When a friend moved to a new address in Delhi recently, he had to go to the nearby police station for verification. On showing his Aadhaar card as proof of identity, the police personnel insisted that he still has to provide some proof of a ‘permanent’ address. Luckily, the gentleman had the electricity bill of his native residence located in another state. Had he been homeless or sold out the flat he owned, the police verification process could have been stalled.

This is because the person had been living in various rented accommodations in Delhi since the last 15 years. This particular incident warns us that Aadhaar may be incapable of solving the problems of identity faced by migrants, despite their undergoing finger printing and iris scans during the procedure of applying for one.  

UID: A tortoise in disguise?

In his speech during the National Lecture Series entitled ‘Analysing and Envisioning India’ on 25 February 2011,  Nandan Nilekani, then Chairperson of the Unique Identification Authority of India informed the audience that one of the chief purposes behind the Unique Identity Number (UID) project had been to address the problem of mobility of migrants.

Given the high rate of migration presently (as well as in the future) due to urbanisation and climate change, the UID project was conceived of to provide proper identity records to residents in villages or remote rural areas. The problem of portable identity of migrants from rural areas could be solved through this, claimed Nilekani.

Bills such as these, distributed by private brokers in Chhattarpur, Delhi contradict claims that one can get a UID free and also throw a cloud over the transparency of the process. Pic: Shambhu Ghatak

A little more than three years have passed since the above lecture was delivered by Nilekani. As per the data from Census 2011 website (accessed on 4 June, 2014), nearly 17.52 crore Aadhaar IDs have been generated so far. Had the Aadhaar identities generated as per the National Population Register (NPR) - the comprehensive identity database maintained by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India - been evenly distributed among all Indians, then only 14.5 per cent of the entire population would be covered hitherto.

If it is assumed that all NPR-based Aadhaar numbers/cards generated belonged to internal migrants alone, that is migrants who move within national boundaries and whose projected population was 40 crore in 2011, close to 44 per cent of the migrant population within the country would be covered so far.

Even if one takes into account that as many as 63 crore Aadhaar numbers (according to the UIDAI) have been issued so far, just about 52 per cent of the Indian population would have been covered till now.

These figures reflect how tardily the UID project is progressing—a project that started on the very premise and promise of improving efficiency and speed of Government service delivery.

According to the UIDAI, between 2009-10 and 2013-14 (up to February 2014), approximately Rs. 4181.51 crore has already been spent on the project. More money is expected to be spent from government coffers on the UID project, but without any proven improvement of the real situation of migrants in the country, as the anecdote shared at the very outset shows.     

Access to entitlements by migrants

According to a UNESCO report entitled Social Inclusion of Internal Migrants in India(2013), three out of ten Indians are internal migrants. The population of internal migrants in India went up from 309 million in 2001 to 400 million in 2011. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu are identified as the lead source states of internal migrants, whereas key destination areas are Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Karnataka.

The report finds that existing state policies have failed to provide legal or social protection to the migrating population, in part due to serious gaps in data on the extent, nature and magnitude of internal migration. Due to the absence of proof of identity and residence, internal migrants (both men and women) are unable to claim social protection entitlements and remain excluded from a large number of government-sponsored schemes and programmes. Their children face disruption of regular schooling, adversely affecting human capital formation among them and contributing to inter-generational transmission of poverty.   

Among the multiple constraints faced by the migrant population are lack of formal residency rights, lack of identity proof, lack of political representation, inadequate housing, low-paid, insecure or hazardous work, extreme vulnerability of women and children to trafficking and sex exploitation, exclusion from state-provided services such as health and education, and discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, class or gender.

The same report mentions that in order to address the issue of identity crisis, a large number of NGOs working in the grassroots such as Gramin Vikas Trust in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, and Aajeevika Bureau in Rajasthan had issued informal identity cards to migrant labourers. Such proofs of identity were recognised as valid by local authorities and had started much before the advent of Aadhaar.

Given this background, it is interesting to study the situation of internal migrants in terms of access to entitlements in two Indian metros—Gurgaon and Kolkata, based on observations made by some recent specific surveys.

