Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday gave a vote of confidence to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which is generating Aadhaar numbers for India’s 1.2-billion strong population. He sought the speedy roll-out of the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) scheme, a flagship programme of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
This effectively ends a turf war, which had raised questions about the survival of the UIDAI project, and sets aside the committee of secretaries set up earlier this week to iron out differences between the home ministry, UIDAI and the informational technology ministry.
It is learnt the prime minister has asked officials to revive the National Identification Authority of India Bill, trashed by the standing committee on finance, headed by Yashwant Sinha in the UPA regime.
“Finance Minister Jaitley has been asked to handle the legal issues surrounding UID,” said a senior government functionary, on condition of anonymity. Other government officials, too, confirmed the development. Jaitley has also been tasked with dealing with ongoing Supreme Court cases on the matter. The apex court had stayed the UPA government’s move to make Aadhaar mandatory for availing the benefits of government social schemes.
At a meeting on Saturday, Modi directed DBT for liquefied petroleum gas cylinders, pension and scholarships should be expedited in the 300 districts in which more than 80 per cent of the district population had received Aadhaar numbers.
Among those present at the meeting were Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Planning & Statistics Minister Rao Inderjit Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Home Secretary Anil Goswami and UIDAI director-general Vijay Madan.
At the meeting, the prime minister made it clear the Aadhaar programme was directly under his control, as he was also chairman of the Planning Commission, sources told Business Standard.
Sources said the decision had been taken keeping in mind the need to trim subsidies in the coming Budget.
At the same time, contradicting the home minister, the UIDAI had sought the Cabinet’s approval to use the funds allocated for operations in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Under the UPA government, both NPR and UIDAI had been given the mandate to collect biometric details of Indian residents. According to law, only NPR is mandated to collect such data and UIDAI is to de-duplicate this and generate a 16-digit Aadhaar number.
The Modi-led NDA government has stamped the decision of the previous government and ruled out the merger of UIDAI with NPR. The decision, however, hasn’t gone down well with home ministry officials, who were hoping to take over the entire work of collecting biometrics. “Our five-point agenda was to do the collection of entire biometrics ourselves, complete the NCR and ensure UIDAI only de-duplicates and give citizens a national identity card,” said a senior official.
UIDAI officials said last week, they had already been directed by their parent ministry to ready the National Identification Authority of India Bill, to be reintroduced in Parliament. Currently, the Bill is in the Rajya Sabha.
“The Bill will have to be revised and resent for inter-ministerial consultation before it goes to the Cabinet,” a government official told Business Standard. He added the Bill should be ready to be sent for consultation in the next two weeks. So far, UIDAI has given Aadhaar numbers to 640 million residents, with 177 million coming from the NPR.