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In the border districts of West Bengal, Aadhaar cards are being freely issued with the connivance of politicians to Bangladeshi migrants. This poses a serious security threat

~By Sujit Bhar

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) issues Aadhaar cards which have been effective in ensuring that subsidies are transferred to the targeted people without any leakages. But the card, seven years after it came into existence, has also been put to much misuse as is the case in the sensitive border districts of West Bengal where it is being issued to all and sundry. This impinges on national security since persons who are not Indians can indirectly claim citizenship because they possess a UID number.      

Technically speaking, possession of an Aadhaar card does not in itself grant any rights to domicile in India. But my making it virtually essential for almost every action of a citizen, the government may have made it a convenient instrument to claim Indian nationality. Once a person possesses an Aadhaar card, he or she can then use this primary identification document to get a passport, a ration card, a bank account, a PAN card etc. He or she can then go on to claim full citizenship and benefits that accrue with it and will come under the Indian security umbrella and have access to redressal under India’s legal system.

The government may have involuntarily made the Aadhaar card a convenient instrument to illegally claim Indian nationality

THE BORDER SITUATION

That is where the situation in Bengal assumes importance. People in the north-eastern districts of West Bengal live under an administration that by commission or omission allow illegal migration from Bangladesh—the earlier estimate of 650 persons crossing the border per day has not quite reduced. And political parties in the state are quick to provide new entrants with the documents required to legitimise their citizenship provided they promise to vote for them.

It isn’t that providing assistance to illegal immigrants is only happening in the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress regime. It was also rampant in the 34-years that the Left Front government was in power. It is just that the Aadhaar card and the manner in which it is being issued without any verification has added a new dimension to the migrant problem. A card which provides official identification can be exploited by those claiming they are Indian citizens.

Aadhaar Authentication

Some salient points in the The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 Sec 2. (c) “’authentication’ means the process by which the Aadhaar number along with demographic information or biometric information of an individual is submitted to the Central Identities Data Repository for its verification and such Repository verifies the correctness, or the lack thereof, on the basis of information available with it;

(d) “authentication record” means the record of the time of authentication and identity of the requesting entity and the response provided by the Authority thereto;

(g) “biometric information” means photograph, finger print, Iris scan, or such other biological attributes of an individual as may be specified by regulations;

(j) “core biometric information” means finger print, Iris scan, or such other biological attribute of an individual as may be specified by regulations;

(k) “demographic information” includes information relating to the name, date of birth, address and other relevant information of an individual, as may be specified by regulations for the purpose of issuing an Aadhaar number, but shall not include race, religion, caste, tribe, ethnicity, language, records of entitlement, income or medical history.”

The Supreme Court last month said it would have to constitute a seven-judge constitution bench to determine whether the government can make Aadhaar cards mandatory to claim benefits of welfare schemes and whether it can be extended to cover areas like the opening of bank accounts and filing tax returns. The issue has been hanging fire in India’s apex court for a while. It was brought before the Chief Justice of India (CJI) JS Khehar for urgent hearing but he said that the matter will “take time.” No date has been set for the hearing.

The SC has said it would have to constitute a seven-judge bench to determine if Aadhaar cards can be made mandatory.

MODUS OPERANDI

Here is the modus operandi followed by political parties in West Bengal to issue Aadhaar cards to illegal migrants:

According to the Citizens’ Charter for the UIDAI, the stakeholders are defined. Going by it, resident “means an individual who has resided in India for a period or periods amounting in all to one hundred and eighty-two days or more in the twelve months immediately preceding the date of application for enrolment.”  However, this definition, in word and spirit, is being taken to extreme lengths to prove that the immigrants have been around for as many days as defined.

People in these districts are not even expected to possess passports (though many of them actually hold Bangladeshi passports, which are quickly destroyed). So other supporting documents, including letters of recommendation from local leaders are used to establish identity.

According to a senior police official, it is difficult to ignore recommendations from MLAs and politicians and discounting a claim is tedious. “Since the language of the migrant is the same as the locals and physical features are similar it is difficult to make out the difference by mere inspection of a person. Investigating the authenticity of the suspiciously new birth certificates they carry is possible but that is a time consuming and expensive process,” he says adding “One option is to investigate his/her whereabouts in his/her current locality, ask neighbours. However, with skeletal infrastructure and little funding it becomes a near impossible task.”

This is the situation that prevails in the districts of Malda, Murshidabad and parts of South and North 24 Parganas where Aadhaar cards are being freely issued. It is not just because of the subsidies and the forged bank accounts that there is need to worry. It is because these accounts, mostly Jan Dhan, are becoming primary vehicles for funding sleeper cells of terrorist groups. The money that used to come in as cash till recently, have quietly moved into these accounts post-demonetisation.

At the end of the day, the basic point is this. The UID programme has been turned into a tool of deceit by politicians and terror groups alike in these border districts of West Bengal. It is time the authorities wake up.

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