Sunday, March 6, 2011

188 - UID: Will NAC come to the rescue of India’s democracy? by Samir Kelekar - Money Life

September 01, 2001
Samir Kelekar

It is important that the UID project be halted and a committee be appointed to look into the various issues plaguing the project; further, a thorough feasibility and impact assessment study is needed before more taxpayer money is spent on this venture

Today's Hindustan Times carries an article titled 'Unique ID plan hits advisory panel roadblock'. The article states that some of the members of NAC (the National Advisory Council, an apex body appointed by the prime minister and headed by Sonia Gandhi, UPA chairperson), have raised serious concerns about the UID project.

"There is no real informed debate on the project which has enormous potential of segregating the population (based on few parameters). It is a matter concerning people at large - public money being spent to profile common public," a member told Hindustan Times, adding the opinion is shared by some more people in the council.

"There is a vast difference between the census and UID. Without explaining what it means, memorandums of understanding (MoUs) are being inked with private companies. They say UID would reform systems like the public distribution system (PDS), but no detail of how it will is available in the public domain," said activist Aruna Roy.

The NAC of India is an advisory body set up to monitor the implementation of the UPA government's manifesto, the Common Minimum Programme (CMP). It is a brainchild of Congress party president, Sonia Gandhi. It is also informally called as UPA's Planning Commission for social agenda.

The NAC is a mix of activists, retired bureaucrats, economists, politicians and an industrialist with unstinting passion for social change.

To give an instance of the stellar record of the members of the NAC, here is a brief from their Wikipedia profiles.

Aruna Roy is a political and social activist who founded and heads the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana ('Workers and Peasants Strength Union'). She is best known as a prominent leader of the Right to Information movement, which led to the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005. In 2000, she received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.

Anu Aga is an Indian businesswoman and social worker, who led Thermax Ltd, the Rs 830-crore energy and environment engineering major, as its chairperson from 1996-2004. She had figured among the eighth richest Indian women, and in 2007 was part of the 40 Richest Indians by net worth according to Forbes magazine.

After retiring from Thermax, she took to social work, and in 2010 was awarded the Padma Shri (Social Work) by the Indian government.

Jean Drèze is a development economist who has been influential in Indian economic policymaking. He is a naturalised Indian of Belgian origin. His work in India includes issues like hunger, famine, gender inequality, child health and education, and the NREGA. He had conceptualised and drafted the first version of the NREGA.

His co-authors include Nobel laureate in economics Amartya Sen, with whom he has written on famine, and Nicholas Stern, with whom he has written on policy reform when market prices are distorted. He is currently an honorary Professor at the Delhi School of Economics, and Senior Professor at the GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.

Deep Joshi is an Indian social worker and NGO activist and the recipient of the 2009 Magsaysay award. He was recognised for his vision and leadership in bringing professionalism to the NGO movement in India. He co-founded a non-profit organisation, Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN) of which he is the executive director. He was awarded the 2009 Magsaysay award for Community Leadership for his work for 'development of rural communities'.

Some of the members of the NAC want answers to questions about UID. Nandan Nilekani, UIDAI chairperson, was supposed to address the NAC on Monday, but apparently the discussion has been postponed to late September.

As has been stated by various articles, these concerns are not just valid but are of a very serious nature. To put it bluntly, the UID is building an infrastructure for future authoritarianism in the country. It is most important to thrash these concerns out completely. In fact, it is important that the UID project be halted and a committee be appointed to look into these issues deeply; further a thorough feasibility and impact assessment study is needed before more of taxpayer's money is spent on this project. What is at stake is not just possibly hundreds of thousands of crores of  taxpayer's money, but democracy itself.

Let us hope that the esteemed NAC members will have a thorough discussion with UIDAI regarding this issue, and resolve these issues.

(The author has a B Tech from IIT Bombay, and a PhD from Columbia University, New York. He currently runs a start-up, Teknotrends Software Pvt Ltd that does cutting-edge work in the area of network security).