GURGAON: For the study entitled Exploring Rural-Urban Dynamics - A Study of Inter-State Migrants in Gurgaon (2014), a survey was conducted among 200 migrant workers in garment, construction, auto parts sectors, and also among domestic workers and self-employed migrants.

Migrants from five districts in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand – namely, rural Kanpur, Gorakhpur, Nalanda, Nawada and Hazaribagh - were selected for the purpose of this study, given their predominance among migrants in Gurgaon. 81 per cent of respondents were male workers and 78 per cent married. Among the respondents, 80 per cent belonged to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) group, 14 per cent belonged to the Scheduled Caste (SC) group and 4 per cent belonged to the Scheduled Tribes (ST).

The survey done by Society for Labour and Development and sponsored by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung found that most respondents migrated to Gurgaon in order to escape the unemployment in villages. The lack of address proof was a key commonality among them.

This, again, is prevalent largely due to three reasons, according to the report. Firstly, as a result of frequent migration from one place to another, workers are unable to apply for a local ration card or voter ID card. Secondly, migrant workers are seldom supported by their employers or house-owners. House-owners do not agree to certify that the worker is living in their house as a tenant on rent, which is a major impediment in getting voter ID, bank account, LPG connection etc. Because of the same reason, the scope for introducer-based verification for Aadhaar enrollment gets bogged down.

Thirdly, the uncertainty of employment in an urban area and their claim on the land in their native villages prevent migrants from surrendering their original ration card or voter ID card and apply for new ones in the city. As a direct consequence, most migrant workers are unable to access cheap ration, LPG connections and social security schemes implemented by the government in the absence of address proof.

The study finds that a meagre 2 per cent among respondents have a ration card, 3 per cent have voter ID cards and 4 per cent have bank accounts. Only 3 per cent of respondents own an LPG connection and the rest rely on buying cooking gas at the market price, which comes to Rs 1450 a cylinder. Lack of address proof has also prevented a number of migrants in getting their children admitted to schools.

Interestingly, 27 per cent of these migrant workers possess an Aadhaar card/ number, but they are unable to reap any benefits under social welfare schemes of the government since the Aadhaar is not valid as an address proof, pinpoints the report. This contradicts the claim made by Nandan Nilekani in his speech on 25 February, 2011 that Aadhaar will act as a magic bullet for migrants.

KOLKATA: Based on a primary survey of 1000 households (500 each for migrant and non-migrant families) in selected authorised and unauthorised slums of Kolkata city, the study entitled Children of Migrant Poor in Kolkata: A Study on Human Development Perspectives (2014) by the Institute of Social Sciences and UNICEF finds that 96 percent of families migrated to the city in search of employment.

Most migrant families were engaged in two dominant activities: daily labour and domestic work, the former being done mainly by men and the latter being performed mostly by women. It has been found that migrant slums have relatively larger numbers belonging to the scheduled castes or backward population, and also religious minorities such as Muslims even though Hindus still comprise the largest religious group in both migrant and non-migrant dominated slums. Around four-fifths of the migrant families in Kolkata came from other districts within the state of West Bengal.

A look at the access to entitlements by these migrant families reveals a sad reality, especially when compared with non-migrant counterparts.


No. Of Families



No. of Families


No. Of Families


Having Ration Card of BPL Category





Having General Ration Card





Having No ration card





Having Voter ID





Having no Voter ID





Having Aadhar Card





Having no Aadhar Card





Having KMC’s Health Card





Having No KMC’s Health Card





Having Job Card (100 days)





Having no Job Card (100 days)





Having Birth Certificate





Having No Birth Certificate





The Residential Address of Voter ID card as well as Aadhar Card of Migrant families is not revealed.

Source: Children of Migrant Poor in Kolkata: A Study on Human Development Perspectives (2014)

From the above table, it can be seen that almost three-fourth of migrant families do not have any type of ration card, 64.4 per cent do not possess Aadhaar card/number, and 31.6 per cent do not have a voter ID. When pitted against entitlements accessed by non-migrant families, the condition of migrant households appears pitiable.

