This kind of coercion has extended to e-commerce services, too.

Proactive corporations and individuals

India’s largest e-commerce payment system and digital wallet, Paytm, has been accused of insisting on Aadhaar for verification. Even though the company denied it, customers have narrated instances where no other government-approved identity card was being accepted for verification at its KYC (know-your-customer) centres.

In certain cases, if not corporations, individuals forced customers. For instance, an Amazon India executive was recently called out for seeking a customer’s Aadhaar details just to track lost packages.

Then there are the home-owners who insist on it for renting their properties.

Even young children aren’t spared. In New Delhi, government schools ask parents to get their kids enrolled to be granted admission. This despite a notification from the directorate of education against the practice.

Things are worse in neighbouring Haryana, where new parents aren’t issued even birth certificates unless their new-born gets an Aadhaar.

“Almost everywhere with the direct benefits transfer (DBT) programme, de facto, you have to give Aadhaar,” said Reetika Khera, a professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, who has extensively studied the impact of Aadhaar on welfare programmes. “In some cases, you might still get your money. In other cases, they say you’re a ghost entry and knock you off.”

There is no clarity whether any alternative to Aadhaar exists, Khera said.

Problems persist

To worsen matters, the programme is far from hiccup-free.

For instance, wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which entitles rural households to 100 days of gainful employment per year, have sometimes been transferred to the wrong person’s account due to Aadhaar mix-ups.

Children have been denied mid-day meals for not having an Aadhaar number. Several deaths by starvation have been reported due to glitches in this system.

The disabled, people with tuberculosis, those being rescued from prostitution, rehabilitated after manual scavenging, and even victims of the infamous Bhopal gas tragedy have complained of not being able to avail of benefits without Aadhaar, Usha Ramanathan, an independent law researcher who has steadfastly opposed Aadhaar, told Quartz last year.

Though the supreme court extended the deadline to connect bank accounts and mobile numbers indefinitely, the same did not extend to welfare programmes. “With banks and mobile numbers, it’s a hassle and then we might worry about our data,” Khera said. “But welfare is the place it’s causing the most damage. For poor people, it’s life and death.”

Several times, due to fingerprint mismatch, customers have been unable to verify their identities. This problem arises particularly for older people with fading fingerprints or others with medical conditions. “There are people who come to the centre claiming there is a problem with the fingerprint on the Aadhaar card because their biometrics are not recognised and they are unable to get their pension, food, etc.,” said a Mumbai-based Aadhaar agent, requesting anonymity.

“However, the problem is not with what is being made at camps. It is a systemic issue that keeps coming up and it is the reason why people keep losing faith in the system.”

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.