For years, I have been vocal against the Aadhaar card. Now that even the Supreme Court has sanctioned the legality of cancelling PAN numbers if one doesn’t apply for the Aadhaar in time, I gave in to the diktat and went to an authorised agency. I was to learn that the violations begin even before one’s details are entered into the system.
The centre I visited was on Mayor Shivashanmugam Street, one of the permanent centres listed on the official website since agencies were first hired. The agency handles, along with the Aadhaar, applications for PAN and TAN cards.
The first thing I noticed when I got there was that the employees were particularly rude to everyone who came in. They insisted that we leave our slippers outside and get our feet dirty on their sticky tiles. A senior citizen who hadn’t noticed the sign was told off by one of the agents. “Don’t you know how to read?” she asked.
When I asked for a form, the woman at the desk said, “I hope you know this is a private agency. We have charges.”
“You’re not supposed to have charges. The government pays you a certain amount for the service, doesn’t it?” I said.
“No, why will the government pay your processing fees? It’s 200. Pay when you finish,” she grunted.
A gentleman who had just received an acknowledgement was paying them the amount. When he asked for a receipt, another woman answered, “You won’t get a receipt and all. The acknowledgement is enough.” It didn’t seem to matter that he had got the acknowledgement before he paid the money.
“Where is your mobile number?” an employee snarled, when I gave her my form.
“Assume I don’t have a phone,” I said.
“Is the government providing phones? Because there’s no law in India which says you must have a phone, and it can’t be compulsory unless the government is providing them.”
“Are you a lawyer?” she smirked.
“No. I’m a journalist.”
She seemed momentarily rattled, and then said, “Go upstairs for biometric data...madam. The mobile phone is only for acknowledgement.”
“You have my email, don’t you? You can email whatever you want to SMS.”
She looked nervous. I took a photograph of the form I was to hand in upstairs.
“Excuse me, you can’t click photos of the form,” the woman said.
“Because my supervisor’s signature is on it. It’s private,” she said, quite illogically.
“Where does it say this cannot be photographed? I’ll delete it if you can show me a written clause,” I said.
She sat down.
On the first floor, a woman who was even ruder was in charge.
“Press your fingers properly!” she barked at the senior citizen who had been told off for wearing slippers.
When it was my turn, she snatched my form and passport and began keying in the details.
“What’s the spelling of your father’s name?” she asked, without looking up.
“It’s on my passport.”
“Why, can’t you spell it?” she asked.
“Why do you need his name to begin with? It’s not marked with an asterisk in the form, so it can’t be mandatory.”
“Your address is not marked with an asterisk either. Should I leave it out? We have protocols.”
“And I have rights. One of them is not to be spoken to rudely. Call your supervisor.”
The woman huffed out, and returned with a man who was rather more polite than the other employees I had encountered – their boss, perhaps.
“Madam, we have been told to get all these details,” he said, almost apologetically.
“They’re on my passport,” I said, “So can you ask your colleague not to throw attitude at everyone who walks in? I’m from the press, and I’m going to be writing about this in any case. The person downstairs told me it’s compulsory to give my mobile phone number.”
“No, no, no, ma’am, that’s not compulsory,” he said.
He then said something to the woman, after which she was grudgingly polite. She did press my fingers harder than necessary against the scanner.
When she got me the printed acknowledgement, I noticed that the other side of the paper contained the name, address, PAN number, email ID, mobile number, and tax returns of a stranger.
“Does your photo look good?” the woman asked, with something resembling a smile.
When I went downstairs, I saw the senior citizen paying 200 rupees.
I reached for my purse and mobile phone and said I would have to make a video of my transaction and I would need a receipt.
“Did you have corrections, ma’am?” the woman asked.
“Then there is no charge.”
“What about him?” I asked.
“Sir had corrections.”
The official website of the Unique Identification Authority of India says there is no charge for applying for the Aadhaar card, and that corrections within 96 hours of application are also free. It appears later corrections will be charged at Rs. 50. However, consumer complaints forums contain tens of accounts of people being charged between Rs. 50 and Rs. 200 as “processing fees” by agencies, and between Rs. 200 and Rs. 300 for corrections.
Assuming an agency receives 40 applications a week – a very conservative estimate – it would have made between Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 12,000 illegally. It could make more by selling mobile numbers to marketing agencies, which is perhaps why they claim numbers are “compulsory”.
Now that everyone who intends to file tax returns will need an Aadhaar card, they are likely to see a surge in customers.
How many people are aware that they do not need to pay a “processing fee”?
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