Anti-Aadhaar to Pro-Aadhaar? Mamata approves proposal to link Aadhaar with ration cards

She took the move after her government convinced her that it would save Rs. 500 crore annually under the PDS


Mamata Banerjee has taken a 180-degree turn on Aadhaar with the Bengal government approving a proposal to link people’s 12-digit unique identification numbers to ration cards, The Telegraph reported.

Mamata who had even refused to link her Aadhaar to her cellphone numbers, had been vociferously criticizing the Narendra Modi government over making Aadhaar compulsory for schemes and benefits, but sources say she has realized that the seeding of Aadhaar numbers with ration cards could probably help the Bengal government save Rs. 500 crore annually with regards to food distribution.

“The food and supplies department had put forward the proposal as the Centre was pushing the state to go for the process citing a Supreme Court order. The chief minister did not approve it initially. But she changed her mind after an all-party meeting in September okayed the proposal,” said a senior government official.

Mamata, who had raised questions about the necessity of seeding Aadhaar numbers with ration cards, was informed of its apparent benefits by her government. A rough estimate by the state and food supplies department suggests over 15 percent of funds could be saved if the state finds success in stopping pilferage from ration ships. The government currently spends more than Rs. 3,500 crore to provide subsidized food grains.

“The chief minister was told that the process could save at least Rs 500 crore on the outgo for giving subsidised foodgrains to nearly 8 crore people as it would prevent pilferage. She was also informed that the Centre was pushing hard to go for the process based on the Supreme Court order that made seeding of Aadhaar numbers mandatory for the beneficiaries of welfare schemes. The approval came about one-and-a-half months ago,” said a source.

The food and supplies department has already started the process of seeding Aadhaar with ration cards recently and it is expected that the process could be completed by January next year.

“Details of the beneficiaries have already been installed in the PoS machines of the ration shops once the digital cards were introduced. Now, biometric details would be liked with the ration cards with the seeding of Aadhaar. Once this is done, only a beneficiary would be able to withdraw his or her quota of subsidised grains by verifying biometric data like thumb impression,” an official said.

When Mamata was Anti – Aadhaar

Mamata Banerjee has been opposing the use of Aadhaar cards right from the word go. In 2016, she had written a letter to the Centre asking it not to make Aadhaar cards mandatory for those working under the MNREGA scheme. The state government was opposed to making the Aadhaar a must for labourers, as it was estimated that only 70 percent of them possessed the cards. In 2013, She had also asked the government to ‘seriously reconsider’ its decision to make Aadhaar compulsory for getting subsidized cooking gas (LPG) as an attempt to cheat the poor for then only 15 – 20 percent of the people were covered by Aadhaar.

She had earlier also slammed the Centre over its proposal to link the Aadhaar with mid-day meals and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme. She had expressed her anger at the Centre wanting to make it mandatory for students to have an Aadhaar number for getting midday meals, apart from cooks-cum-helpers also requiring to have one.

In 2017, she had flayed the Centre for making the Aadhaar mandatory for opening bank accounts, saying that it had serious issues with regards to privacy and the move shouldn’t be implemented until 100 percent coverage is achieved. She had said that doing so would be an infringement on one’s Right to Privacy.

She had welcomed the Supreme Court’s verdict when while upholding the constitutional validity of Aadhaar it had struck down some of its provisions, including linking it with bank accounts, mobile phones and school admissions.

Mamata had just recently issued ‘non-subsidised ration cards’, which it says can be used as identity proof apart from Aadhaar, PAN and voter identity cards. These non-foodgrain ration cards were for people who did not wish to avail of foodgrains at a subsidized rate. These, the government thought could instead be used as an identity proof and the bifurcation would help extend benefits to more needy people under the public distribution system (PDS).

Though the BJP alleged that these were part of the Trinamool Congress’ (TMC) strategy to counter the National Register of Citizens (NRC), Food Minister Jyotipriya Mallick rubbished the claim saying the move was taken only to clean up the PDS.

Meanwhile, the Centre is planning to fast track its ‘one nation, one ration card’ scheme which is to be implemented across the country by June 2020. Currently run on a pilot basis in four states – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana, the scheme is supposed to be benefit migrant labourers who often move cities in search of jobs and buy subsidized foodgrains from any fair price shop across the country. Under this scheme, they can port their ration card to another state, but only if it is linked to their Aadhaar card.

It is a mystery as to why Mamata, the vehement of the Aadhaar has suddenly turned pro it. Is it really for the welfare of the citizens of the state or is there something deeper behind the decision, only time will tell.


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