Centre for Internet & Society

The government has decided to stop issuing new smart cards to beneficiaries of government schemes as Aadhaar is now backed by a law.

The article by Somesh Jha was published in the Hindu on April 10, 2016. Sunil Abraham was quoted.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has issued strict instructions to the Information Technology Ministry to ensure that States and the Central governmentstop issuing smart cards for new programmes for beneficiaries, and to rely on the Aadhaar-based Direct Benefit Transfer platform instead.

The move will impact ministries such as Labour, Social Justice and Health, which are in the process or have already rolled out smart cards.

The government had said earlier that over 100 crore people, constituting 93 per cent of the adult population, had a unique identification (UID) number under the Aadhaar platform.

“The undersigned is directed to request the department to examine the need for state and central government departments to issue separate smart cards in the light of the near universal coverage of Aadhaar and the delivery of the most public welfare benefits through Aadhaar enabled platforms,” according to a directive issued by Gulzar N, Director, PMO, to Aruna Sharma, Secretary, Department of Electronics and Information Technology.

“The undersigned is also directed to request the department to prepare policy on the delivery of various public services using Aadhaar, Jan Dhan Yojana and existing platforms without the issuance of new smart cards.”

Last month, Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot had announced that all differently abled persons would soon get a unique identity card to avail welfare schemes. .

State governments had also planned to use smart card technology for welfare schemes. For instance, Odisha was mulling smart cards for construction workers in the State.

The PMO sent a separate communiqué to Labour Secretary Shankar Aggarwal in the context of a proposal to issue 40 crore smart cards to informal sector workers, called the Unorganised Workers’ Identification Number (U-WIN). The UWIN cards were to be used by these workers to access benefits under schemes such as Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana , Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana , Atal Pension Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana.

The PMO rejected the proposal noting that Aadhaar would act as a “universal unique identifier for each citizen.”

“Adding a UWIN number would not only duplicate work, but also introduce further problems in linking up with other databases which have already been linked with Aadhaar,” said the missive reviewed by The Hindu.

However, experts are sceptical of the government’s move.

“Smart cards are always better than biometrics. If that was not the case, the global financial infrastructure today will be working on biometrics and not on smart cards,” said Sunil Abraham, executive director of The Centre for Internet and Society.

“Why are these banks working on smart cards? Smart cards work using cryptography, which is more fool-proof than biometrics. Biometrics allow for remote, covert and non-consensual identification,” Mr. Abraham said.

Smart card vendors, however, said the move may not impact their market. “The demand for smart cards is massive in all the other segments such as for use in debit and credit cards or driving licenses and vehicle registration numbers,” said Deven Mehta, managing director of the Mumbai-based Smart Card IT Solutions.