You can’t run before you are ready to walk. But the Andhra Pradesh government was trying to do that and more. That is perhaps why a February 15 deadline was set for every citizen living in Hyderabad city and Ranga Reddy district to get an Aadhaar card. Failing which, they were told, they would have to forego subsidy and pay 1030 rupees for a domestic gas cylinder refill.
Perhaps the government was emboldened by statistics in its records. Statistics that lied. In Hyderabad administrative district, for instance, as per official records, as against a 2011 census population count of 40.1 lakh, over 48 lakh people had enrolled for Aadhar, some 126 per cent !
And yet, registration centres across the city have been overfull trying to meet the mid-February deadline to get the all-important unique identification card. Because only those armed with an Aadhaar card could still get the 570 rupees subsidy on each cylinder. Of course, even that was not going to be easy. As a consumer, you were expected to pay up the full 1030 rupees and then the subsidy amount would flow into your bank account.
Is this a benefit-transfer or a headache transfer riding on Aadhaar, asks Sumalatha, a housewife living in Chikkadpally area of Hyderabad.
The panic, frustration and fear of being left out in the cold and being excluded has been showing on the streets of the city.
“Yeh government bilkul waste hai,” declared an exasperated Rajkumar, a businessman in the Secunderabad area of Hyderabad. He was fuming, having been turned away at the Aadhaar registration counter. He had been told no application forms for Aadhaar were being disbursed after 9 am. Pointing to the long queue at the Aadhaar centre, he said, “I will have to waste an entire day away from work to come in early here just to collect the form, fill it up and submit it.”
Carpenter Rajeshwar Chary had submitted his form and had been given a date in June to come again to get his photograph clicked. “So if I get the Aadhaar card so late, will I have to pay more for the gas cylinder,” he asked. No one at the counter was any the wiser to offer an opinion. Not that any of them thought it necessary to address his concerns and queries empathetically. His second problem was he did not have a birth certificate for his two children and had been asked to get the same from the Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. How long that would take, neither he nor anyone else here had the answer.
Some others said they had registered, shared demographic details and went through the biometrics formalities several months ago and yet had not received the Aadhaar card. Srinadh who has been waiting for his card since March 2010 wonders if he should register again. Phone calls to Bangalore have given him the routine reply that his card has been despatched. The local post office says it has not got any.
At this centre in Warasiguda in Hyderabad, there are just four persons to take care of a crowd of nearly 150. This man handles this window alone, as a result of which the queue only gets longer and longer. At Hayathnagar, another area on the city outskirts, kilometre-long queues forced traffic shut on the main road nearby and ultimately the Aadhaar enrolment window had to be shut as the staff was unable to cope with the rush.
This has been the story across the 83 stations in Hyderabad where the long queues, delay, confusion and no result at the end of long hours of wait was leading to frustration, anger and restlessness. At many places, patience was running out, tempers were flying. Government officials thought it wiser to shut the counter rather than face the public mood of anger.
Realising the situation is getting out of hand, Chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy has promised that 300 new enrolment centres would be opened in Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy district to cope with the rush. Realising that the February 15 deadline is unrealistic, the Andhra Pradesh government has also promised to delay the linkage of subsidy on LPG cylinders with the Aadhaar card. But clearly, the state bungled up big time on the manner in which an exercise of this magnitude needs to be handled.
On paper, Andhra Pradesh is way ahead of other states with 81 per cent either covered under Aadhaar or in the process. Out of the state population of 8.5 crore, some 6.5 crore people are reportedly enrolled. For 5.3 crore people, an Aadhaar number has been generated and another 4.3 crore have already received their numbers. After the numbers are universally issued, they will have to be “seeded”. What that means is that they have to be linked to the database of beneficiaries, in the case of welfare schemes for instance, and also to bank accounts.
In the first phase, Aadhaar is to be linked to the payment of student scholarships and benefits under Janani Suraksha Yojana for pregnant women. In the second phase, it will link LPG and in the third phase, NREGA payments and pensions.
So what is the benefit of linking Aadhaar to LPG cylinders for which the subsidy is universal? There are fears among the people that this may become a basis for eventually making it a targeted subsidy. P V Ramesh, principal secretary in Andhra Pradesh’s finance department, however, denies this. “It is a hidden subsidy at the moment. By paying upfront and getting a refund, it becomes more visible. There is no effort to target. It is basically to eliminate duplicates and stop blackmarketing,” he says.
Which raises the question if Aadhaar at the end of the day is meant to benefit the aam aadmi or the government. The jury is still out.