Mumbai: Aadhaar deadline nears, people slam registration infrastructure
While deadline to link Aadhaar accounts to bank and mobile services nears, harrowed applicants say city's registration infrastructure is in a shambles, thanks to shutting down of centres
For the last two months, 42-year-old Kishore Iyer has been scouring Mulund West in search of an Aadhaar centre where his wife Vidya, 32, and his three-year-old son, Aniruddha, can get themselves registered. His daughter Hamsikaa's bio-metrics too need to be updated.In the wake of news reports that have made Aadhaar registrations mandatory not just for operation of bank accounts post December 31, but also for school admissions, Iyer and his family have realised, like the rest of the city, that the number of centers where he can get himself registered have shrunk.
Mumbaikars wait outside the Juhu branch of Kotak Mahindra Bank at dawn to bag one of the first 20 tokens for Aadhaar enrolment. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
"There is an acute scarcity. In all of Mulund, there's just one centre and that accepts only 20 tokens a day," says Iyer, who runs a software development business. "I was told by the person manning the centre that I need to come collect a token. And people, it seems, queue up as early as 3 am to make the cut." In 2015, at the height of the registration drive, Mumbai had over 450 centres - many of them private - after getting due permissions from the government. Today, all private centres have been shut down, largely due to a drive that the government itself undertook following numerous complaints that they were charging money for what was supposed to be a free service. The number of operational centres today stands at 51.
As per UIDAI records, as on November 30, 2017, Maharashtra had a population of 1,19,581,739 of which 1,10,660,222 had got their Aadhaar accounts activated, which is 92 per cent.
Prakash Nadar, 41, ran an Aadhaar registration centre at Worli, enabled with a ramp for the disabled. It opened in June 2016 but was shut down a few months ago. He says he is yet to receive the R25 per registration promised by the government. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Sudden, abrupt shutdown
Forty-one-year-old Prakash Nadar, who ran a registration centre since June 2016, enabled with a ramp to add ease-of-access for the disabled, says he was asked to shut his centre a few months ago. Nadar, who runs a Swabhiman communication centre near the old Passport Office at Worli, which includes a public telephone and telefax booth, says he would on an average enroll 200 applicants every month. He says, he still gets repeated inquries about Aadhaar registration since his number is still listed on the government site. "But we are unable to help anyone." Nadar says he has approached the collector's office asking for permission to restart his centre, but has been asked to function from a BMC school near Worli's Love Grove pumping station instead. This, he is not keen on, as his present location has necessary arrangements in place for the disabled.
Assistant Divisional Fire Officer Vishwajeet Nikam, 53, hasn't received his November salary. He has already made three attempts to register his fingerprints at the Byculla Aadhaar centre, mandatory for bio-metric attendance, but says each time he tries recording his fingerprints, an error message shows up in the system. The fire department has neither been sympathetic nor helpful. Pics/Atul Kamble
The government had invited private firms to open registration centres with the lure of a Rs 25 incentive per enrolment. This money, however, has not reached Nadar. And, certainly not Sudhir Kavi, 35, either. Kavi ran a private registration centre in Ghatkopar West, and he pegs the investment for procuring kits from government shortlisted suppliers at Rs 80,000. "We were never paid the Rs 25. In the six months that we ran, we registered 300 applicants," he adds. On charging customers a certain amount, he counters that in addition to what setting up the centre cost him, he also had to pay a monthly salary of Rs 5,000 to two operators. "With no money coming from the authorities, a minimal charge from the applicant was justified," Kavi adds.
Banks step in
With private centres facing the shutters, banks and government institutions, such as the collector office, the BMC ward offices, post offices, etc., are now doubling up as enrolment centres. And this is causing the bottleneck because most centres do not take more than 20 people per day. Here's how a scene plays out at the city's nationalised and private banks from 4.30 am onwards. People start lining up at the shuttered gates of banks before dawn, hoping to be the first to get the token. The token confirms your appointment for the day. When you get into the bank with, proof of identity and address documents, along with the form, your bio-metrics are collected. You get a receipt with your UIDAI registration which can be used until your Aadhaar card arrives. Because there are only limited registrations per day, the security guards at banks hand out tokens to the first 20 who arrive.
Iyer says he lucked out when he realised that the centre in Mulund was, in fact, the bank where he holds an account. "I asked them to help me procure the token in an expedient manner." Even then it took him three weeks to complete the registration. "There were a lot of hiccups because, it seems, the Aadhaar site would often get overloaded. I think registrations can happen without hindrance if every bank and its branches opens a centre." Rohit Rao, spokesperson for Kotak Mahindra Bank, says that 10 per cent of their branches across the country are now doubling up as enrolment centres. On why only 20 tokens are handed out per day, he adds, "Each case takes around 20 to 25 minutes to complete. This includes filling up of the form and collecting bio-metric data. Hence, in a working day of eight hours, we issue an optimal number of tokens to avoid long waiting periods for customers."
