Children at government schools will not be eligible for their free mid-day meals unless they have an Aadhaar number. The Ministry of Human Resource Development made the possession of the 12-digit Aadhaar number mandatory for all students who wish to avail the mid-day meals scheme as well as for the cook-cum-helpers who serve them.
In case a student or a helper does not have an Aadhaar card yet, they must enrol themselves them by June 30. According to the notice released by the HRD Ministry, “The use of Aadhaar as an identity document for delivery of services, benefits or subsidies simplifies the government delivery process and enables beneficiaries to get their entitlements directly and in a seamless manner.”
The government is on an Aadhaar spree
In the last week, five central government ministries have issued a series of 14 similar notifications for 11 schemes, including access to primary and secondary education. This has been seen as a move in lieu with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s digitisation move.
The Ministry used Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, 2016 to implement many of these rules. Section 7 states that “The Central Government or the State Government may … as a condition for receipt of a subsidy, benefit or service … require that such individual undergo authentication, or furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar number or in the case of an individual to whom no Aadhaar number has been assigned, such individual makes an application for enrollment: Provided that if an Aadhaar number is not assigned to an individual, the individual shall be offered alternate and viable means of identification for delivery of the subsidy, benefit or service.”
The Midday Meal Scheme
The Mid-day Meal Scheme is a school meal program of the Government of India designed to improve the nutritional status of school-age children nationwide. The program supplies free lunches on working days for children in primary and upper primary classes in government, government-aided, and local body schools. Serving 120,000,000 children in over 1,265,000 schools, it is the largest such program in the world.
Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data. The data is collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), a statutory authority established on 12 July 2016 by the Government of India, under the provisions of the Aadhaar Act 2016. Aadhaar is the world’s largest biometric ID system, with over 1.1 billion enrolled members as of 28 February 2017.
More than 98% of adults in India have enrolled in the Aadhaar scheme. However, of the 23.4 crore Indians who did not have an Aadhaar number in 2016, 21.7 crore – more than 90% – were children.
What the Supreme Court has said
“No person shall be deprived of any service for want of Aadhaar number in case he/she is otherwise eligible/entitled. All the authorities are directed to modify their forms/circulars/likes so as to not compulsorily require the Aadhaar number in order to meet the requirement of the interim order passed by this Court forthwith. – The Supreme Court, 2014.
The Supreme Court has passed three orders saying the centre cannot make having an Aadhaar number a precondition to access public services. Previously, an SC bench had said, “The Aadhaar card Scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this Court one way or the other.”
The Logical Indian take
To combat India’s notorious malnutrition problems, successive governments have taken progressive steps with certain food security programmes like Integrated Child Development Services scheme, the Public Distribution System, and the Midday Meal Scheme. These programmes are the backbone of our country’s measures to curb malnutrition.
At the same time, the Aadhaar scheme has evolved in a short span of time to become the largest biometric identification system in the world. The government aims to bring every Indian under Aadhaar’s mandate, which could be propelled by making the possession of the Aadhaar number mandatory for availing government schemes and services.
The problem, however, is that the Mid-day Meals Scheme is vital for the advancement of rural education. Given how children represent over 90% of those without an Aadhaar number, this is bound to discourage them and their parents.
As such, it is crucial that the deadline of June 30 is efficiently met. That is, the government should ensure that Aadhaar enrollment awareness is spread in relevant areas so that when June 30 arrives no child will be negatively affected.
At the same time, the contention between the recent government orders and the Supreme Court’s previous observations should be clarified as soon as possible since they completely contradict each other.