The Centre on Tuesday clarified its order making the Aadhaar card mandatory to avail of midday meal scheme benefits after it drew criticism for its announcement. A statement issued by the government said beneficiaries may continue to avail of the welfare scheme with alternate identification proof, till they are assigned an Aadhaar number.

“Government has said that no one will be deprived of the benefits for lack of Aadhaar. Till Aadhaar numbers are assigned to any individual, the benefit will continue to be given based on alternate means of identification,” the statement said. It said departments have been asked to provide Aadhaar enrolment facilities to their beneficiaries.

On February 28, the Ministry of Human Resource Development had said children at government schools will no longer get their free midday meals unless they enrol for an Aadhaar number. The notification had made the 12-digit identity number, linked to biometric data, mandatory for schoolchildren as as well as for the “cook-cum-helpers” who serve them.

More than 98% of adults in India have apparently enrolled in the Aadhaar scheme. However, of the 23.4 crore Indians who did not have an Aadhaar number in 2016, 21.7 crore – more than 90% – were children.

The midday meal scheme is the world’s biggest school lunch programme, and has been implemented for over 13 years as an effort to improve the nutritional status of young students. Under the scheme, children studying in Class 1 to 8 are served one hot cooked meal on working days, and during summer vacations in drought-affected areas. More than 10.2 crore children were served meals in 2015-16.

Between 2013 and 2015, the Supreme Court had passed three orders saying the Centre cannot make having an Aadhaar number a pre-condition to access public services. The case is now pending before a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court.

Clarification: A tweet with a link to this story mistakenly mentioned that the Aadhaar rule had been withdrawn. The central government has simply clarified its order.