The spawning of an industry
Where there is difficulty in government procedures, private agents will step in. mid-day tracked a private Aadhaar agent, Ramesh Oza (name changed), who promised to visit our home and complete registration formalities against a payment of Rs 1,500. Interestingly, he says he carries with him the bio-metric machine. However, he says he will only operate between Khar and Santacruz. With Aadhaar kits now GPS enabled, he does not venture far from his core area. But, Oza says it's all above board. He won't help you with the documents that are needed to get a registration in the first place. "I am not into making any documents. I can only help those who have valid original documents for identification as stated in UIDAI. I scan these and register the applicants, as per the norms."
The reason for home visits, he clarifies, is that, "Some people have to leave home early in the morning for work. Some are bedridden/disabled and banks do not give more than 20 tokens in a day, so I help." However, not anyone, Oza says, can become an operator. "You need to be registered with the department and they issue an official user ID and password. Only such registered facilitators can register an applicant." Going to people's homes and registering them is not illegal. A senior state UIDAI official says, "For the elderly and those who are bedridden, we do allow home visits." What is not legal, however, is the charging of fees. As per rules, the operators are allowed to charge only for updates of bio-metric details for adults, demographic updates and printouts. And all of this, should cost you only R25 at best.
Govt employees, worst hit
It's counter-intuitive. After all, when making guidelines, wouldn't a company ensure that its employees catch up fast? Yet, at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), over 3,000 staffers haven't received their November salaries for non-compliance of the mandatory Aadhaar Enabled Biometric Attendance System (AE-BAS). But, it's not necessarily their fault. Take the plight of Assistant Divisional Fire Officer Vishwajeet Nikam, 53. Attached to the Byculla Mumbai Fire Brigade Head Quarters, Nikam is disabled. He lost his leg when a tree fell on him in 2008 near the Sales Tax office in Mazgaon.
On Thursday, he was back at the BMC's E-Ward office in Byculla in his third attempt to register and get his fingerprints recorded. "In the last two attempts, a week after registering my fingerprints, the bio-metric fingerprint reading displayed an error message," he says. He has written to the Chief Fire Officer as minus the updated fingerprints, his attendance does not get registered. The Administrative Officer, stated that in case of non-payment of salary, the fire department will not be responsible. Nikam adds, "I have been reporting to work daily and I have my attendance marked in the manual register. Instead of finding a solution to resolve my problem, I am made to run from pillar to post." He has now been told that if the third attempt is unsuccessful, he will have to go to the UIDAI registered head office in Cuffe Parade, else his December salary will also be withheld. "I have two college-going children, my life policy premiums, groceries, instalment for my wheelchair, are all due for the month," says the worried officer. Staff at the BMC headquarters, wards and hospitals are also among those who have not been paid.
Anilraj Kaveskar, executive coordinator at BMC's HR Department, says individual departments need to take the initiative of installing IRIS scanning facilities (which cost approximately Rs 15,000 apiece) for those employees whose fingerprints don't register. "But the department concerned will have to bear the cost for their staff," he adds. Meanwhile, the likes of Nikam may have earned themselves a little more time with the Union government last Thursday informing the Supreme Court that it will extend the deadline for linking Aadhaar to bank accounts, policies and schemes to March 31, 2018. Attorney General K K Venugopal, however, said the last date for linking Aadhaar to mobile services remains February 6, 2018 in pursuance of a judicial order.
Should you toe the line?
"People will have to abide by the law of the land, irrespective of it being valid or invalid constitutionally. The Supreme Court's directives will need to be abided by the citizens of this country," says Justice A R Lakshmanan, former judge, Supreme Court of India and former chairman Law Commission of India. Senior Advocate Amit Desai says, "The public does not have the choice to say 'no' to linking their Aadhaar numbers with their bank accounts, because, the RBI under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act has issued a notification for linking of Aadhaar with bank accounts."
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Her petition is in SC
Dr Kalayani Menon Sen, activist from Gurgaon who moved a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of RBI's decision to make linking of bank accounts with Aadhaar mandatory says, "The petitions before the SC include detailed documen-tation of the multiple vulnerabilities and violations that Aadhaar has spawned. I don't have an Aadhaar and I'm not going to be bulldozed into getting one before an SC ruling.'
Ajay Bhushan Pandey, chief executive officer, UIDAI, Delhi, was not available for comment. His office said the CEO was out of the country and would return next week. In his absence, a senior official from the Delhi office, said Aadhaar facilitation centres were shut because of numerous complaints from the public, stating that centres operated by private parties were charging money for registration. "New centres have come up at government and semi-government institutions. Even banks have been told to have at least 10 per cent of their branches offer Aadhaar facilitation centres," he said. Individual service providers - banks, cellphone service providers, etc, - will not be provided data by UIDAI, he added. "Instead, once they get a customer's Aadhaar number, they will have to confirm with the site and link it to each individual account."
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