Monday, 30th October 2017

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NRC fear fuels card rush

Seeding of Aadhaar and ration cards at breakneck pace over identity proof apprehension

By Pranesh Sarakar in Calcutta
  • Published 15.01.20, 1:07 AM
  • Updated 15.01.20, 1:07 AM
  • 2 mins read
Sources in the state administration said the sense of urgency seemed to have been sparked by the fears over the NRC and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Shutterstock

Around 6.2 crore people in Bengal have seeded their Aadhaar cards with ration cards since the state government launched a drive to link the two in the last week of November, mirroring the fear among people over the BJP-led Centre’s new citizenship regimen.

“The food and supplies department had taken an initiative to link 9.16 crore ration cards with Aadhaar cards following a Supreme Court order. So far, more than 6.2 crore people have seeded their Aadhaar cards with their ration cards. The response was unexpected as people generally have reservations about linking Aadhaar cards with other documents,” a bureaucrat said.

Officials said they had thought initially that the process could take more than a year to get completed, given the usual apathy among people to link their Aadhaar with other documents.

A section of the officials implementing the programme said they had kept in mind that the Centre had been forced to extend the deadline to seed Aadhaar with PAN cards several times because of lack of interest and awareness.

“But the rush in Bengal to seed Aadhaar with ration cards was a bit surprising. It now appears that we can achieve the target much before the October 2020 deadline,” a source said.

The rush has been despite the fact that the Bengal government had not made it mandatory to link Aadhaar with ration cards to receive cheap food grain or any other facility available to ration cardholders.

Sources in the state administration said the sense of urgency seemed to have been sparked by the fears over the NRC and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

The apprehensions have refused to die down after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that his government had never discussed the implementation of the NRC across the country.

Besides, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has repeatedly assured that an NRC exercise would not be carried out in Bengal.

“The fear is so palpable that people are not listening to any reassurance…. The progress of linking ration cards with Aadhaar cards has been at a breakneck speed. In most districts, particularly those near the borders, almost 80 per cent of the population are getting the seeding done,” a senior official said.

Officials said people were in general aware that ration cards were not considered while establishing nationality or identity as it did not feature on the list of documents required to claim nationality for the NRC in Assam.

The primary reason behind the rush, the sources said, was an attempt to convert the ration cards into a valid document to establish identity and place of residence in case the NRC is rolled out across the country.

“Many people asked our officers implementing the programme in the districts whether the ration cards would now have their biometric details. When they were informed that each time they collect their allotment from ration shops, their biometric data would be verified, they were happy,” said a source.

Given the rush at the seeding centres, the food and supplies department has decided to expedite the verification process.

“Officials working on the field have complained of slow authentication by the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) when the beneficiaries are trying to match their biometric data through the PoS (point-of-sale) machines at the ration shops. Once the verification and authentication process is expedited, we expect to complete the seeding by March this year,” a source said.