Until yesterday, Tembhali village in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district, which has a population of 1,522, did not even have telephone lines. But today, 10 of the residents of this village have something that no one else in India possesses yet — the unique identification number (Aadhaar).
Numbered by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the first set of citizens of India were given Aadhaar today.
But, even as India’s two top leaders enumerated the merits of the numbers the tribal families of the village had just been given, other families were furious, oblivious to the honour bestowed on their village. Many tribals waved black flags during Gandhi’s speech, broke the barricades and had to be pushed down to the ground by the police. These villagers were demanding development, education and health.
Singh explained in his speech why Aadhaar — a unique 12-digit number that will store information like an individual’s name, face and biometric scans — is important.
“The poor did not have any proof of identity. They could not open bank accounts or get ration cards. They could not avail of the benefits of government welfare programmes and often these benefits were pocketed by others,” Singh said.
He added the rest of India would have to be patient, but everyone would get the number. “We are moving fast in the field of technology. Nowhere in the world, has technology been used in such a big way. I hope every citizen will get this number very soon,” he said. Gandhi said the UID scheme would help plug loopholes in the Public Distribution System. “The problem of fake ration cards will be over now,” she said.
Nandurbar had been a safe bastion for the Congress, but the party’s political fortunes have taken a hit in the recent past. Gandhi, who held her first political rally in the district in 1998, knew that this needed to change.
She said the government had done a lot for the tribals and a Forest Act to safeguard the tribals’ rights on forest land had been enacted.
In addition, the government had enacted the Right to Information and Right to Education Acts, besides an employment guarantee scheme to empower the aam admi. Aadhaar had the same objective, she said.
Unique Identification Authority of India Chairman Nandan Nilekani informed that about 60 per cent of the people of the country were expected to be covered in the next three years.