India's identity crisis


Too many identity cards can serve up a crisis. And they are, for a multitude of options has made establishing one's identity confusing. Does one...

Too many identity cards can serve up a crisis. And they are, for a multitude of options has made establishing one's identity confusing. Does one flash the Aadhaar card, PAN card, driving licence, or the passport? Or, is enrolment in the National Population Register (NPR) the proof of being an Indian? The average Indian grapples with the problem every day. Migrants to the Capital find it difficult to even open bank accounts. Even though Aadhaar has been made mandatory in 16 states and Union Territories, its penetration is limited -- only 30 crore people have been issued the card across the country. The NPR remains a non-starter. For the non-salaried class, getting a PAN card remains a challenge. And not too many Indians have passports. So, how do they establish their identity? "I had planned to drive down to Bhutan with my family a few years ago. At the border checkpoint at Phuntsholing, I flashed my PAN card as my proof of identity. The authorities there rejected it, saying that fake cards were in circulation. I had no other proof to establish my identity," says Nilaya Deep, a former top executive with Goldman Sachs in New York. Deep had left the US in 2007 to return to India. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which is implementing the Aadhaar project, lists a set of documents accepted as identity proof. These include passport, PAN card, ration/PDS card, voter identity card, driving licence, government photo ID card, NREGS job card, photo ID issued by a recognised educational institution, arms licence, photo bank ATM card, photo credit card, pensioner photo card, freedom-fighter photo card, kisan photo passbook, CGHS/ex-servicemen contributory health scheme card, and a certificate of identity with a photo issued by a Group-A gazetted officer on his letterhead. Notwithstanding the government's assurances, the reliability of Aadhaar, which has reached only a fraction of targeted beneficiaries, in establishing a citizen's identity is itself under a cloud. Former deputy registrar general (census and tabulation), SP Sharma said: "The card containing unique identity (UID) number mentions it is not a proof of citizenship. Yet, Aadhaar has been made compulsory for accessing government services, including Direct Benefit Transfer, for opening a bank account and getting a driving licence. So, those who are not Indian citizens can also benefit from government schemes. UID has brought foreigners on a par with Indians." Under the Citizenship Act, Sharma said the onus is on citizens to prove citizenship through various means such as ownership of property and inclusion in voters' list. From paying bills to getting a driving licence, Indians will soon have to depend on a unique identification (UID) number to avail a host of utility services. The government has already linked more than a dozen services Aadhaar, including LPG deliveries, and more are going to be included soon. As far as providing an Aadhaar or unique identification number to people, the government claims it is 95 per cent successful, but in reality only 30 crore of the 120 crore population have received the cards. And according to the government March 31 is the last date for obtaining an Aadhaar card. OPINION
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