Revised bill, newer controversies: After SC, IB now raises eyebrows on Aadhar

Lack of robust checks and balances regarding status of enrolees make Aadhaar a dangerous proposition for safety

pratap

Pratap Vikram Singh | January 1, 2014



Aadhaar seems to be all controversy and no clarification. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) came up in 2009 – without any legal backup, which was to come with the passage of the National Identification Authority of India Bill the next year. However, the standing committee on finance headed by Yashwant Sinha found too many problems with the bill and asked for revision. The government did not provide any clarifications then and the project continued to run simply on an executive order.

Earlier this year, the mammoth biometric collection project piloted by Nandan Nilekani faced criticism from the supreme court. On September 23, it passed an interim order making it optional for accessing various services, and also objected to the issuance of the 12-digit number to illegal immigrants.

Now the intelligence bureau (IB) has raised the same concern. Its objection is that the numbers are issued without checking the veracity of the individual’s address, which is the standard procedure in the case of the national population register (NPR). In a meeting with home ministry and UIDAI officials on December 6, the intelligence agency said that the authorities need to be more cautious while considering Aadhaar as proof of residence in conflict areas such as Kashmir and the north east.

People can enrol for Aadhaar even without proof of residence through an introducer. No checks are done to ascertain whether the person is living at the address claimed before the UIDAI. The IB believes that unless this lacuna is resolved, the government agencies should not consider Aadhaar as proof of residence for a range of services in these areas.

According to an Economic Times report, the IB officials told the home ministry that as databases of UIDAI and NPR have to be collated and de-duplicated, an illegal migrant or a foreigner can later claim citizenship.

The agency urged the government, according to a Hindustan Times report, to not take Aadhaar as gospel truth as it “is not a proof of residence... but only where a person claims to live”. P Chidambaram as home minister had also raised these concerns, including the lacunae in the enrolment process of the UIDAI.  

Early in December, the Economic Times reported that one of the software service providers to UIDAI receives funds from In-Q-Tel – the not-for-profit venture capital arm of the CIA. The service provider, New York-based MongoDB, has signed a contract with UIDAI but it has not been announced yet, the report said. The firm would enable the authority in “capturing and analysing data” related to the Aadhaar project.

The government is expected to introduce the revised National Identification Authority of India Bill in the winter session of parliament. If passed, it might bring some clarity and provide legislative backing to UIDAI. The revised bill, cleared by the cabinet in October, also defines for the first time offences, penalties and incidental matters.

However, the standing committee on finance has objected to the ‘revised’ bill. In its latest report on December 9, it said that the new bill has not taken into account all the changes recommended in the Yashwant Sinha report of 2010. Not only that, a group of ministers (GoM), formed on July 1, 2013 to study the Yashwant Sinha panel’s recommendations, is yet to form any views – and yet the bill is ready to be tabled in parliament at the time of writing.

Even if we see Aadhaar as a project to streamline delivery of government services and welfare goodies (and not the mass surveillance programme as has been pointed out by some activists), the shoddy execution and a lack of transparency has made it as confusing as ever.

THE 2-MINUTE CAPSULE

Aadhaar: the story so far

Numbers issued so far: 51 crore

Numbers being issued per month: 11 lakh

Target: covering 60 crore people (nearly half the population) by March 2014

Controversies

  • Supreme court in September passed an interim order, saying Aadhaar could not be mandatory for accessing various services, and also objected to the issuance of the 12-digit number to illegal immigrants
  • Early in December, the intelligence bureau (IB) objected that the numbers are issued without checking the veracity of the individual’s address. It said the authorities need to be more cautious while considering Aadhaar as proof of residence in conflict areas such as Kashmir and the northeast
  • One of the software service providers to UIDAI receives fund from In-Q-Tel, the not-for-profit venture capital arm of the CIA, according to a media report

(This story appeared in the December 16-31, 2013 print issue)

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