Ram Prakash*, the principal of a government school in South Delhi, has lost count of the number of times the Directorate of Education has returned a list of students with their Aadhaar numbers after it found errors.

“I am losing sleep over this,” he complained in the first week of April. “I thought my school was the only defaulter. But it appears all schools in my [school] zone – there are about 12 – were in the same situation.”

The last 10 children of his school finally obtained their 12-digit unique identification numbers last week, over eight months after applying for it.

Starting 2015, the Delhi government asked schools to first open bank accounts for all their students and then link those accounts with their Aadhaar numbers. To ease the process for parents, it had asked schools to set up enrolment camps for their students. This year, the government went one step further by making admissions contingent on children having the unique identification number.

Saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that students on their rolls have Aadhaar-linked bank accounts, principals and teachers in both Delhi government and municipal schools are growing increasingly exasperated.

Enrolment camps

Prakash’s school, located near the Mehrauli-Badarpur road in South Delhi, hosted an Aadhaar enrolment camp last summer. Over three days, about 45 children gave their fingerprints and biometric scans to the staff of a private enrolment agency. Some got their Aadhaar cards soon after, but about 15 children did not for months, he said.

The principal tried to track the progress of their applications using receipts, but without success. He next went to the Aadhaar enrolment centre closest to the school and sought help.

Getting the excluded children to sign up afresh was proving to be difficult.

“Once the biometric data is entered, a do-over [cancelling and starting over] is very difficult,” he explained. When the fingerprints and iris scans of the children were taken for the second time, “the system showed those biometric data had already been entered”.

Finally, with help from the office of the deputy commissioner, he was able to get some more students enrolled by October, and the remaining 10 or so, by early April.

(Photo credit: HT).

Local branches of the government’s revenue department have helped other schools facing similar problems.

The principal of a Delhi government school in Patparganj in East Delhi, said that variations in data on different documents were creating problems for students who had applied for Aadhaar from his school. He sought help from the sub-divisional magistrate “to get the mistakes and variations rectified”.

At a school in Trilokpuri, in East Delhi, about 115 students submitted their name, address and biometric information at an Aadhaar enrolment camp held in August. The principal retained photocopies of all the application receipts. Despite this extra precaution, 50-60 of that school’s students are yet to receive their Aadhaar numbers.

“Younger children forget the mobile numbers they have entered to which the PIN numbers for generating Aadhaar cards online are sent,” said the principal. “Some have even entered wrong numbers.”

Errors and corrections

Between last July, when it took the decision to hold camps in government schools, and March, the Directorate of Education, Delhi, has issued at least half-a-dozen circulars pointing out a variety of errors in lists schools have sent them with names of their students and corresponding Aadhaar numbers. Many of these errors relate to Aadhaar enrolment efforts through school camps.

Getting all school children Aadhaar-linked bank accounts has been a three-stage process in Delhi. First, over 2015-’16, schools helped children open zero-balance bank accounts. The following year, over 2016-’17, they tried to get children enrolled with Aadhaar. The final stage – still in progress – is linking or seeding the Aadhaar numbers with banks and the Delhi government database, ostensibly to facilitate the disbursal of benefits such as scholarships and other entitlements that were previously released in cash.

Errors and variations in the data shared by children and parents who were less alive to the ramifications of such inconsistencies, raised hurdles at every step, and teachers and principals were left to resolve them.

For instance, data on bank records and school records did not match, and spellings of names, dates of birth and addresses were not consistent across identity papers. Even at the time of enrolment with Aadhaar, surnames were dropped, names misspelt and wrong mobile numbers entered. This not only hampered the process of obtaining Aadhaar numbers but the subsequent linking of the number with banks.

(Photo credit: HT).

Explaining the sort of problems they faced, the principal of the Patparganj school said: “Children have surnames on some documents and not on others. In case of older children whose names were originally entered into our records in Hindi, errors were introduced while rendering their names in the [Roman] alphabet.”

