Bhanu Upadhyay, a postdoctoral fellow at IIT Bombay, has been looking for an Aadhaar card for the past 18 months. The 33-year-old Nepali-origin resident of Assam's Aadhaar application is "still under process" after numerous calls to toll-free numbers, e-mails, and visits to application centers.
Upadhyay, a native of Abhongpathar, a remote village in Golaghat district, was able to circumvent the requirement for a unique identifying number.“But it’s giving me sleepless nights now since I will be applying for jobs at central institutions which won’t accept my application without Aadhaar,” he stated.
Upadhyay isn't the only one who thinks this way. Around eight lakh persons who gave biometric information and were included in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) published on August 31, 2019, are unable to obtain Aadhaar and are concerned about the benefits that come with it. Although 27 lakh persons submitted their biometrics, 19 lakh of them were unable to locate their identities in the NRC.
Officials from the state administration believe it is a "one-of-a-kind problem," blaming it on red tape and a lack of understanding about the NRC process itself. The state raised the problem in a letter to India's Registrar General, but no action has been taken as of yet.
A Supreme Court-approved Standard Operating Procedure from November 2018 is at the root of the issue (SOP). Those who were not included in the draught NRC list published on July 31, 2018, were required to provide their biometrics during the ‘claims' (to include themselves in the NRC) and ‘objections' (to object to someone else's inclusion) hearings, according to the SOP. These hearings took place in the weeks leading up to the release of the entire list on August 31, 2019.
“Once the final NRC has been published, such persons who are included in the NRC will be given the usual Aadhaar number as applicable to legal residents in the country,” Clause 9 of the SOP said. According to officials engaged in the SOP's formulation, the clause was introduced as a security measure to maintain track of the digital entities of persons who may be removed from the list.
The state's Home and Political Department was appointed as the exercise's registrar, with the UIDAI providing technical assistance. During the procedure, the UIDAI obtained the biometric information of 27,43,396 people.
Upadhyay recalls going to Guwahati — and then driving to Sarupathar in Golaghat — for the hearing in March 2019. His mother had arrived at the NRC, but his father, sister, and he had not.“The officials told us that once the list is out, we would get our Aadhaar cards,” he said. On August 31, all three made it to the NRC. “I was glad the ordeal was over,” he stated, but the Aadhaar ordeal had just begun.
The biometrics freeze is tied to the fate of the NRC, which is still in limbo two years after its release: the Registrar General of India has not notified it, and the Supreme Court, which oversaw the process from 2013, has not heard the case since January 6, 2020. Both the BJP administration and the NRC state coordinator have refused to recognise it, and are now pushing for a "revised" NRC.
“Right now, nothing is happening,” said an NRC officer who asked to remain anonymous. H D Sarma, the NRC state coordinator, filed an affidavit with the Gauhati High Court last year, describing the August 31 list as a "supplementary" list and requesting re-verification.
The Supreme Court SOP clearly said that Aadhaar will be issued to people who are part of the "final NRC," according to sources in the NRC state coordinator's office.“But the NRC we have now is not final…so how can we share information on the applicant data — even if it is for an Aadhaar card? That will mean violating the SC order,” the official stated.
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