The Finance Ministry and other government departments have told a Right to Information applicant they do not have information on rules or procedures to identify beneficiaries of state-sponsored subsidies under the Aadhaar Act.
Business Standard assessed the government's responses to the RTI application filed by Dr Anupam Saraph, who is based in Pune. The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 declares that its purpose is “to provide for, as a good governance, efficient, transparent, and targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services.” Further, the Act states the requirement of Aadhar as a necessary condition for receiving benefits.
J Satyanarayana, chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India or UIDAI, the organisation that issues Indians their Aadhaar numbers, made a similar statement in 2018. He had said that the Aadhaar-based Direct Benefit Transfer has saved Rs 90,012 crore for the country as the system was able to ‘weed out bogus and duplicate beneficiaries by using Aadhaar’.
Saraph sought information on a full citation of rules to identify beneficiaries, officers tasked with maintaining a database of beneficiaries, processes to identify any fake beneficiaries, procedures and algorithms involved in the process and a district-wise break-up of the number of fake beneficiaries.
In the first response to his RTI application, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) for the Department of Financial Services in the Finance Ministry said that the department did not have the information sought. It then transferred the query to all the other departments of the Ministry.
Response by CPIO for Department of Financial Services
The responses by other departments of the Finance Ministry were not collated by the CPIO. Later, the application was transferred to the Health and Family Welfare Ministry, which too said it didn’t have any information.
“Over the next several months I received RTI responses from different states and ministries on the issue. I was buried under responses. The responses have not been useful. Neither any state government nor any ministry has replied satisfactorily. I even received a response from ISRO stating that they are not involved in granting subsidies! The RTI online set up does not allow you to see who has transferred your application,” says Dr Saraph, referring to the Indian Space Research Organisation.
"I was buried under responses," says Dr Saraph. Responses such as this came in from different govt bodies.
Unsatisfied with the responses, Dr Saraph sought an appeal. The First Appellate Authority, which presides over first appeals for RTI queries, similarly declared that the information sought is not available.
Not all questions, however, pertain only to identification of beneficiaries. The RTI application also sought information leading to the decision to switch the mode of transferring subsidies. Earlier, NEFT/RTGS -- run by RBI -- was used for transferring benefits and subsidies. This was later changed to an Aadhaar-enabled platform run by NPCI -- a non-governmental body. No information regarding this switch in mediums has been provided, either.
“All the facts related to a shift in identifying and transferring subsidies should be made public. Particularly those related to the transfer of beneficiary databases to the ecosystem of private players around Aadhaar,” said Dr Saraph.
A hearing on this matter will be conducted by the Central Information Commission (CIC) on the 20th of October.