Oppn forces RS adjournment protesting Aadhaar-linked benefits

New Delhi : A united opposition today disrupted Rajya Sabha proceedings protesting against making Aadhaar card mandatory for availing government benefits like subsidised LPG, PDS supplies and pensions, forcing its adjournment thrice since morning.

The House was first adjourned till noon, then for about 15 minutes and once again till 2 PM as the Opposition uproar continued unabated.

Opposition TMC, BJD and SP had given notices for suspension of business to take up the issue which also found support from the Left parties and the Congress. The notices were rejected by the Chair.

While the government clarified that the unique identification number (UID) or Aadhaar card issued to citizens was not mandatory for availing government benefits and necessary instruction to this effect were being issued, dissatisfied opposition members trooped into the Well raising slogans, forcing adjournment of proceedings till noon.

Soon after the House assembled and listed papers laid, Naresh Agarwal (SP), Derek O’Brien (TMC) and Dilip Tirkey (BJD) said they had given notices under rule 267, but Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said their motion has not been permitted.

Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) said the Centre has issued instructions to state governments to stop ration card benefits, pensions and subsidised LPG to those not having Aadhaar card.

As much as 40 per cent of the population do not have Aadhaar card and the move will hit the poor hard, he said.

Derek O’Brien said the BJP-led government talks of cooperative federalism but takes decisions without discussing with states. Making Aadhaar mandatory will have serious repurcusions across the country, he said.

Tirkey (BJD) said with 20 per cent of the population in Odisha do not have Aadhaar card, the instruction by the Centre will only create problems for the poor.

In his response, Minister for Urban Development M Venkaiah Naidu said the Act passed by Parliament provides that government benefits can be availed through Aadhaar cards.
The government, he said, has taken note of the concerns raised by members. “It (Aadhaar card) is not compulsory. If necessary, necessary instructions will be issued,” he said.

The Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) – the scheme of paying government benefits directly to users, was started by the previous UPA government, he said, adding “DBT is need of the hour” as it helps eliminate corruption, middlemen and leakages.

Observing that Aadhaar will not be made mandatory till the entire population gets such cards or UID numbers, he said “I will ensure necessary clarification is issued at the earliest.”

Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said people who have not got Aadhaar have been asked to get them in next three months after which their LPG subsidy will be “parked” separately. “It is not being cut,” he said.

Stating that 85 per cent population have got Aadhaar card, Pradhan said the penetration can be pushed only with the effort of the state government.

Sharad Yadav (JD-U) said decisions impacting poor should be taken with utmost sensitivity.

Observing that DBT is not just about having Aadhaar card but the benefit has to go into bank accounts of beneficiaries, Tapan Kumar Sen (CPI-M) said the issue is linked to opening accounts and bank branches.

Naresh Agarwal (SP) said the Centre has sent three departmental orders asking state governments to stop supply under public distribution system (PDS) to those ration card holders not having Aadhaar card, terminate their pension and subsidised LPG to those not having these cards.

Sukhendu Sekhar Roy (TMC) asked if the government was aware of the October 2015 order of the Supreme Court that Aadhaar should be voluntary and not compulsory.

While the Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act grants exemption to those who have applied for Aadhaar but not got it yet, will the same exemption apply to a person who has failed to apply for the card due to ignorance or poverty, he asked.

Rajeev Shukla (Cong) said 68 per cent of the population were issued Aadhaar cards when the UPA was in power but the process has slowed down during two years of NDA rule. Till the cards are issued, people should not be deprived of benefits, he said.

Naidu said the process of issuing Aadhaar cards has to be hastened. Till now 100 crore Aadhaar cards have been issued and some remain. The process of issue of Aadhaar to those left out has to be completed early. “We will do it,” he said.

But the members were not satisfied and trooped in to the Well of the House raising anti-government slogans.

Deputy Chairman P J Kurien termed the situation as very unfortunate and said “You (opposition) raised relevant points. Minister responded. Now what is the need for this obstruction. This is unfair.”

In the din, Pradhan said exemption for Aadhaar based transfer of benefits was given to Assam and a similar request of Mizoram, where only 55 per cent have got Aadhaar cards, is under consideration. He also alleged that a group of middlemen was against issue of Aadhaar cards to all beneficiaries.