In September 2010, Ranjana Sonawane became the first person in the country to get an Aadhaar card when the Unique Identity (UID) project was flagged off with much fanfare in Tembhli village in Maharashtra.
But today, what is unmistakeable is the disappointment the tribal woman expresses as she stands in front of the framed photographs of her receiving the card from United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“I spent Rs.600 in getting these photographs framed. It was a big moment for me … for the villagers of Tembhli. But today, we are exactly where we were four years ago. Even the roads in our village were built only for Sonia Gandhi, not for us,” Ms. Sonawane told The Hindu recently. Both she and her husband are farm labourers, earning Rs.200 each on lucky days.
Tembhli — its 1,200-strong population is entirely tribal — is a part of Nandurbar district, which has a 68 per cent tribal population. More than 70 per cent of the village migrates to western Maharashtra and Gujarat six months of the year, to work on sugarcane farms, according to Deputy Sarpanch Banshi Shendul. The day this correspondent visited the village, it wore a deserted look, with most houses locked, and only the older generation staying behind.
One of the features of the UID, a major political plank of the Congress-led UPA government, was that benefits of government schemes would be linked to its 12-digit number, making it easier for people to open and access bank accounts, secure loans and get payments of the work through Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA).
“UID will help the hundreds of people in India, whose pride was hurt for so many years because of the lack of an identity. This will be their source of recognition from now on,” Dr. Singh had announced in Tembhli.
Identity, but no loan
There is recognition as Dr. Singh promised but no loan, said Sonawane’s neighbour, Kamalbai Nigode. “My son tried to take a loan. But he was told that Adivasi people do not return the money they borrow. We are poor, so we are not eligible for loans.”
“Only those with land are given loans. MNREGA payments through the Aadhar card are barely important for villagers, as we work as labourers in farms all year around,” Mr. Shendul said. “What the village needs is opportunities, and the compulsory Aadhaar registration has not helped us with it.”
Villagers recall every house getting new electricity meters when Ms Gandhi’s visit to the village to launch Aadhaar was announced. “We all got electricity. It was like Diwali in our village. But after a few months, we could not pay the bills anymore, so our meters were taken away,” 70-year-old Ms Nigode said.
“Even the electricity was for Sonia Gandhi, just to show that our village has progressed. She hasn’t come back to check, has she?” she added, displaying her framed photograph from the Aadhaar ceremony.