ID program (Aadhar) a draconian project
UIDAI project may infringe on civil liberty says SAMIR KELEKAR
When Nandan Nilekani a technocrat was appointed the chairman of UIDAI by PM Manmohan Singh, I had applauded the decision. The reasons were many, but mainly, given Nilekani’s background as an entrepreneur with high ethics with respect to Infosys, it was expected that he would bring the same standards to this government project. Fourteen months later, the hope of many on this front has not just been shattered, as the monster that is Aadhar (UID) unleashes on a hapless population, now there is a national campaign to stop this project.
For starters, this project has flouted all norms of accountability and transparency. The appointment of Nilekani is now widely called undemocratic. The legality of the project is called into question since it was launched by the Prime Minister and it does not have legal sanction as yet. The lack of transparency has been pointed out after only lip-service was paid to discussions with civil society organizations and all calls for transparency have gone unheeded.
There is a lot that has gone wrong and continues to go wrong with this project. Even the intent of this project is suspect. Jean Dreze, noted development economist, member of the prestigious National Advisory Council (NAC) of India chaired by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, and the one who conceived of NREGA the scheme that assures 100 days of labour in a year to the rural poor, has called the UID project a national security project camouflaged as a social welfare initiative.
Others who are opposing the project include noted Magasasay winner and social activist Aruna Roy also part of NAC, Former Justice of the Supreme Court Krishna Iyer and a huge number of civil society organizations. Even Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has warned about this project.
The fact that UIDAI cannot solve anything other than minor problems with PDS (public distribution system) and NREGA is now backed by data. Both the schemes are plagued by corruption and most of this corruption does not take place at what is called “the last mile” which the UID project tries to fix. At best, the number of fake ration cards in PDS is pegged to around 8 to 10 percent in most instances.
In PDS, most of the corruption takes place at the higher end; grains are siphoned off before they reach the fair price shops. The UIDAI makes us think that ration card holders go to the ration shop and use more than one card and pilfer ration. This is not true by and large. Thus, checking the identity of the ration card holders will not solve the pilferage problem.
Similarly, in NREGA, the problem is not of identity. The village supervisors take bribes to mark the attendance of workers and only then the workers get paid. UID cannot solve this problem.
There are also serious issues raised about the PR campaign mounted by UIDAI which mainly harps on financial inclusion. Even this is proved wrong. About 83 percent of NREGA payments already take place via bank accounts.
Also, there are fears that an ID card can lead to exclusion rather than inclusion and even ethnic cleansing. Now, as never before, it would be possible to list the names, addresses and possibly religion (with some more intelligence thrown in the system) of people at the click of a mouse. It wouldn’t take much for an average Indian to imagine the consequences.
UIDAI’s promise of a privacy law has been only lip-service till now. There is a clamour in a lot of quarters that the UIDAI program be halted till relevant laws are put in place, but that hasn’t gotten any response from UIDAI. And the project is going on at breakneck speed.
Quite surprising though it is, coming from an organization headed by a former corporate boss, there is neither a project report, nor feasibility or impact assessment study nor a cost-benefit analysis for the UIDAI project.
Thousands of crores of tax payers’ money are being spent without all this. And a recent report from the US National Research Council that has done a multi-year study on biometrics says that biometrics is not reliable as an authentication method and has to be used with some other method for good results. It is not yet known what effect the results of this report would have on the UID project.
The biggest fear due to this project is the threat to civil liberties, democracy and freedom itself. Given that it is well known that fingerprints lying in various places can be captured, and now that the State would have fingerprints of its citizens/residents in a database, an authoritarian ruler can play havoc nailing people at will with false evidence. As yet, there is no law preventing this, only statements from UIDAI saying “we are looking into it”.
Quite interestingly, the monster unleashed by UIDAI could even go out of its own control. It is also worth noting that UK has shelved a similar National ID project. The statements made while getting rid of the project reveal a lot.
UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May said “The national identity card scheme represents the worst of Government. It is intrusive and bullying, ineffective and expensive. It is an assault on individual liberty that does not promise a great good.”
Finally, Mahatma Gandhi’s first satyagraha in South Africa was against identity cards that segregated Indians from others. This identity card had the finger prints of all ten figures and the law was passed in 1906. Gandhi called it the Black Act. A century later, Gandhi’s own party the Congress is reintroducing a similar law in India.
The UIDAI project needs to be severely opposed. I urge Goans not to give their fingerprints and iris scans and oppose this draconian project with all their might.