Told to share ration card and Aadhaar data, states push back
Notwithstanding privacy concerns and states’ reluctance to share Aadhaar details of National Food Security Act (NFSA) beneficiaries with the National Health Authority (NHA), the Department of Food and Distribution public urged states and union territories to share NFSA ration card data and Aadhaar numbers with the NHA. We learn that states subsequently reported concerns about the “security aspects of such data transfer”.
NHA’s initiative to map Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) database with Aadhaar and Public Distribution System database aims to identify beneficiaries of Ayushman Bharat Pradhan health insurance scheme Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB PM-JAY).
In a letter dated January 5, NHA CEO RS Sharma wrote to Department of Food and Public Distribution Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey: “… due to gaps in the SECC database, the he identification of beneficiaries (under AB PM-JAY) has become extremely difficult. In this regard, the NHA has tried different ways and means to enrich the SECC database, which can then be used to target beneficiaries. Possible SECC beneficiary mapping with Aadhaar and NFSA will help to easily identify beneficiaries.
He said that without mapping Aadhaar with the SECC database, it will be “extremely unlikely” to reach Ayushman map saturation.
The National Health Authority aims to identify beneficiaries of the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana health insurance scheme. But states are concerned about the security aspects and suspect it could be used for political purposes.
Following Sharma’s letter, the director of the Department of Food and Public Distribution (Public Distribution), Vivek Shukla, reportedly wrote to the states on January 6, requesting “necessary assistance and cooperation” to share the beneficiary details.
An NHA official told the Sunday Express that states had raised concerns about the “security aspects of such data transfer” and the potential for the Center to “use it for political purposes”.
It is also learned that in a meeting on January 4 with officials from the Food Department, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the Ministry of Informatics, the NHA had raised the question.
“Due to the lack of clarity as to whether Aadhaar information can be freely shared between government departments or not, state governments holding NFSA beneficiary information have been reluctant to share Aadhaar details with the NHA. This was raised by the NHA at the meeting,” another government official said.
At the same meeting, it was discussed that existing UIDAI circulars allow ministries and departments to share Aadhaar and related data with each other “for effective program formulation and beneficiary selection.”
In October last year, UIDAI had authorized the sharing of Aadhaar details between different ministries under the Aadhaar (Targeted Distribution of Financial and Other Grants, Benefits and Services) Act 2016. .
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The PM-JAY scheme, launched in 2018, aims to provide health coverage of Rs 5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization to over 10.74 million poor and vulnerable families. Beneficiaries should be determined based on the SECC 2011 deprivation and tenure criteria for rural and urban areas respectively. The NHA is responsible for implementing the PM-JAY program.
An official said that the responsibility for ensuring compliance with various provisions and regulations relating to data protection, data storage, data privacy and obtaining consent from Aadhaar holders will lie with user departments – in this case, the NHA.
“The NHA plans to obtain consent from recipients through online and offline modes, such as text messages or physical forms at ration stores,” the official said.
The CEO of the NHA, the Department of Food and Public Distribution and the UIDAI did not respond to questions seeking comment.
In October last year, the Niti Aayog called for the extension of the PM-JAY program to cover a portion of people without health insurance, pointing out that at least 30% of the population, or 40 crore individuals, called the “missing middle”, lack any financial protection for health.
Of the three models suggested to achieve this, the Niti Aayog recommended extending government-subsidized health insurance through the PM-JAY scheme to a wider set of beneficiaries.
“This is the only model of three proposed that has fiscal implications for the government. Although this model provides coverage for the poorest segments of the missing middle population, premature expansion of PM-JAY may overburden the program,” he noted in his report.
The report also suggested sharing government scheme data with private insurance companies. Government databases such as the National Food Security Act (NFSA), Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana or the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) for farming households can be shared with private insurers after obtaining the consent of these households, according to the report, propose a proximity strategy.