A clause meant to ensure no one was left out of Aadhaar has become the keystone of a major scam.
Trust us to spin a scam out of anything. One more blotched job on Aadhaar card Abhiyan has come out. Putting a big question mark on its credibility, the Lok Sabha on Thursday was informed that gross misuse of the Biometric Exemption Clause by Aadhaar enrolment officers at the national level had forced the UIDAI to cancel 3,84,237 cards. This means an unspecified sum has found its way to private pockets. Earlier, several complaints regarding Aadhaar card had been reported. AP is on top with the highest number of this scandal.
What is biometric exemption clause?
When performing a biometric scan, the details of a set of physical aspects of the applicant are taken into record — fingerprints, iris scans, facial features, etc. This, however, is exempted in rare cases for people with physical disabilities and whose professions (commercial labourers, miners) make it difficult to record biometrics. As an alternative, photographic records of their absent biometrics (damaged irises, absent fingers, smoothened fingers with no record of prints) are recorded along with demographic details of the applicant. This system of inclusion, absent among other civil supply cards like the ration card, was what the government believed to be a “fool proof” inclusion of all sections of the public — until things went wrong, that is.
What went wrong and how?
After nearly 50,000 Aadhaar cards remained undelivered, authorities at the UIDAI got suspicious. All of them turned out to be cards granted under the Biometric Exemption Clause. Investigations by the UIDAI revealed that Andhra Pradesh alone contributed to the highest number of fake cards, with 2.3 lakh out of the total 4.1 lakh generated here under this scheme. AP had recorded a total 48.8 lakh registrations for the Aadhaar card last year.
Some agencies entrusted with the enrolment centres realised that they could ‘grant exemption’ for any applicant at a nominal price. In Hyderabad alone, the price varied from `50 to `200. Enrolment officers played a game for this and made a pile.
One Aadhaar card enrolment officer from Warangal, on condition of anonymity, said it was a fast and cheap way of making money. “Some people who did not want their biometrics would approach us with a deal. We would slot them under the biometric exemption category and exclude their biometrics from being recorded. This could be photographically manipulated. We received money in return for the business,” he said. Shortly after the regional UIDAI realised that something was wrong, this enrolment officer was relieved of his duties and the cards issued from his office were cancelled.
Shortly after the lid blew off this scam, the government hastened to cancel these enrolments and made amendments to its policy, but it was too late. Other such instances were reported in Jharkhand, UP, Maharashtra as well. It was found that only 22,195 of the total 4.1 lakh Aadhaar cards generated under this clause were genuine. Another 7,000 registrations came under investigation.The UIDAI instructed all enrolment agencies not to grant biometric exemption without prior permission of a senior officer, preferably a government official. But then, the truth is, that too can be managed. Officials from the regional office of UIDAI, Hyderabad were unavailable for comment.
But as an RTI activist says, it’s an irony that the scheme implemented for removing corruption, was in itself, flawed and even corrupt. Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu says, “The whole Aadhaar is a farce. It was implemented without any proper study on the reliability of technology. There is corruption in a scheme that is supposed to eliminate corruption from other schemes.”
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