Insights & Analyses

Woman loses pension after leprosy prevents her from India’s Aadhaar biometric registration

December 4, 2017

Mandatory biometrics for India’s Aadhaar card have reportedly left a 65-year-old leprosy patient in India — who lacks both fingers and eyes and cannot be registered — without a pension for the last three months.

Sajida Begum has not received her monthly pension of Rs 1,000 because she does not have an Aadhaar card, according to The New Indian Express. India’s Aadhaar system requires biometric verification via either fingerprint or iris scan, two requirements that Begum cannot meet because of her affliction.

Her situation is not unique, either: 10 other patients at the Leprosy Hospital in Bengaluru also do not have an Aadhaar card.

Government officials reportedly said that patients providing a medical certificate, as well as a photo showing their hands, should be able to receive a special exemption.

Medical personnel at the hospital, meanwhile, have written to officials in an effort to obtain the monthly pension for Begum and others. But Dr. Ayub Ali Zai said he hasn’t received an explanation yet.

“We don’t know if this is just an administrative delay in sending pension, or if they have stopped it,” the doctor reportedly said.

The situation highlights unforeseen complications that can arise from identity verification systems that rely on a limited number of options. People like Begum who cannot provide the necessary biometrics present unique use cases that governments and companies must find ways to accommodate, without sacrificing ease of use or security.

India’s national biometric ID system is the largest such program in the world, with 1.1 billion registered users. The system has a unique 12-digit code that is tied to citizens’ biometric data and personal information.

The system was launched in 2009 in an effort to extend social services to unregistered citizens, but also to cut down on welfare benefit “leakage” from an opaque and often corrupt bureaucracy. Beyond identification, Aadhaar data is also being used to underpin mobile payment transfer platforms, which have become crucial for cashless transactions during the country’s recent demonetization push.