Indian ID project gets deserved scrutiny
by Bala Murali Krishna
Just as Nandan Nilekani began to give some shape and a name – Aadhaar − to the Unique Identity Project, he is bracing for some serious scrutiny as well. There is a key difference from the mild criticism of the past. Now, searching questions are being asked by urban, educated professionals who are just like Nilekani and who, one would think, would wholeheartedly back the former Infosys chief. Case in point, members of the Centre for Internet and Society.
Since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh brought him aboard soon after last year’s general elections, Nilekani has received glowing praise for his readiness to take up public life, and almost everybody considers him one of the best candidates for the job, mainly because of his technological prowess. Mild criticism of the project centered on privacy concerns and the like that were buried under the more positive spin for its benefits.
But now, according to a report in the Mint business daily, “about 100 NGOs, including Alternative Law Forum, Centre for Internet and Society, People’s Union for Civil Liberty and Slum Jagathu, have come together to oppose the implementation of the project in its current form.”
Privacy remains a central point but the groups have framed their opposition in a stronger vein and have posed searching questions.
One, the project has poor government oversight because it “is not a statutory body…created by any act or under any law,” but one created “by executive fiat”. The obvious demand is for a body that will be answerable to Parliament.
Two, the groups question the ability of our computer systems to protect data, especially in the light of recent attacks even on the Prime Minister’s Office computers by Chinese hackers. It would be curious to hear from Nilekani on this.
Thirdly, they question the lack of a feasibility study and the cost estimates, ranging as high as US$33 billion.
Finally, the groups are curious to know how Nilekani was chosen and appointed. “Would the same person in his earlier organization authorize a project involving thousands of crores without a preliminary project report on feasibility? Public money is being spent without accountability,” Mathew Thomas, general secretary of Citizens’ Action Forum, was quoted as saying.