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The Shaky foundation of AADHAR

AADHAR project or the UIDAI scheme is a classic example of starting a factory first and then deciding what to produce from it. With no clear objective, the scheme was simply flagged off as a dream project with absolutely no clue as to what it will be used for.

UIDAI Card issuance proceduresThe AADHAR or the 12 digit number deemed to be as an identity and a tool of empowerment but does India really need it. If it is going to provide an identity, is the voting card not enough or a simple ID card not enough. Why waste money and resources on creating such enormous pools of information and then take pains to store it. The data created will only serve as a considerable security risk. Cases of identity theft are not uncommon in western countries. Unlike western countries, where the social security number or similar ID comes with a guarantee of certain services, the AADHAR does not provide a user with anything as no service is directly linked with it. In fact, all it does is to create confusion.

One can’t even open a bank account solely with the help of AADHAR. The RBI through a circular reiterated that banks can satisfy themselves regarding the address proof of customers when opening  a bank account which basically means that a bank is free to ask you for more documents when you open a bank account. “It is reiterated that while opening accounts based on Aadhaar also, banks must satisfy themselves about the current address of the customer by obtaining required proof of the same as per extant instructions”.

Schemes such as the MNREGA, PDS, Health benefits are already running without the AADHAR. Now the authorities want to link it with AADHAR. Is AADHAR a tool of inclusion or exclusion? The AADHAR is meant to bring those poor people into the fold who do not get facilities but now the govt. is actually hinting that only those with AADHAR will get benefits, so it is rather becoming a tool of exclusion- those with AADHAR will get, those without will be left out. The government is caught on the wrong foot as far as AADHAR is concerned. Before launching the scheme, a clear cut demarcation of services should have been done; identifying services that the AADHAR would be linked to.

I fail to understand why the government wants to store the information and create such a huge security risk. Let us see why the government does not need to store the information. Is the government creating any information when we enroll for the AADHAR card? No, it is not. It is simply taking the information supplied by the resident and verifying it by documents and then storing it. So why store it in the first place? A simple alternative to the AADHAR can be to have a small chip, something like the sim card of our mobile phones that would store the user’s data. Each time the individual or any authority needs access to that information, simply swipe the card and the information is easily provided. The user stores and safeguards the information thereby reducing the security risk as the information is not stored on a central server. A question that may arise in the minds of the reader is what will happen if the information gets lost. Simple, the individual would supply the information once again and get a new AADHAR card. He/she can supply the data anytime since he/she provided it in the first place.

The storage of information has other problems too. Given the social stigma attached with some diseases in India, what will happen if an AIDS patient’s AADHAR card gets stolen and the information is leaked. Will he be treated the same way as earlier by his colleagues who are now aware of his condition? Given the complex class hierarchies in India, attaching health services to AADHAR would not be correct. It poses a fundamental question as to how people would be treated when entering a hospital. Let’s say a rich businessman forgets to take his AADHAR card the next time he visits the hospital. The good old Doctor would simply smile and say, “Ah, Mr. X, How is your father? Forgot your AADHAR card? Not to worry, just remember to bring it the next time, I will write a direction on this paper, just take it to the registration desk…” But would a rickshaw puller be treated the same way if he forgets to bring the AADHAR card. He will in all likelihood be thrown out from the hospital.

The authorities have said AADHAR can help in reforming the PDS. The PDS does not have massive leakages at the ends of the consumers. The leakages lie more at the distribution end which can be tackled without the use of AADHAR.

The introducer system of AADHAR has also come under a lot of flak. Under this system, for people who have no identity proof, no documents, a person can serve as an introducer akin to the banking system. What will be the liabilities of such a person who serves as an introducer if the AADHAR holder he vouches for  is found to be involved in illegal activities, are the authorities going to nab the person who introduced him in the first place. These are issues which will crop up and need to be heeded to.

The UIDAI has made it voluntary; once you make enrolment voluntary- every citizen has the right to enlist or not enlist for the project. How can the government then link schemes with a project that is purely voluntary. Countries like Britain have shelved similar projects. Not for nothing did the Parliamentary Committee strongly criticize the AADHAR stating, “…The Committee categorically convey their unacceptability of the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010…The Committee would, thus, urge the Government to reconsider and review the UID scheme.…”

Image Credit:  Wikipedia

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