Soon you may be denied a train ticket if you do not have an Aadhaar card as the world's largest biometric identity project may become the foundation of railway travel in India.
Sources say Indian Railways is all set to link passenger ticketing services with the database scheme in what is being seen as a bid to slash expenses on subsidy and other concessions.
Officials say the plan is aimed at curbing cases of impersonation. The railway's move will be in contrast to a Supreme Court order last year restricting the use of Aadhaar to only the public distribution system (PDS) and LPG connections.
The unique identity project was started seven years ago with the idea to help citizens, especially those who have no other form of portable ID, such as a passport or driving licence, to access banking and government services for the first time.
However, the top court said the programme cannot be made mandatory for availing government benefits. The matter is pending before the Constitution Bench for a final decision.
The railway plan will be implemented in two phases, sources say. In the first stage, it will be mandatory to provide the Aadhaar number to avail concessions under various quotas such as for senior citizens, freedom fighters, differently abled, students and unemployed youths. Indian Railways provides concessions in fares to 53 categories. A senior ministry official said the policy in this regard will be approved and implemented in 15 days.
In the second phase, that will take nearly two months, railways will link all ticketing services to the Aadhaar card. This means that a passenger will have to provide the unique identity number at the time of booking a ticket - online or at the reservation windows. Initially, Aadhaar will be required for booking reserved tickets but later it will be made mandatory for unreserved tickets too. Railway officials justified the move saying this will ensure only genuine passengers travel in trains. They claimed that a majority of people are enrolled with Aadhaar and so this will not affect them adversely.
"According to government statistics, 96 per cent of Indians have been given Aadhaar numbers. By making Aadhaar card mandatory, railways will be able to check impersonation and thus revenue losses," said a senior Railway Board official.
As per the plan, the Aadhaar number, provided at the time of booking, will be printed on the ticket. During travel, the Aadhaar number mentioned on the ticket will be entered in the mobile devices provide to the ticket examiners. The identity details, including photograph of the passenger, will be displayed on the device that will authenticate the traveller. The account book of the rail ministry shows that the department offers 43 per cent subsidy on a single train journey to a passenger. This means, if the railways spends `100 on a train journey, it only charges `57 from a passenger.
Comprehensive data shows the railways incurred an expenditure of `34,000 crore on "social service obligation" for the fiscal year 2015-16. Out of this, `1600 crore was spent on myriad concessions on train travels. A major chunk of it, `1200 crore, was spent on concessions to senior citizens. As per the rules, male senior citizens above 60 years of age are given 40 per cent concession on rail fare while women above the age of 58 years can avail 50 per cent concession in all classes. Some categories such as physically challenged, deaf & dumb and heart patients can avail concession up to 75 per cent on rail fares.
Eager to reduce it subsidy burden, Indian Railways has started printing the real cost involved in the train journey on the tickets to make passengers aware of the subsidy borne by the public transporter. The department has also made it optional for senior citizens to avail the concession.