New Delhi: It was billed as just another identity number at the start and critics were seen writing its epitaph in 2014, but Aadhaar laid a strong foundation for itself and is set to be a preferred tool for various people- focussed initiatives of the government in the new year.
Having issued 12-digit individual identification number, or Aadhaar, to over 72 crore residents in the county so far, the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) is now looking to cross 100-crore mark in the coming year 2015.
Along the way, it has become a base tool for doling out various government benefits including subsidies and is even being used for issuance of basic services like mobile numbers by private players. There are also talks about matrimonial websites insisting on Aaadhar-verification to root out fake profiles of prospective brides and grooms from such platforms.
All this follows an eventful year in 2014 when the UIDAI saw its founder chief Nandan Nilekani leaving the ambitious project of the last UPA government for joining electoral politics.
While Nilekani could not win the elections and the UIDAI has remained headless since his exit, the former chief and co-founder of IT giant Infosys was successful in convincing the NDA government about benefits of Aadhaar. As a result, speculations soon subsided about UIDAI hitting the end of the road under the new regime.
Subsequently, the government has begun using Aadhaar for weeding out the ghost beneficiaries of subsidies and other benefits, as also to curb corruption and to put an additional layer of checks against terrorism and other crimes.
In his first Union Budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley even increased the allocation for the project to Rs 2,039 crore, from Rs 1,550 crore in the previous fiscal, while making it clear that the new government wants to use Aadhaar platform for 'anywhere and anytime authentication' for providing host of services and benefits to the citizens.
However, there still remains an uncertainty about whether the UIDAI, which was set up in January 2009, and was put under the Planning Commission, would remain under the new institution that would replace the plan panel.
The new government has, however, stated very clearly that it wants UIDAI to generate 100 crore Aadhaar numbers by 2015.
When the project was started, UIDAI was mandated to collect biometrics of 60 crore residents in the country and rest of the population was to be covered under the National Population Register (NPR) project. However, it has already crossed 72 crore, out of which nearly 18 crore numbers have been issued during 2014 itself.
Initially, UIDAI was to enrol residents in 18 states in the country. Realising the importance of Aadhaar project and slow progress by NPR, the previous government allocated four more states -- Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar to UIDAI for enrolments in February this year.
The new government too continued the process by approving the Phase-V of UIDAI scheme to undertake enrolments in these four states.
The 100 crore Aadhaar numbers will also include UIDAI numbers issued for enrolments done under the National Population Register process in 12 states and union territories allocated to it.
Now, the new government wants to use Aadhaar for a host of schemes and services including for opening bank account, issuance of mobile telephone SIM, scholarships and for verifying credential of a person for issuing passport.
The government has also provided a fresh impetus to the UIDAI, by linking Aadhaar to various schemes and initiatives, including the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, MGNREGA, Pensions, Scholarships, Direct Benefit Transfer of LPG subsidy, Universal Account Number of the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation, Public Distribution System and Attendance System in government offices, among others.
The Prime Minster office has also instructed that all prisoners across the country be enrolled for Aadhaar.
However, the National Identification Authority bill, which was introduced in the winter session of Parliament in 2013, continues to hang in balance.
The amendments that were made in the draft bill pertain to addressing privacy aspects of the bill, enhancing protection of information, introducing penalty and offences to ensure data protection, among other issues.
Though the future of the Aadhaar projects seems to be bright, the government would have to take initiative for providing a legal status to it in 2015.