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Mamata Banerjee lashes out at Narendra Modi again, this time over Aadhar

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has made the Aadhar card her latest weapon in her ongoing series of verbal attacks on the Central government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

She lashed out at the fact that the Centre has made Aadhar virtually mandatory for availing benefits from the Centre, which is especially significant in Bengal, since the enrolment rate in the state is around 50%.

On Friday, 26 August, she issued an ultimatum to Modi, saying if issues like Aadhar, the moratorium on the repayment of loans and Central intervention in matters controlled by states were not resolved, she would lead the student community of Bengal and other states to Delhi's Rajpath and organise a protest.

Banerjee was addressing a programme organised by the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad (TMCP). She said: "Many poor students are debarred from receiving Central scholarships as they do not have Aadhar cards. I will hit Delhi's Rajpath with the students if their demands are not met by the Centre. I will request some other chief ministers to join us on these issues."

Criticising Modi, Banerjee said: "The Centre has made Aadhar cards mandatory to get all central government benefits. Now most of the students have not got these cards, and that means they will not get any benefits. A large section of people are yet to receive their cards. What will Modiji do with the money that he will save by denying the cards? Will he get another coat stitched and get into the Guinness Book of World Records?"

The basis of the fracas

The tussle over Aadhar between Opposition parties and the BJP-led NDA is not new.

In fact, when the government passed the Aadhar Act as a Money Bill in the Lok Sabha on 11 March this year, Banerjee's Trinamool Congress members walked out and abstained from voting, along with Samajwadi Party, BSP, JD(U), NCP and Congress members.

The parties had objected to the Money Bill tag, among other things, which would not allow the Rajya Sabha, where the government is in a minority, to make any changes.

State govt urges UIDAI to step up

The Banerjee-led state government has decided to urge the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to set up more camps to speed up the process of Aadhar enrolment.

The state's chief secretary, Basudeb Banerjee, said: "We are in touch with UIDAI officials so that Aadhar enrolment can be finished on time."

On Wednesday, the West Bengal home secretary and chief secretary, along senior UIDAI officials, took part in a video conference, where the UIDAI was urged to speed up the process. It was also decided that the process should be completed within three months, and UIDAI authorities should send a monthly report of how many camps they have set up in a month, as well as a list of the Aadhar enrolment done in a month.

District magistrates would then verify the reports, and pass them on to the state's home secretary, Malay De.

At present, UIDAI has set up nearly 1,700 camps in the state for Aadhar enrolment. The state government has urged it to set up at least 2,000 camps in a month to complete the process within the next three months.

Lagging behind

According to state government figures, about 8.22 crore people were eligible for biometric enrolment, as per the National Population Register. So far, about 50% of cards have been dispatched, and of these, about 20% have failed to reach the people. The state lags far behind the likes of Kerala and Punjab (both above 90%), though it is in a much better position than the likes of Assam (4%) and other Northeastern states.

Among the districts of West Bengal, Bankura and Purulia have completed just 30% and 50% biometric enrolment respectively, lagging way behind the national average of 65%. North Dinajpur and North 24 Parganas have also completed 50% and 55% enrolment respectively.

The Aadhar enrolment process is almost complete in Kolkata, Howrah and Cooch Behar.

However, the UIDAI claims that of the total 9.12 crore people in West Bengal, it has completed the Aadhar enrolment for around 7.58 crore people.

Shortage of manpower

Senior officials of the National Population Register say the state government has failed to make the masses aware of Aadhar enrolment camps through banners and hoardings, and as a result, the work has slowed down.

Sources at the state secretariat said biometric enrolment under the project had nearly halted during the Lok Sabha elections.

A senior state government official said: "Work had stalled owing to severe shortage of manpower of UIDAI at the district level." He admitted that after the Supreme Court ruled that Aadhaar card would not be mandatory to avail of gas subsidy, there was a sharp fall in the number of applicants.

While the officials of the National Population Register have already admitted that they are reeling under severe manpower in districts, they have promised to provide trained manpower soon.

BJP's response

Meanwhile, BJP leaders hit out at Banerjee for slamming the Centre, saying she had decided to criticise the Centre without any proper logic.

BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said: "Our Prime Minister is committed to provide Aadhar to all the citizens of India, and accordingly, the plan is being rolled out in every state."

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 27 August 2016, 1:05 IST