PM, Sonia kick off Aadhaar; roll-out readied in seven states

PM, Sonia kick off Aadhaar; roll-out readied in seven states

Tembhli (Nandurbar), Maharashtra:Ranjana Kadashiv Sonawane, 29, a tribal from the village of Tembhli, doesn’t own a mobile and has no permanent address, but as of Wednesday, she has a 12-digit Aadhaar identity, 782474317884.

Click hereClick here to listen to our correspondent Surabhi Agarwal report from Tembhli

It is something she shares with only 10 others from what is a predominantly tribal habitat, while the rest of the country, at the moment, has only a promise of a similar unique numerical identity.

Click Click here to listen to Nandan Nilekani’s complete interview

Sonawane received her ID from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at an event convened to launch the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) marquee programme Aadhaar.

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The event, attended by more than 50,000 people, was jointly addressed by Singh, and Congress party chief and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi—the latter’s presence emphasizing the unambiguous political support to a programme that has been inviting concerns around the potential compromise of the privacy of an individual.

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The village is located in Nandurbar district in the north-west of Maharashtra and close to the border with Gujarat.

In a hard sell of the scheme, Gandhi stressed that Aadhaar will not only help reduce leakages in public spending, but also ensure better targeting of social benefits.

Arguing similarly, Singh said Aadhaar would be the key to the foundation for the development of the country, especially for the backward and financially crippled.

Explaining how Aadhaar will help the poor and the backward classes to avail the benefits of various government schemes such as pensions, the public distribution system (PDS) and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and in financial inclusion, Singh said that when the common man doesn’t have an identity, his dignity is hurt, and through Aadhaar, everybody will have a unique identity.

Both Singh and Gandhi spoke in Hindi.

According to Singh, it is the first time in the world that a project of this magnitude is being undertaken by a country. While almost 1,500 residents of Tembhli and surrounding villages have been enrolled under the Aadhaar project over the last 10 days, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the nodal agency for the project, has to cover the entire country.

“The challenge now is to scale up the enrolment process," Nandan Nilekani, chairman of UIDAI, who was present for the launch along with deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, told Mint.

While he said that Aadhaar will go live in seven states in some time, the next step will be to build applications on Aadhaar that link it to government schemes such as PDS along with taking banking and mobility to the poor.

Aadhaar has a target of issuing around 100 million numbers by the end of this fiscal and 600 million by 2014.

When set up in July 2009, UIDAI had promised to issue the first batch of numbers between August 2010 and February 2011, a target it very well met.

The UIDAI chief said the fact that getting Aadhaar numbers is not mandatory will not dampen enrolment.

“The value proposition of an Aadhaar number when it comes to availing banking or any other kind of services will be so strong that people will automatically choose to get themselves enrolled," he said.

Nilekani is aware that the hype and the unambiguous political support has raised expectations all around.

Something that was echoed by Sonawane, an illiterate and a mother of three.

While grateful to Gandhi for the honour of receiving the first ID, she was convinced that it would enable her to access better healthcare for her children and in availing subsidized foodgrain.