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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Confusion over Aadhaar and NPR

We just went and got our biometry done for NPR (National Population Register).  Census enumerators had visited us earlier and before the appointed NPR dates, we got an enrollment form we were supposed to fill up.  NPR biometry was being done at a neighbourhood government school and we were expected to turn up with assorted ID-s and our Aadhaar cards.  When we presented our Aadhaar cards, no other ID was needed.  Biometry wasn’t necessary either, since that was picked up from Aadhaar cards.  In other words, the Aadhaar database was sufficient to establish identity and biometry.  There will subsequently be a NPR card too.

When I read assorted stuff about subsidies and benefits being Aadhaar-based, I am confused.  First, there is an issue of BPL identification and there are problems of both inclusion and exclusion with it.  In other words, people who should be excluded are included.  And people who should be included are excluded.  Identifying BPL and deciding who should be beneficiaries of subsidies is a political decision, not just economic.  Of course, cash transfers are more efficient.  However, in many subsidy schemes, what is described as leakage is sometimes subsidies to poor who haven’t been included in BPL enumeration.  If all poor actually get subsidies, from a budgetary point of view, the subsidy bill may actually increase.           

Let’s leave that aside.  Second, what exactly is Aadhaar and what does it mean to say stuff will be Aadhaar-based?  I can appreciate utility of the Aadhaar database and it does eliminate multiplicity and “bogus” individuals.  Hence, procedural costs of assorted government documentation declines. However, Aadhaar hasn’t just been the database, it’s also the card.  What use is the card, apart from the fact that once you have the card, the biometry can be scanned from it?  And what will be the point of the Aadhaar card, once there is a NPR card?  After all, NPR is for Indians, while Aadhaar is for residents of India.  That’s what I presume.  Any entitlements, so to speak, will be based on NPR cards.  

Aadhaar only got a head-start and provided the database.  In practice, so far as I personally am concerned, no one has accepted Aadhaar cards as identity.  Perhaps that will change, beginning with bank accounts.  However, I repeat, that’s really the database, not physical cards.  I can understand expenditure on databases.  But was expenditure on physical cards really necessary?  With NPR, won’t this be rendered superfluous?           

Apart from purely symbolic value, what’s the point of a big song and dance, including photographs, of dignitaries distributing Aadhaar cards to poor people?  Our experience with the NPR “camp” was also different from our experience with the earlier Aadhaar “camp” in our locality, though admittedly, this is a small sample.  

Broadly, there were two groups of people who turned up for the Aadhaar “camp”, probably reflective of the neighbourhood.  There was a category of relatively richer and more educated people and there was a category of relatively poor people, mostly those who render some variety of domestic service and live in “unauthorized” locations nearby.  At the NPR “camp”, the second category was completely absent.  Perhaps they weren’t enumerated in the Census and perhaps they didn’t obtain enrollment forms.  Though possible, this seems unlikely.  More likely, because of advertisements, hype, publicity and resultant awareness, they saw some benefit from Aadhaar, but not from NPR.  If my understanding is correct, it should actually be the other way round.  As a government, the conclusion is inescapable.  Because of tussles across ministries/departments and confusion over what was intended, we have made a hash out of it and squandered some amount of money in the process.           

We needed the Aadhaar database and we needed the NPR card.  It seems to me there was greater clarity before 2004 about who we needed to map.  Subsidies will be for Indians.  Why did we bother about foreigners who were resident in India?  Unless we assumed that these “foreigners” would eventually become Indians?

-- By Bibek Debroy in The Economic Times, Oct. 25, 2012

1 comment:

  1. The Aadhaar project is itself so powerful that it has attracted so many people toward it and this is the reason why the response from the people of the country is exceeding the expected value of its regulatory body, the UIDAI. This is a good scheme and will surely curb the cases of corruption in the entire system. We should participate in these types of government programs as they all are beneficial to us at the end.