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111 crore UID card-holders; NDA government basks in the warmth of sunny numbers

By Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Minister for Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad seemed and sounded a happy man. He beamed and announced that the number of people in the country who now possess the Aaadhaar number stands at 111 crore out of a population of 125 crore. Remember that 125 crore Indians is the constant refrain of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s never-ending loud litany of the achievements of his less-than-three-year-old government. So 111 crore is music to the ears of this over-enthusiastic government.

Prasad rolled out the numbers at a press conference on Friday afternoon at Electronics Niketan here. Describing the government as a “Government of transformation”, and specifying the effort of the government as one of bridging the “digital divide”, he referred to Aaadhaar as the bridge that will decrease and then do away with the divide.

The minister acknowledged that the Aadhaar was the previous government’s (Congress-led UPA under prime minister Manmohan Singh), but he said that under the previous regime it was a mere digital identity marker and nothing more, that it was PM Modi who had used it effectively to make it a tool for financial and social inclusion.

He said now 99 per cent of the adults in the country have an Aadhaar card, and very soon the rest of the non-adults will come under its ambit as well. He explained in detail how Aaadhaar has been dovetailed to push for the less-cash economy, and synchronizing bank accounts with the Aadhaar number, as well as using it for targeting subsidies and for enabling transactions even without ban accounts and debit cards.

But as he revealed the numbers of Aadhaar-synced bank accounts and subsidies, it became clear that there is a quite a distance to cover. What is indisputable is that this government has pushed the Aadhaar enrolment at a great speed. On May 31, 2014 there were 63.22 crore Aadhaar card-holders. That number stood at 111 crore on January 27, 2017, which was an exact increase of 47.8 crore during the ongoing NDA tenure.

The number of Aadhaar card-holders linked to bank accounts was 6.7 crore on May 31, 2014, but it leapt to 38.51 crore by January 15, 2017. Similarly, the Direct Beneficiary Transfer (DBT), which was again a UPA government initiative, stood at a relatively minuscule Rs 6.3 crore on May 31, 2014, it stands at Rs 150.71 crore on January 15, 2017.

It just goes to show that the Modi government has been efficient in carrying forward the initiatives of the UPA government with near speed of light, a hyperbole no doubt but this government has this manic feeling in every good it does, but that it has not done anything new on its own. Even in the matter of banks linked to Aadhaar facility, the figure stood at 311 in May 2014 and it moved up to 869 on January 15, 2017. It is fancifully described in the press release as Aadhaar Payment Bridge (APB).

There is no doubt that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Modi embraced Aadhaar without reservations. Under the UPA government, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDA) under Nandan Nilekani, one of the founders of information technology major, was set up in 2009 and it attached to the now disbanded Planning Commission. The NDA government under Modi brought in a legislation by which it turned UIDAI into a statutory authority through the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, and it was brought under Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).  

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