Radhika Radhakrishnan saw three words swimming before her as she inched closer to the hospital lobby. The words were written on a white board inside the private hospital she had visited in Bengaluru on May 21, three weeks after the Union Government opened up COVID-19 vaccinations for the 18+ category after online registration. “I had booked a vaccine slot and visited the hospital and the words on the board read ‘Aadhaar is mandatory’, along with other dos and don’ts of the vaccination process that the hospital followed,” she tells TNM. On the morning of her vaccination date, Radhika had registered on the Union Health Ministry’s CoWin portal for a vaccine slot in the 18+ age group. She had given her PAN number when the portal asked for a government ID proof. The appointment slip on CoWin also showed her PAN, she says.
But on the day of vaccination, authorities at the private hospital refused to accept her PAN card. Radhika says that they insisted on her Aadhaar number in order to authenticate her vaccination appointment, despite her telling them that it is illegal to demand her Aadhar card. “The hospital authorities told me that they only used Aadhaar cards to register people for vaccination or authenticate CoWin appointments. They said that if I did not want to give my Aadhaar number, I would have to wait a few more hours for them to figure out a different process,” she tells TNM. By this time, Radhika had already waited three hours in the hospital queue.
Bengaluru-based journalist Biswak* too recounts a similar experience at a government run vaccination centre he had visited on May 5. The 25-year-old had registered on CoWin using his Driving License, one of five government ID proofs that the Health Ministry portal accepts for booking vaccination slots. But at the centre, Biswak says that the officials insisted on his Aadhaar number. “Thankfully I had the number despite not carrying my card. I got vaccinated and the vaccination certificate issued on my CoWin account showed the last four digits of my Aadhaar, and did not mention my driving license which was my ID proof of choice,” he says.
TNM got in touch with several people from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka among other states who confirmed that their vaccination centres refused to accept any other ID proof, and insisted on Aadhaar. This despite the Union government not making Aadhaar mandatory for CoWin registration, for on-the-spot registrations, and even for authentication of appointments at vaccination centres.
A quick look at the CoWin portal will tell you that you can register with any of six government ID proofs other than your Aadhaar card. These are Driving License, PAN card, Passport, Pension Passbook, NPR Smart Card and Voter ID (EPIC). To the vaccine centres, registered citizens should carry the very same ID proof they have used to register on the Co-Win portal, along with a printout or screenshot of their appointment slip. This means, if a person has registered on the portal using an Aadhaar card, the vaccination centre will ask for the same for authentication.
Once vaccinated, citizens get a certificate with their vaccination status (one dose or fully vaccinated) on their phones. This certificate contains the person’s name, age, type of vaccine (Covishield or Covaxin) and the last four digits of the ID proof used for registration.
While Radhika and Biswak say that their appointment slips had their PAN and Driving License numbers respectively, after they were coerced to give their Aadhaar numbers, the vaccination certificate on the Co-Win portal showed their Aadhaar number. “This means that they have forced me to give my Aadhaar number and then used this, despite me giving a different ID proof,” Radhika says. Multiple private hospitals in Chennai too currently insist on Aadhaar card for vaccinations, while Tamil Nadu government maintains that Aadhaar is not mandatory.
TNM spoke to a senior official in the Revenue and Finance Department of the Greater Chennai Corporation who confirmed that centres, both private and government, did not have the right to demand Aadhaar for vaccination. “There is no such rule that Aadhaar has to be submitted by citizens. In fact, the Co-Win portal also has a section to register those who have no ID proof, i.e homeless persons or those from marginalised sections. The portal finds another way to register these people. So insisting on an Aadhaar number is out of the question,” he says. In the neighbouring state of Kerala, the government recently announced that persons who had to travel abroad for various reasons should register on the government portal only using their passports. This, so that their vaccination certificate would generate their passport number as ID proof.
In the absence of a law which mandates Aadhaar to be used for the purpose of universal COVID-19 vaccination, there is no legal basis for hospitals and vaccination centres to insist on Aadhaar numbers to vaccinate people. “Unlike a law passed by the Union government which makes it compulsory for your PAN to be linked to your Aadhaar, there is no law which the government has passed to make Aadhaar compulsory for vaccination. The Union government does, however, have the legislative competence to pass such a law. Which means that if they want to make Aadhaar mandatory for vaccination, they can. So far they have not. And therefore, nobody has the right to demand Aadhaar to vaccinate people,” says Pranesh Prakash of the Centre for Internet and Society.
However, it could be a matter of convenience for hospitals to use one type of ID proof, to be able to streamline their data entry process. “As (I believe) Aadhaar is the most widespread ID card in the country right now, when compared to other ID proofs, it makes it simple for vaccination centres to ask for Aadhaar numbers and key this in," Pranesh adds.
To a query that TNM posted on Twitter, we got varied responses from people. While many said that the centres did not insist on a particular ID card, many others said they had to give their Aadhaar. The insistence for Aadhaar by vaccination centres, both private and government, seems to be random, with no proper pattern or rule in place.
Did the vaccination centre insist on your Aadhaar id? If yes, please reply here or DM— Dhanya Rajendran (@dhanyarajendran) June 2, 2021
From Radhika’s experience, the hospital she visited for vaccination could not support any other ID proof, as they, in their own words “followed a system of using just Aadhaar cards”. This indirectly coerces unwilling citizens to part with their Aadhaar details, and offers no choice for those who registered with other ID proofs.
“I had to finally give my Aadhaar number but it said that there was a mismatch. Later we found out that my name on my PAN was a bit different from the name on my Aadhaar card. Since I had used the PAN to register on Co-Win, the portal could not authenticate me with the Aadhaar number. Finally I had to re-register on the spot and give a different phone number as the phone number I had given was already linked to my Aadhaar and PAN,” she says, adding that all of this could have been avoided if the hospital had accepted her PAN in the first place.
However, a private hospital that has been doing vaccinations in many places across India told TNM that they had no instructions from the state or Union government to use only Aadhaar and claimed that they only asked for Aadhaar if the person had used it during registration. However, many people who responded to TNM named this private hospital and many others too as those insisting on Aadhaar as proof.