As the Supreme Court weighs in on the Centreās decision to make the Aadhaar card mandatory, a Kerala-based NGO has written to the state government, alleging that it has been refusing scholarships to students from the backward classes for not holding an Aadhaar number.
In a letter dated April 25 addressed to AK Balan, Minister for Welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes, Ajay Kumar VB, Executive Director of RIGHTS, a research group working for the welfare of SC-ST students, claimed that the state government has been refusing scholarships to at least 20,000 students, for failing to link their bank accounts to their Aadhaar card.
Speaking to The News Minute, Ajay Kumar said that he noticed this violation after a random check of the Egrantz website, which was launched by the SC-ST development department to offer scholarships to students who have passed Class 10.
From 2012 to 2015, a total of 18,670 SC students and 1478 students belonging to ST community from across the state have been denied a scholarship, Ajay Kumar alleged.
"I heard about Aadhaar details of many students from Bihar and other states being leaked on the web and proceeded to check the Egrantz website. It is then that I came cross a district-wise list of the number of students who have registered their Aadhaar cards and the number of students who haven't done so," he said.
Ajay Kumar points out that the number of students who were denied scholarships will increase exponentially, if the figures for the years 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 were to be revealed.
"The Supreme Court has been continuously saying that the government cannot make Aadhaar card mandatory for welfare schemes. CPI (M) has consistently been opposing the Centre's move to make it mandatory. But it practices the same in Kerala," Ajay Kumar said.
However, when The News Minute reached out to Dr Gangadharan, Joint Director (Education), SC-ST Department, he said that Aadhaar card was not mandatory for availing the scholarship.
"There is no government order in this regard and it is not true that we have been denying scholarships to students who have not given their Aadhaar number. However, we feel that it will help us bring down the rejection rate if all the students enrolled with their Aadhaar numbers, so that any discrepancy in their bank details will not automatically reject their application," Dr Gangadharan said.
Asked why the department was maintaining data of students who haven't enrolled with their Aadhaar numbers, the official said that it was done "purely for the purpose of data availability."
However, Ajay Kumar refuses to buy the official's version and alleged that when he personally enquired at the directorate before writing to the minister, he was told that Aadhaar was mandatory to avail the scholarship.
"If it is not mandatory, then why do they have that column in the application form? A staff at the directorate clearly told me that there is a government order to this effect and that they have been following this. They, however, denied me a copy of the same," Ajay Kumar claims.
He added that he has filed an RTI application to get a copy of the government order.