Now that politics part is over, let’s consider how those 12 digits are going to rule you day in, day out
I assume that you already have an Aadhaar number. After all, 98 crore Indians have it. Why won’t you? And if you haven’t, it is time. The Aadhaar bill cleared by parliament on March 16 provides for any agency, government or private, to use Aadhaar as proof of identity. Don’t be surprised tomorrow if you book a flight, railway or bus ticket, or buy a SIM card or apply for marriage certificate or eat and stay at a hotel or get admitted in hospital, or buy certain medicines, you will have to punch in the 12-digital number along with your biometrics. You will not have a choice in any of these cases other than providing Aadhaar – at least the Aadhaar legislation doesn’t talk about any alternative way.
Mind you, the list of cases is not exhaustive, it is indicative. But the question is do you have a choice? Yes, you live in a democracy. But does that mean that you can opt out from biometric identification? The government doesn’t have an answer yet.
As Aadhaar will now become part and parcel of your life, here are a few things that you should know about Aadhaar. How it evolved, and morphed into something very different?
The government secured parliamentary approval for a legal framework for Aadhaar through the Money Bill route. The concerns, however, around voluntary versus mandatory nature of it, aim of identifying poor versus big brother surveillance and parliamentary versus executive control remain as they were back in 2010, when the government sketched first National Identification Authority of India Bill.
When Lok Sabha rejected all four amendments proposed by the Rajya Sabha (all moved by Congress’s Jairam Ramesh in relation to inducing ‘opt out’ clause, other means of identification, replacing term ‘national security’ and confining the purpose of Aadhaar to disbursal of public money), it was not entirely the fault of the arrogant BJP but also of the Congress, as it failed to address these issues in time. Not that you, me or the government (whether led by BJP or Congress), should oppose use of technology, but there is a certainly a problem with over-romanticising technology’s role in reforming governance and taking it as a panacea to all what is wrong with the social welfare regime in India.
Universal vs targeted coverage
In an interaction with Governance Now two years ago, Dr Arvind Virmani, a former planning commission member who headed a working group that proposed UID (Aadhaar), said, “The objective was not only to reduce leakage but also to ensure that any poor person who was not receiving any benefit got it.” It was to identify the “missing poor and hungry”. “The UID as envisaged by the commission’s working group and given concrete shape by the ‘process committee’ was to ensure that every potential or actual recipient of government welfare programs had a UID,” Dr Virmani said.
By no stretch of imagination, the proponents of UID proposed its universal coverage. The commission then was deliberating on assigning unique ID numbers to the BPL population. The Bill that was passed on March 16 didn’t have an ‘opt out’ provision for those who don’t desire Aadhaar. The Clause 7, in fact, terms Aadhaar as a pre-condition for availing government subsidy, benefit and service. It doesn’t provide any alternative way of authentication to those who do not want to be identified by Aadhaar, as stated by the supreme court.
Exaggerated subsidy savings
According to the UIDAI, the key USP of Aadhaar is to clean up beneficiary databases through eliminating duplicates and providing identity authentication services. In over-enthusiasm, the government has time and again fed media with extrapolated figures of possible savings through Aadhaar-based delivery of financial subsidy or other benefit.
The UPA government stated that Aadhaar linkage with LPG subsidy distribution would lead to Rs 12,000 crore savings. When the NDA government spoke of saving Rs 12,500 crore in LPG subsidy distribution a year ago, it was contested by a London-based think tank, International Institute of Sustainable Development. The institute said the savings may be less than Rs 200 crore.
Dr Virmani told Governance Now in January 2014 that several CMDs of the oil marketing companies had told him that they had enough information on their records to separate LPG cylinder delivery from subsidy without any need of UID, if they were given a clear mandate to do so!
The legal framework on Aadhaar waver privacy provisions in two cases: on the direction of a court not below the level of district judge or direction of an official of the central government not below the level of joint secretary in case of ‘national security’. It doesn’t define national security, leaving it to the government. This could be potentially misused by the government to track dissenters, opponents.
When the UPA government drafted the National Identification Authority of India (NIAI) Bill, 2010, it was sent to a parliamentary standing committee on finance headed by BJP’s Yashwant Sinha. The committee noted, “Enactment of national data protection law… is a prerequisite for any law that deals with large scale collection of information from individuals and its linkages across separate databases”.
That in absence of data protection legislation, it would be difficult to deal with issues of access, misuse of personal information, surveillance, profiling, linking and matching of databases and securing confidentiality of information, the committee said. The right to privacy legislation is still in the draft stage. It has been put on the back burner by the present government.
In 2012 the government appointed a committee headed by justice AP Shah on preparing a legal framework for right to privacy. Justice Shah headed committee proposed that the country should have a law on privacy which should provide for setting up office of privacy commissioner, where people can appeal and find a legal recourse.
The NDA government, in the present bill, has barred all citizens from approaching any court for taking cognizance of offence punishable under this Act. It is only UIDAI or an official authorized by the UIDAI who can make a complaint in a court (not inferior to chief metropolitan magistrate). “This will present a conflict of interest as under the Bill the UID Authority is itself responsible for the security and confidentiality of identity information and authentication records. This Clause should be dropped,” said Jairam Ramesh in one of his nine amendments to the Aadhaar Bill.
So till the time the government gets serious about the privacy legislation you can't go to a court.