On Monday, the Supreme Court felt the need to reiterate – for the third time – that the Aadhar card cannot be made compulsory for anyone, particularly citizens who wish to avail themselves of government subsidies. Hearing a petition filed by a Bangalore resident, the court warned the central government of action if officials continued to demand Aadhar cards from people eligible for subsidies, scholarships, welfare pensions and other government services.

In response, the central government attempted to pass on the blame to state governments, claiming that they were violating the apex court’s orders on the validity of the unique identification card.

State governments have certainly been defying the Supreme Court for months, but as recent official circulars of the union government indicate, the centre is no less guilty.

Last month, the Union ministry of rural development issued two circulars to the secretaries of various rural development departments across the country, ordering them to facilitate the transfer of wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme through the Aadhar numbers of workers.

The circulars, issued on February 18 and 25, came more than a year after the Supreme Court’s September 2013 ruling that Aadhar could not be made mandatory for citizens. In March 2014, the court’s second ruling on UID emphasised that “no person shall be deprived of any service for want of Aadhar number in case he/she is otherwise eligible/entitled”.

But in blatant violation of these rulings, the rural development ministry has proposed action plans that are meant to officially link NREGA with Aadhar from April 1, 2015.

“The two circulars, issued so recently, intend to make Aadhar compulsory, so the Centre cannot blame only the states for violating Supreme Court orders,” said Reetika Khera, a Delhi-based economist. “What is the point of the court orders if no one is bothered about them?”

Special enrolment drives

For the past two years, the central government has been eager to adopt the direct benefit transfer model to plug leakages in the process of handing out subsidies to eligible citizens. DBT involves transferring cash subsidies directly into individual beneficiaries’ bank accounts.

Several state governments have already begun moving to the DBT system and in December 2014, the union ministry of finance notified the NREGA Scheme under this system in at least 300 districts across the country. The circular about this notification openly states that in the DBT system, wages would go directly into workers’ bank accounts through the Aadhar Payment Bridge System: “The link with Aadhar numbers is expected to sanitise the database of MNREGA apart from allowing faster and more transparent transfer of wages to workers,” it says.

The rural development ministry’s circular of February 18 informs all concerned government officials that NREGA is to move to the DBT platform by April 1. Yet to operationalise this move, the ministry asks officials to take a number of steps: collect Aadhar numbers from workers who already have the card, organise special enrolment camps for those who don’t, ensure that block development officers “arrange to escort” workers without UID numbers to the nearest enrolment centre and seed Aadhar numbers to the government and bank databases by March 31.

The second circular of February 25 is an update on the progress of the action plan and it points out that at the permanent enrolment centres for Aadhar, “beneficiaries may either be brought for enrolment or if there are large numbers of beneficiaries in a village, the biometric kits and operators can be taken for targeted enrolment’.

It adds: “In case a worker has not yet got enrolled for Aadhar, it shall be the responsibility of the Block Development Officer…to get them enrolled for Aadhar”.

Blatant violations

The government’s defiant insistence of the Aadhar card has drawn much ire from activists who have been campaigning against compulsory UIDs at the central and state levels.

Last month, Scroll.in had reported that in Delhi, the state government was denying even basic food rations to low-income slum citizens who didn’t have Aadhar numbers. This illegal insistence has been pushing families to get young children and babies registered for Aadhar just so that they can avail themselves of food rations.

“The situation in Delhi remains the same, so the third court order is a welcome ruling,” said Anjali Bhardwaj, a member of the steering committee of the Right to Food Campaign, India.

In some states, even if Aadhar is not officially mandatory, impoverished citizens are still denied subsidies based on the lack of the UID number.

“In Maharashtra, for instance, Aadhar is not compulsory on paper, but it is demanded by officials on the ground,” alleged Mukta Srivastava, convener of the non-profit Anna Adhikar Abhiyan in Maharashtra. “Middle-class, educated citizens can fight back, but the poor find it difficult to get cash transfers or subsidies on things like gas cylinders, pensions and scholarships.”