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Aadhaar verdict scuttles Modi's JAM plan?

The 1,448 page majority verdict of the Supreme Court on the petitions that questioned the Constitutional Validity of Aadhaar, the 12 digit biometric linked unique identity number, says that possession of Aadhaar should not be made mandatory for a person opening a bank account or maintaining an existing bank account.

twitter-logo Joe C Mathew   New Delhi     Last Updated: September 26, 2018  | 18:29 IST
Aadhaar verdict scuttles Modi's JAM plan?

"JAM vision, will serve as the bedrock of many initiatives to come. For me, JAM is about Just Achieving Maximum. Maximum value for every rupee spent. Maximum empowerment for our poor. Maximum technology penetration among the masses."

-Narendra Modi

By maintaining that linking bank accounts, mobile numbers with Aadhaar is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court may have indirectly made the Prime Minister's grand Jan Dhan (low cost) bank account, Aadhaar and Mobile phone (JAM) vision complicated.

The 1,448 page majority verdict of the Supreme Court on the petitions that questioned the Constitutional Validity of Aadhaar, the 12 digit biometric linked unique identity number, says that possession of Aadhaar should not be made mandatory for a person opening a bank account or maintaining an existing bank account.  It also makes it clear that the government's plan to link mobile numbers with Aadhaar is illegal and unconstitutional. The verdict, however, makes Aadhaar mandatory for availing the benefits of social welfare schemes and government subsidies.

The JAM vision incidentally is a mix of all three. While the government will have no problems in authenticating the actual beneficiary of its welfare scheme using the person's Aadhaar linked biometrics, it is unclear whether the cash entitlement can be transferred to a bank account that is not linked to the same Aadhaar number, or transferred to a mobile banking mechanism where the mobile number is not linked with the beneficiary's Aadhaar.

The grandiose plan of the government was to popularise cashless transactions through BHIM App and Unified Payments Interface (UPI) by linking these with Aadhaar and low cost bank accounts. The Supreme Court verdict may impact that integration plan. The government was hoping that the integrated platform, though full of implementation challenges, will result in seamless access to financial services including pension and insurance products in near future.

In fact one of the recent Economic Survey documents had identified last mile connectivity of banks as one of the major constraints of implementing JAM. It had suggested that the government should improve financial inclusion by developing banking correspondents and mobile money networks for future, while looking at Biometrically Authenticated Physical Uptake (BAPU) as an immediate measure in the interim. Supreme Court verdict has clearly favoured BAPU over JAM.

According to Reetika Khera, an economist, social scientist and anti-Aadhaar campaigner, the verdict is disappointing as it provides little relief to the poor from Aadhaar in terms of accessing essential entitlements. "It is disappointing that the judges who have signed the majority opinion have believed the government's false assurances that nobody will be denied their entitlements due to Aadhaar. We know that governments have been blatantly violating the Supreme Court's orders since 2013, and in its present form, exclusion is built into the Aadhaar ecosystem".

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