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Aadhaar for midday meals (All you need to know) (Relevant for GS Prelims, GS Mains Paper II)

Govt has linked Aadhaar to school midday meals, among several other schemes. 

How many children have midday meals?
The Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDMS) is the largest school feeding programme of its kind in the world, covering 10.03 crore students enrolled in government schools from Classes 1 to 8. The basic objective of this scheme is to enhance enrolment in schools.

How many children might theoretically be left out due to the Aadhaar link?
The HRD Ministry is currently collecting data on how many out of the 10.03 crore beneficiaries already have Aadhaar. However, the government has clarified that no student will be deprived of hot cooked meals in case he/she doesn’t have an Aadhaar number. The gazette notification states that till the time Aadhaar is assigned to a child, the benefits under the scheme will continue, provided the child can produce an Aadhaar enrolment slip or an undertaking by the parents or legal guardian stating that the child is not availing the benefit at any other school.

What are the schemes and benefits in which Aadhaar is now mandatory?
Aadhaar is now mandatory for over 30 schemes, including ex-gratia to Bhopal gas leak victims, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Bonded Labour Rehabilitation Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, National Action Plan for Skill Training of Persons with Disabilities, National Water Mission and National Health Mission.

The union government plans to make it compulsory for all 84 schemes covered under the direct subsidy benefit transfer programme.

Why are activists opposed to using Aadhaar to identify beneficiaries of the midday meal scheme?
Civil society groups, activists and opposition parties say it goes against the Supreme Court’s order that Aadhaar can’t be made mandatory for welfare schemes. Also, critics say, there is no role for Aadhaar in MDMS, and it would subject children to lifelong tracking without the option to opt out later.

What is the government argument?
The government has justified the linking of Aadhaar to several DBT schemes saying it would simplify delivery processes, encourage transparency and efficiency, enable citizens to get services easily, clean up databases by removing duplicates and ghost identities, and plug leaks in all DBT schemes.

What has the Supreme Court said about making Aadhaar mandatory?
While the validity of Aadhaar as a scheme remains to be decided in law, the court has passed a few interim orders, saying Aadhaar is not mandatory. In September 2013, it said “no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card”, and that it should be voluntary.

On October 15, 2015, the court allowed the government to use Aadhaar also for MGNREGS, National Social Assistance Programme (Old Age Pensions, Widow Pensions, Disability Pensions), Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) and Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) adding that the Adhar 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 court has passed no other direction since then.

What are the questions pending before the court in the matter?
The main petition has claimed that the UID scheme infringes upon a citizen’s right to privacy, which flows from Article 21, which guarantees the fundamental right to life. The petition underlined there was no system to ensure that people’s biometric data would be safe, and would not be misused by the private collection agencies.

A few contempt petitions have been filed alleging that the government has made Aadhaar mandatory for various services not enumerated by the court in its interim order. However, with no Constitution Bench having been reconstituted, there have been no orders in these petitions either.
 



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