Aadhaar has been understood as being ‘voluntary’ in nature. However, the government has left no stone unturned in mandating its use if one wants to interact with the government using any existing interface of exchange.
In an organizational structure, it is understood that two separate channels of communication exist. One is the formal channel of communication which follows the line of hierarchy of the organization.
Second is the informal channel, in the popular parlance, termed as ‘grapevine’. As the name suggests, the formal channel is the established, legitimate and verifiable channel of communication. However, communications still mostly happen through the informal channel, and though not having the formal backing of the organizational structure, such communication is more relied upon, sought after and followed.
The above analogy holds good for the way the process of Aadhaar implementation has unfolded in India. As far as formal communication goes, Aadhaar has always been portrayed as being ‘voluntary’ in nature. However, the government has left no stone unturned in mandating its use if one wants to interact with the government using any existing interface of communication between itself, or even the private service providers, and the people. So while the apex court of the country is yet to decide on the legitimacy of government’s actions that have intended to make Aadhaar mandatory for availing of entitlements, the government has yet again conceptualized the new National Health Protection Scheme revolving around Aadhaar as the primary document to be relied upon in order to identify beneficiaries. Whereas provisions have been made for the use of other documents if Aadhaar is not available, however it is also provided that a time limit will be advised to the patient for registering with Aadhaar, and treatment without Aadhaar will be given only for the first time.
We have already been a witness to a number of policy induced deaths, wherein people have died of starvation as they have been refused their entitled ration in absence of valid Aadhaar number. This is despite the maintenance of the recurrent narrative by the government and the courts alike that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory, especially for identifying beneficiaries in case of entitlements.
Herein comes the crucial role of ‘grapevine’. Despite mandating of Aadhaar being illegal, the government and its agencies have created such a strong informal communication channel that it has been made practically impossible to avoid Aadhaar registration. For instance, recently I shifted into a new rented accommodation. I was very casually informed that the system itself would not allow registration of the rent agreement if I did-not provide my Aadhaar number. Similarly, I was being heavily pressurized by my telecom operator, a private company that it was mandatory for me to provide my Aadhaar details if I wanted my services to continue. In such cases it becomes irrelevant to argue on the legality of such actions as firstly, there is no hearing given to you and not even the slightest amount of energy is invested by the counterparty in understanding the facts of the situation. In the present times, no-one wants to be seen being on the wrong side of the government.
Secondly, even if you maintain your stand steadfastly, then you would have to be ready to either forget about availing of the service in question or be ready to fight long court battles, which is not a very viable option for many. Much worse, however, is the condition of those whose daily existence depends on their entitlements. The state has proven that it does-not shed even a false tear for those who are losing their lives even in the process of having to prove their legitimacy as Indian citizens.
It is amply clear that even court directions and legalities are not a concern when the executive decides to have its way. There are numerous ways and means through which the intended actions are carried out, while at the same time paying lip-service when it comes to obeying the law, and hoodwinking it in the process. The implementation of Aadhaar has been a case in point, where, despite contrary court directions, reports of misuse, security threats, even deaths of common people, the government has continued on its mission to make its use universal and mandatory. The new National Health Protection Scheme, in spirit, follows the same trajectory.