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The Week That Was:

From: Vartaa Editorial Team on Apr 17, 2016

West Bengal Assembly Polls

Assembly Polls got underway in West Bengal this past week with the first two of the six phases of polling being completed by this Sunday. Over a 100 out of the 294 total assembly seats have voted so far with the turnout hitting a whopping 80%. True to its unfortunate history, polling has not been a peaceful affair in this eastern state. The Election Commission has received multiple complaints of violence and CM Mamata Banerjee has been in its cross hairs for violating of the Model Code of Conduct. The CM though, true to her style, has come out swinging at the EC and accused it of having a bias towards her Congress-Left opposition.

Battle of odds and evens

Delhi's tryst with the odd-even vehicle formula for resolving road congestion returned this week with Phase 2 of this initiative kicking off on Friday. There was controversy however with some taxi and auto unions threatening to boycott the state government mandate. CM Arvind Kejriwal was quick to blame his political opposition of instigating these protests. Meanwhile the Delhi Metro has cancelled all leaves for its employees till the end of this month when the current phase of the odd-even initiative comes to an end. The Delhi Metro is anticipating higher rush on its lines and wants to avoid snags that can cause potential delays.

Civil Disturbances

There were multiple instances of civic disturbances across India this past week. In Kashmir a group of young men pelted stones at an army camp near the Baramulla-Kupwara highway resulting in the death of a teenager in the consequent firing. Protests then spread across to other parts of the state as well. As the youth population in the valley increases, many believe the state government's struggle to engage them in meaningful employment is creating conditions conducive for such protests. Far away to the east in Jharkhand, clashes broke out between members of two communities during a Ram Navmi procession. In Gujarat, the Patel community resumed its agitation for reservations and its protest in the town of Mehsana turned violent resulting in a curfew being imposed and mobile internet services being suspended.

Opinions you must read:

  • Will the government of India ever be able to bring Vijay Mallya to book? Firstpost finds parallels in the Mallya and Lalit Modi cases and thinks that the liquor baron may have escaped the reach of Indian justice for a long period of time.
  • In a week where India marked the birth anniversary of Dr.Bhimrao Ambedkar, the leading drafter of its Constitution, Tavleen Singh casts a critical eye on the hypocrisy of Indian politicians who only use the Ambedkar name for promoting their electoral positioning.
  • The Hindu wonders how shifting IPL games out of Maharastra will help address the state's current water crisis in a time of drought.
  • It was a week in which the Delhi suburb of Gurgaon had its name changed to Gurugram by the Haryana government. Mint captures the polarized reactions that the name change drew across the societal spectrum.

Chart of the Week

In the Economic Survey report released along with the annual budget, the government released data regarding the number of new bank accounts opened (Jan Dhan Yojana), new Aadhaar (identification) cards issued, and Mobile phone penetration. To track the progress of this trifecta of issues, the writers of the report have coined the acronym 'JAM' and improving these metrics is frequently referred to as 'spreading JAM.' At Vartaa, we too thought that the 3 metrics were important to track to get a better idea of overall socio-economic progress in the country. In part 2 of this series we will examine the progress of 'Aadhaar.'

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is a central government agency of India. Its objective is to collect the biometric and demographic data of residents, store them in a centralized database, and issue a 12-digit unique identity number called Aadhaar to each resident. This number will serve as proof of identity and address anywhere in India. Why is Aadhaar important? The benefits of a unique ID are many. Most importantly, if the government wishes to transfer benefits to those in need, first and foremost, it needs to identify the beneficiaries. Failure to do so will lead to 'inclusion error.' The government needs databases of eligible individuals. "...Beneficiary databases have existed for long before Aadhaar, but their accuracy and legitimacy have been hampered by the administrative and political discretion involved in granting identity proofs like BPL cards, driving licenses and voter IDs. Ghost and duplicate names crept into beneficiary lists, leading to leakage. Aadhaar’s virtue lies in using technology to replace human discretion, while keeping the system simple enough (fingerprints and iris scans) for citizens to understand.," says the Economic Survey of India report.

So how has the government fared with respect to issuing Aadhaar cards? Just like Jan Dhan, the progress has indeed been impressive. The current government has built on the support of the previous government for the program. In 2015 alone, 210 million Aadhaar cards were issued at an incredible pace of 4 million per week! As of March 2016, with almost a billion Aadhaars, more than 95% of the country's adult population has an Aadhaar card.

The government has turned its attention towards enrolling minors. Some states as you can see from the chart (Delhi for e.g.) have more than 100% Aadhaar coverage of population - this is mostly because of migrant populations in the state and population growth since 2015. Along with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the North Eastern states have low coverage and this is also where the government has now shifted its focus. Next week, we will look at mobile connectivity. Be prepared to look at some mind boggling statistics again!

*Chart renders best on Desktop. We publish a modified version for phone.