When Common Service Centres (CSC) began emerging across the country in 2006, it signalled the end of long queues at government offices and the beginning of rural entrepreneurship and employment. Over time and with the advent of Aadhaar, these CSCs became one-stop shops for delivery of public utility services, social welfare schemes, healthcare, financial, education and agricultural services.
So instead of having to travel long distances to get to an over-burdened government centre, Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) were roped in to provide G2C (government to centre) and some B2C (business to consumer) services at a nominal rate fixed by the government on the basis of one’s source of income.
G2C services provided by the CSCs include insurance, passport, PAN card, birth/death certificates and voter ID cards. When the Aadhaar was launched in 2009, these CSCs provided a ready-made platform for the last mile enrolment of citizens with the Unique Identification Development Authority of India (UIDAI). As of 31 March 2016, 10 years since their launch, close to two lakh CSCs were operational in the country. Of these, 25,000 centres were authorised by the UIDAI and equipped to capture biometric data, register and print Aadhaar cards.
On 2 July 2017, the UIDAI asked the states to ensure that all enrolments, even those by private agencies, shift from private, external sites to government or municipal premises. This exercise was to be completed by 31 August 2017. The decision was prompted by the repeated complaints of private operators overcharging for Aadhaar enrolments and the need to closely monitor updating of the database.
On 6 February 2018, the UIDAI refused to renew its Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with CSC, “in view of the enormous number of complaints of corruption and enrolment process violations against Aadhaar enrolment...”
One Ministry, Two Agencies, Zero Co-ordination
Interestingly, both the UIDAI and the CSC e-Governance Services, a special purpose vehicle, fall under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. The timing of the decision is also curious, coming as it does, just a month after the Minister for IT and Law, Ravi Shankar Prasad launched a door-step facility for elderly patients and others who could not travel to a CSC to get their Aadhaar card.
UIDAI’s decision to end its partnership with CSC e-Governance Services is bound to affect millions of Indians living in rural areas, who will now be required to travel to government centres to complete all Aadhaar-related formalities, whether availing welfare benefits, updating particulars, linking mobile numbers or more.
There’s also the question of VLEs’ investment in biometric equipment. With the government pushing to link all services to Aadhaar, VLEs were encouraged to invest in biometric equipment, which could cost anything between Rs 50,000-60,000 – not exactly loose change for rural entrepreneurs.
Why would one arm of the government cut another off without as much as attempting to fix the problem? Experts say this knee-jerk reaction to ban the problem and hope for it to go away, is bound to affect millions of Indians living in rural areas and further compound India’s Aadhaar challenge.