Similarly, in the Aadhaar system, one number can be linked to only one set of fingerprints and iris scans. However, in August, the Directorate of Education issued a circular stating that it had found duplication of Aadhaar numbers in the case of 52,366 students – the same Aadhaar number had been entered against the names of more than one child by careless data-entry operators. NT Krishna, overseeing the process for the directorate, said that this “was an internal matter, which has now been resolved”.

There also have been several circulars on “garbage data” – numerals that are not Aadhaar numbers being provided to the government against the names of students – with the last one being issued in January with the names of over 8,300 students. The directorate and the schools had whittled down the number of errors to a few hundred, but that list still had over 400 names by March, with many more still yet to be enrolled with Aadhaar.

This hampered the disbursal of entitlements through direct benefit transfers. Government circulars show that the Lal Bahadur Shastri Scholarship to meritorious students has been disbursed in eight rounds as and when Aadhaar numbers were entered and verified by schools. The post-matric scholarships for over 4,000 Scheduled Caste students for 2015-’16 were finally processed in March. A March 28 government circular said that the accounts of 42,428 students entitled to scholarships for educationally backward minorities had not been linked to Aadhaar.

Teachers move court

The Aadhaar linking process has posed such a challenge for teachers and principals that it became one of the main reasons why primary teachers moved the Delhi High Court for relief in December.

In their petition, the All Delhi Primary Teachers’ Association challenged government orders directing them to perform non-teaching duties. The opening of bank accounts for students and Aadhaar enrolment featured prominently in their petition.

“This is practically all we have been doing for two years,” said the teacher of a municipal school in Dwarka, in southwest Delhi. “It took me one year to get one of my students to fetch his photograph.”

It is not just for their students. Municipal school teachers, in particular, have found themselves filling forms and directing parents to enrol for Aadhaar too, because banks often refuse to open accounts for children if their parents do not have the unique identification number.

Teachers have had to abandon their classrooms to make trips to the banks with stacks of forms and documents, said Naveen Sangwan, a Class 2 teacher in a municipal school in Mangolpuri in North West Delhi. “Teaching in municipal schools is already affected and this is making things worse,” he said. “Banks send parents away and then it is our job to go out and get this done.”

Teachers had to do this work in addition to conducting a household survey to identify out-of-school children.

The teachers’ petition in the High Court argues that “deploying teachers [for] non-educational purposes...is strictly prohibited as [it] grievously affects the quality of the education being imparted.”

Government school teachers have also been abandoning their classrooms for banks. The principal of the Patparganj school said that he had sent teachers to banks with forms “at least 10 times” since he joined in August. He said that 10% of the students on his school rolls were yet to obtain Aadhaar numbers.

The teacher from the Dwarka school estimated that about 15% students at the municipal school where he teaches do not have Aadhaar-linked bank accounts.

Delays in disbursal

Till last year, the North Municipal Corporation had given two sets of stitched uniforms to students, but the other two corporations – South and East – had moved to direct-benefit transfers for all schemes in 2015. This meant that the money for these entitlements were transferred directly to the students’ bank accounts.

Because several students did not have either an Aadhaar number or a bank account, money for uniforms and other scholarships reached a large number of municipal students late, or not at all. This further intensified the pressure upon municipal teachers to help their students. Fed up with the hassle, some teachers have started denying admission to children without Aadhaar numbers, said Sangwan.

The Patparganj principal admitted that though teachers were being troubled, it was necessary for them to help students. “We do have problems but if a letter from us or a visit from a teacher can help these families, we do not mind extending that support,” he said.

And the children and parents do need support.

“Children from some of the poorest families in Delhi come to our schools,” said Sangwan. “We have children of migrant labour from other states who stay on rent even in slum areas. They have no address proof, no utility bills or bank accounts. And teachers and principals are being made responsible for everything.”

He estimated that over a quarter of the children in his class of 50 would be without Aadhaar cards.

* Name changed to protect identity.

This is the final part in a series on the impact of Delhi government’s decision to make Aadhaar mandatory in schools. You can read the other parts here.