Nearly 64.2 per cent of migrant families have no BPL/APL cards because they are either not aware of their entitlement to one or do not have the knowledge of how to get it. Almost half of the migrant families could not get it for their children as the mother did not have a ration card.

The survey study conducted in Kolkata finds that only 40.2 per cent of children from migrant families, as against 50 per cent of children from non-migrant families, attend the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centres. The percentage of those who attend pre-school is even lower—34.6 per cent for migrant households and 41.7 per cent for non-migrant households. 28 per cent of migrant households reported that there is no ICDS centre nearby as compared to 3 per cent of non-migrant households. 

A majority of migrant and non-migrant families do, however, have voter ID cards and almost all of them cast their vote. Almost three-fourth of the families of both categories have availed birth certificate. Nearly 92.2 per cent of non-migrant households have an electricity connection while only 53 per cent of migrant households avail this facility. 88.6 per cent of households in non-migrant slums have access to concrete roads as against a mere 26 per cent of households in migrant slums.

So far, there is little evidence that Aadhaar has been beneficial in increasing their access or ease of it to any of these entitlements.

Women migrant workers and entitlements

Yet another study -- entitled Migration and Gender in Indiaandconducted by Indrani Mazumdar, N Neetha and Indu Agnihotri (2013) as part of a project on Gender and Migration at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi (CWDS) -- provides one the status of women migrant workers.

Based on the primary level data that was generated by a series of micro-surveys conducted between 2009 and 2011 by the CWDS across 20 states, it is revealed that at their destinations, 76 per cent of all the women migrant workers (both rural and urban) did not possess any ration card, 16 per cent had below poverty line (BPL) cards, less than half a per cent had Antyodaya cards and 7 per cent had above poverty line (APL) cards.

However, in the source areas from where they migrated, the corresponding percentages looked like this: 34 per cent had no ration cards, 40 per cent had BPL cards, 6 per cent had Antyodaya cards and 20 per cent had APL cards. This clearly establishes that women migrant workers lost their public distribution system (PDS) entitlements when they migrated.

The CWDS study finds that 91 per cent of the women migrant workers had never availed of any public housing scheme, 79 per cent had no National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) job cards, and 96 per cent had never been employed under any public employment programme or scheme.

Although three-fourths of women migrant workers did have electoral cards, roughly 75 per cent had their voting rights at area of origin and only around 28 per cent of those with electoral cards had voting rights at destination areas.

Can Aadhaar help these migrants?

A person without an identity or address proof is viewed with suspicion not only by law enforcement agencies but also by other members of society, particularly those from the higher echelons. However, history has also taught us that migrant-friendly destinations pull the best workers from all over the world, and the latter contribute significantly to a nation's economy in the course of time.

According to rough estimates in a study by Priya Deshingkar, circular migrants contribute 10 per cent of India's GDP. Therefore, it is time that India came up with an inclusive policy in place for migrants. The hassles they face in getting address/ identity proof should be addressed and not neglected.

In fact, it often boils down to the classical 'chicken or egg' problem when it comes to getting an ID and address proof. Unless one has proof of his present address, important documents like ration card, voter ID etc. cannot be made. Even the address on Aadhaar cannot be updated without an address proof. 

Ironically, as a recent Cobra Post revelation shows, illegal immigrants to India are able to make their Aadhaar cards without any proof of identity and residence by simply bribing officials at Aadhaar enrollment offices. Clearly, this makes life even more difficult for genuine migrants.

At the same time, it should be remembered that papers and documents are meant to make life easier for our citizens and not to harass them. Since India has recently embraced a rights-based entitlements approach to development, it cannot deny its own citizens access to government services if they lack identity/ address proofs including the Aadhaar. These records/ documents should not become tools of exclusion.  

If governance is reduced to proving one's identity and address independently at each and every step, it is bound to give rise to corruption and nepotism. The thin line between legality and illegality will be crossed over just by spending a few bucks to grease the palms of lower bureaucracy. This will not only entail a high cost for the poorest, but very importantly, will also mean that Aadhaar is unable to live up to its promise of reducing corruption. In effect, poor migrants will continue to live like second class citizens in the land.