a number, it is an enabler. Thanks to RBI and NPCI, electronic payments infrastructure has expanded and India has platforms now that support real time online authentication and transactions which connect to even banking correspondent agents across rural areas. Linking the Aadhaar authentication platform to the benefits transfer programmes of