Just seven hours after Pankaj Tiwari’s daughter was born in the Civil Hospital in Haryana’s Gurugram district, the employee of a private firm held her up in front of a camera to enrol her in the Aadhaar database.
Hospital administrators had told Tiwari that he would not be able to register the girl’s birth and get her birth certificate unless he had obtained a 12-digit government-isssued unique identity number for her. This despite the fact that in October 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the Universal Identification Document, commonly known as Aadhaar, could not be made mandatory for any government programmes.
On the ground, though, Haryana officials insist on Aadhaar registration for newborns before processing birth certificates. “An advisory was issued to various authorities to ensure that people register births and link it with Aadhar,” said Dr Rakesh Gupta, additional chief secretary of Haryana. “We have managed to register about 90% of the births this month [April]. In the next two months, we aim to complete 100% Aadhaar-linked birth registration”
Tiwari did not have to go very far to get to register his daughter for Aadhaar: the Haryana government has opened enrolment facilities in all the state’s district hospitals.
In addition, select community health centres and primary health centres have the facilities to provide Aadhaar registration on their premises. Private hospitals have also been asked to contact local authorities to ensure Aadhar registration immediately after birth. The programme has been rapidly scaled up since it started in 2015 in a primary health centre in Tigaon in Faridabad district as a pilot project.
Dr Parveen Garg, director-general of health services in Haryana, admitted that the authorities tell people that Aadhaar registration is mandatory to obtain a birth certificate. “Then people will cooperate with us,” he said.
Additional chief secretary Gupta said that when Haryana began linking birth registration with Aadhaar in May 2015, it only intended to update the state’s own digital records. However, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar then declared that the state records should be incorporated into country-wide records of birth maintained by the Registrar General of India.
“The IT Minister [Ravi Shankar Prasad] intervened and asked the Unique Identification Authority of India or UIDAI and Registrar General of India to integrate the Aadhaar data with the birth records,” said Gupta, adding that the central government has asked all state government to follow Haryana’s example.
Enrolling parents to register children
Though collecting iris scans and fingerprints is a key part of the biometrically-linked Aadhaar programme, this cannot be done for children: the fingerprints of newborns are too unclear to be recorded. As a result, children are registered for Aadhaar with the biometric data of one of their parents, along with this adult’s Aadhaar number. The biometric data needs to be uploaded when the child is five years old.
“If the parents do not have Aadhaar, we get their Aadhaar made first,” said Jagmohan, the operator at the Gurugram Civil Hospital. “You see, it is compulsory for the birth certificate.”
In the past six months in Gurugram, Aadhaar registrations at birth have been carried out in campaign mode at the Civil Hospital and in every private hospital.
“For the past six months, we have been providing this service at each centre of birth,” said Dr Ashish Singla, who handles birth registration for the Gurugram Municipal Corporation.
At the Gurugram Civil Hospital, 400-450 babies are born each month. Between January and April, 142,079 births registered in Haryana have been linked to Aadhaar. Only 4,489 births in this period were not linked to Aadhaar.
The Haryana government official said that the government has distributed electronic tablets to help data operators work more efficiently. If a child is born in a sub-centre that does not have an Aadhaar registration facility, the parents of the child are referred or sent to an Atal Seva Kendra, which is a common service centre that provides a number of government digital services including birth registration and death registration.
Private hospitals in Gurugram district have Aadhaar operators who can be contacted whenever there is a new birth. These operators are not government officials but private agents certified by the UIDAI.
Some private hospitals, like the maternity home The Cradle in Gurugram, have one of their own employees function as their Aadhaar operator. “Sometimes parents have a problem with using flash to click the child’s photo,” said Amit Raghav, The Cradle’s Aadhaar operator. “Doctors tell them not to use flash to take their photos. But in this app the flash comes on automatically. I cannot help it.”
Recording accurate sex ratio
Garg said that having Aadhaar-linked birth registration would help authorities digitise birth records and ensure that there is no duplication. This system, he said, will provide good data for the State Population Register.
The other advantage, he said, is that it will enable right calculation of sex ratio at birth at various levels. After the Census 2011 showed a sex ratio of 834 girls for every 1,000 boys, the state has been working hard on trying to improve the sex ratio by cracking down on ultrasound clinics. The state authorities now claim that the sex ratio has hit 950 girls for every thousand boys.
Garg said that the government also wants to scale up a pilot project launched in Panipat to calculate sex ratios at the village level.
Until Aadhaar was introduced, different Haryana departments had been collecting data in various ways. For instance, a child’s name would be registered at birth where the mother delivers. This would often not be at the mother’s village but in the village where the mother’s parents lived. Meanwhile, the child would also be registered at the mother’s village at the anganwadi where her nutrition levels are tracked.
“Earlier multiple agencies were collecting data in silos,” said an official from the health department. “This [linking of Aadhaar with birth registration] is part of creating a digital Haryana.”
Haryana’s programme has been proceeding despite the Supreme Court order in October 2015 noting that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for any government scheme. Despite this, in February and March, the central government made Aadhaar mandatory for more than 20 central government schemes, including the Midday Meal Programme. However, many parents in Gurugram do not seem to be concerned about the court ruling and said that, since the government’s announcements, they feel that the facility of getting Aadhaar enrolment for their children in the hospital itself saves time and effort
“These days we need Aadhaar for everything,” said Tiwari. “It is better to get it made here than go to a centre later.”
Jayashree, who had brought her two-month-old child to Gurugram Civil Hospital to get her Aadhaar made, echoed Tiwari’s view. She had delivered the child at the Employees State Insurance Corporation Hospital, which did not have the Aadhaar facility.
Rajesh Kumar was told by hospital authorities to bring his Aadhaar card to register for his child’s Aadhaar. “I am happy with the facility,” said Kumar, who works as a security guard in Gurugram. “My elder daughter who is two years still does not have a Aadhaar card.”
However, one parent pointed out practical problems of registering Aadhaar at birth.
Prashant Guha, whose girl child was delivered at a Jain Hospital, a private hospital in Gurugram, said that though he is happy with the government’s initiative, hdid have some problems with the scheme. “Her name is not recorded as we have not given her a name yet,” he said. “We may have to go again to the authorities to get it done. It would have been better if we were saved an additional trip to the corporation.”
There are other concerns too. Writing earlier in Scroll.in, Kritika Bhardwaj, who works as a programme officer with the Centre for Communication Governance at the National Law University in Delhi, questioned the practicality of registering children in Aadhaar and the limitations in capturing images of newborn children, since with the absence of distinguishing features renders the photographs useless.
The question of consent
Bharadwaj also raised the question of whether it is ethical to enrol children who are too young to give their consent to be included in a biometrics database, especially when the programme does not allow them to opt out of the database at a later stage.
Guha, who works as a human resource manager in a company in Gurugram, was not concerned about this. “At most they will have the vague address and basic details about the child,” he said. “If this document helps identify my child as existing as per the Government of India, it helps.”
Legal researcher Usha Ramanathan said that parents seem to have no idea what they are consenting to. “People need to know what kind of personal data is going to be collected and what implications is it going to have over a period of time,” she said.
This reporting project has been made possible partly by funding from New Venture Fund for Communications.