Thursday, March 3, 2011

112 - Letter to UIDAI Chairman from Mathew Thomas, Secretary, Citizens Action Forum, Bangalore

From: The Secretary, Citizens Action Forum, Bangalore


The Chairperson, 
New Delhi

Dear Sir,

This is in response to your call for public comments / suggestions on the draft NIA Act. The proposal to issue identification numbers to every individual residing in India is a scheme of humongous proportions. The Bill seeks to provide statutory sanction to the Authority that is to oversee the scheme and implement it. This needs extremely consideration. Time provided for such consideration and public discussion is woefully inadequate. I request extension of the time by a month. During this period, public discussions may be held to apprise people about the scheme.

Given below are my views.

It appears congruous that you are now proposing an Act of Parliament, when the "Authority" has been functioning for almost a year and expending public funds. Does this mean that the "Authority" has so far been functioning without a legal mandate?

I presume that an "Authority" is one, which exercises authority on behalf of government, which in turn is accountable to the people of this country through the Parliament. The need for UID numbers and hence an "Authority" for implementing such a scheme to issue numbers for all people residing in the country called, UIDAI, has not been discussed in Parliament. This is a typical case of "acting first and thinking later".

Attaching UIDAI as an office of the Planning Commission and functioning as such is circumventing Parliament.
It show scant regard for the institution of Parliament and democratic processes. I suggest that you withdraw the Bill and first discuss in Parliament the need for UID numbers linked to biometrics, justify the need and then come up with the Bill.

In such a discussion, financial prudence and respect for norms for expenditure of public monies, would call for a feasibility study of the UID project and a cost-benefit analysis. If such study and analysis has not been done, then I suggest that you carry out the same before bringing up the proposal for discussion in Parliament.

The objective of the Bill is the "To provide for the establishment of the National Identification Authority of India for the purpose of issuing identification numbers to individuals residing in India --- to facilitate access to benefits and services to such individuals ----". Implicit in this statement of objectives is an assumption that identification numbers (and biometric information of individuals) are necessary for facilitating access to benefits and services. This assumption needs to be established by a transparent and scientific process. This is especially true when the expenditure involved is immense. I suggest that you do not proceed with the Bill or the project until the assumption is found true.

Clause 3 of Chapter II of the proposed Bill says, Every resident shall be entitled to obtain Aadhaar number on his (this gender specific) demographic information and biometric information to the Authority ---". The wording of the Clause makes it appear the this is a voluntary act of individuals residing in India. If the objective of issuing identification numbers is to facilitate access to benefits and services, but obtaining the identification number is voluntary, does it mean that the people who do not desire to obtain the number would or could be denied the benefits and services? If such benefits and services could be denied merely because the individual chooses not to obtain the number, would this not be a violation of the individual’s constitutional rights and the claim that this is voluntary, a mere facade? I therefore suggest that a clause be incorporated in the Bill if, when and after Parliament approves the necessity of issuing identification numbers to individuals, and the need for the Bill arises.

In view of the above, I suggest that UIDAI cease all operations until, the necessity for identification numbers is accepted by Parliament, and feasibility study establishes the cost-benefits of the scheme.

Thanking you,
Yours truly,
Mathew Thomas