New Delhi: Union finance minister Arun Jaitley on Sunday termed Aadhaar a “game changer", claiming its use helped the government save around 90,000 crore until March 2018 by eliminating duplicate, non-existent and fake beneficiaries.

“The Digital Dividend Report prepared by the World Bank estimates that India can save 77,000 crore every year by the use of Aadhaar. The savings through Aadhaar can fund three schemes of the size of Ayushman Bharat," Jaitley wrote on Facebook.

On Friday, the Lok Sabha passed a bill to amend three laws to enable voluntary linkage of Aadhaar with mobile phone numbers and bank accounts. The bill seeking to amend the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, was introduced in Parliament on 2 January.

The government wants to lay the ground for allowing Aadhaar to be used by private entities for identity checks despite a Supreme Court ruling in September that Aadhaar can only be used for welfare schemes and for delivering state subsidies. It had barred private companies from using Aadhaar data for authenticating customers, and linking it with bank accounts or mobile phone numbers.

According to Jaitley, the apex court upheld the whole concept of unique identity and rejected the challenge that it violated the Right to Privacy. “It held that Aadhaar meets the concept of constitutional trust, limited government and good governance and empowers marginalized sections of society. It also introduced several safeguards to ensure that it is not misused. The judgement of the Supreme Court added balance to the concept of Aadhaar."

The Lok Sabha passed the bill despite concerns raised by the opposition on 2 January that the proposed amendments are an infringement to the Supreme Court’s judgement. Some members, including Shashi Tharoor of the Congress party, had suggested that a data protection law should be enacted before the bill is passed.

Taking a dig at the opposition, Jaitley in his blog post said: “The UPA (United Progressive Alliance), because of its contradictions and indecision remained half-hearted about Aadhaar. Instead of taking credit for it, Congress lawyers challenged it in court and appeared as the anti-technology, anti-Aadhaar faces. A decisive Prime Minister made it possible."

The draft Aadhaar amendment bill puts the onus on offline verification of Aadhaar number holders where the individual will be verified through QR codes without submission of biometric or demographic information to data servers of the Unique Identification Authority of India. “Offline verification means the process of verifying the identity of the Aadhaar number holder without authentication through such offline modes as may be specified by regulation," according to the amendment bill.

In the last 28 months, over 1.22 billion Aadhaar numbers have been issued. Nearly 99% of the adult population of India above the age of 18 stands covered, Jaitley said. “2,579 crore authentications have been undertaken till date. Every day, 2.7 crore authentications are done."

He also said that 635.2 million bank accounts had been linked with the unique identity as on 15 December 2018, under the direct benefit transfer scheme. “The total number of subsidy transactions through Aadhaar are almost about 425 crore. The total amount of subsidy transferred through Aadhaar now equals 169,868 crores. This is a unique technology implemented only in India."

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