Aadhaar Card Issues

[op-ed snap] Balancing the costs and benefits of Aadhaar


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Read the attached story on Aadhar

Mains level: Findings of the research and possible solution suggested by the writer.


Contentious policy debates on Aadhar: Supporters Vs. Detractors

  1. Supporters claim that linking Aadhaar with social programmes has helped to reduce leakage and improve targeting of benefits
  2. Detractors argue that savings are minimal and that such linking has increased the exclusion of genuine beneficiaries
  3. Theoretically, both arguments are plausible, which makes this essentially an empirical question

Research has revealed some main insights
(research was done by the writers of the article)

  1. Reaearchers have studied the impact of the integration of biometric authentication into India’s flagship social programmes across several locations and programmes
  2. Their field work has spanned Andhra Pradesh (and present-day Telangana), Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Puducherry, and Jharkhand; and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), the public distribution system (PDS) and pensions
    Main points
  3. First, results(of success of the aadhar) depend enormously on the details of context, including the programme in question, the specific design of the authentication process, the level and nature of pre-existing fraud, and state-level implementation capacity
  4. Most leakage, in the PDS, was not through identity fraud but quantity fraud, where legitimate beneficiaries were given only a fraction of their entitlement
  5. Unsurprisingly, we find that Aadhaar-backed authentication has had no measurable effect on this form of corruption
  6. Second, it is important to distinguish between the decision to link (or seed) Aadhaar accounts to programme records (which may help to clean up beneficiary databases)
  7. And the decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for authenticating every transaction (which may raise the risk of exclusion error)

What should be done?

  1. In light of these findings, a simple “yes” nor “no” approach to the question of mandatory Aadhaar is not warranted
  2. The approach that works best will inevitably vary across place and programme
  3. Given this, the optimal approach for the SC may be to avoid blanket proclamations, and instead provide guidelines for the government regarding the use of Aadhaar-linked service delivery
  4. This will also help the court stay out of intruding in policy decisions in the executive domain, and keep its focus on ensuring that the most vulnerable beneficiaries are protected during attempts to reduce leakage

The way forward

  1. Aadhaar is a tool with the potential to reduce leakages and improve service delivery
  2. But using this tool to improve the beneficiary experience (as opposed to hindering it) requires continuous effort and democratic oversight
  3. Court guidelines to emphasize the beneficiary experience and independently measure and report it can make an important contribution
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