Aadhaar Project-The Flaws & Pitfalls
A comprehensive review of Aadhaar was long overdue
The BJP had many a times, in the past, questioned the Aadhaar Scheme describing it ‘a gateway for illegal Bangladeshi migrants to get validity in India. Considering the questions raised, the Supreme Court had rapped the erstwhile UPA government to protect public interest, and now the newly-inducted NDA government should address it on priority.
Looking into the flaws of the highly-controversial Aadhaar Scheme initiated by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and addressing the scourge, topped the main agenda of the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) manifesto, even while canvassing for the LokSabha elections.
Just recently it was reported that Home Minister Rajnath Singh is considering the merger of Aadhaar with the National Population Register (NPR) exercise. Apparently, Singh, in a meeting with ministry officials, asked them to come up with ways so that both Aadhaar card and NPR exercise complement each other to avoid any chances of ‘duplication.’
“We will review Aadhaar project if BJP-led NDA comes to power and look into its flaws. Instead of Aadhaar, National Population Register should be the basis of distributing direct cash benefits to targeted people,” Singh had said in one of his campaign.
Ever since its initiation, Aadhaar has been a bone of contention between the government and various activists, legal experts and scholars who deemed biometric data collection for the Aadhaar scheme, particularly, being unconstitutional, among many other things. And, serious questions have been raised against Aadhaar scheme and the bonafides of the entire data and biometric spectrum.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was created as an attached office under the Planning Commission to develop and implement the necessary institutional, technical and legal infrastructure to issue unique identity numbers to Indian residents. The documentation required for Aadhaar — the 12-digit individual identification number issued was the identification for every ‘resident’ (as opposed to NPR that is for Indian citizens not Indian residents) threatening to legitimise illegal immigrants across the nation. And, that is a serious issue.
Most of India has, for four decades, struggled to tackle the issue of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, considering they’re already having a free run in Assam. In 1971, during the civil war in neighbouring East Pakistan, as Bangladesh was known earlier, at least 10-million Bangladeshis poured into West Bengal in India.
India’s former Minister of State for Home MullappallyRamachandran had even went on record to say that 1.4-million illegal Bangladeshis have migrated to India over the past decade alone. If these ‘residents’ of India are given Aadhaar Cards as has been reported, it validates their existence in India, and gives them legal sanction to continue staying here.
It was back in September 2013 that the SC had to intervene and quash the UPA-led Centre’s move to link Aadhaar number with various essential services terming it “unconstitutional”. Pointing at the shortcomings of the scheme rolled out by the UIDAI, the SC had said the UID number should not be made mandatory to avail essential services such as gas connections, vehicle registration, scholarships, marriage registration, salaries and provident fund. The Apex Court also maintained Aadhaar cards should not be issued to illegal immigrants as it would legitimise their stay in the country (as it has been reported).
Again in March 2014, the SC asked the then UPA-led government to withdraw any orders making Aadhaar mandatory for any essential service. “If there are any instructions that Aadhaar is mandatory, it should be withdrawn immediately,” a bench of justices B S Chauhan and J Chelameswar had said while staying an order of the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court ordering to share data collected for issuance of Aadhaar card with CBI for solving a rape case.
The SC had, then, also directed the UIDAI not to share any information pertaining to an Aadhaar card holder with any government agency. It was around the same time in March when another shocking detail about the Aadhaar scheme came to light. A reply to an application filed under the RTI Act revealed that once you have applied for Aadhaar card, there was no way you could cancel it.
Replying to an RTI application, the then chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) himself admitted that once you give biometric data for the Aadhaar card, there is no going back.
Another revelation made through the RTI application was that Aadhaar was never used to authenticate the LPG subsidies as made to appear by the government, it was merely used as an identification document.
It was CJ Karira, co-convener of India Against Corruption (IAC), who had filed the RTI application in September 2013 seeking information regarding sharing of his Aadhaar data to outside agencies. He had also asked for the procedure to delete one’s name from the UID register.
UIDAI stated that,’ the use of the UID number, provided by the Appellant to his gas agency and bank, was for the limited purpose of ensuring the person being provided the gas cylinders and subsidy was the same. It did not involve any process of authentication or matching by those agencies with the data held by them.’
After the RTI reply and Apex Court’s order to the former UPA government to withdraw orders making Aadhaar mandatory for availing essential services, former Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia reiterating SC’s order had said that no legal basis is needed for transferring benefits under government schemes to beneficiaries’ bank accounts using Aadhaar platform.
One thing that the Aadhaar scheme had definitely managed to do is create much confusion among the masses about its ‘importance. State governments such as the Orissa government included a splattering of ‘their own’ specifications to the UID number such as a ration card number, BPL/APL number (below poverty line/above poverty line), NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) data, driving license number, PAN number, photo I-card number, passport number, Kisan and Credit Card number, LPG consumer number, RashtriyaSwasthya BimaYojana number (National Health Insurance Scheme), pension ID number and passbook number expanding the reach of the UID to risk-ridden limits even furthering its arbitrariness.
There has been confusion about the validity and importance of Aadhaar. People have been running from pillar to post to get that ‘very important legal document’ that will validate their existence in the city, state or the nation especially the ones who fear being the targeted by local political bodies for being ‘outsiders’.
In the whole confusion, it’s the illegal immigrants who are known to procure by hook or crook paperwork essential to extend their stay in India, albeit illegally, that the Aadhar doubles up as the perfect ruse for the lot.
A lot has happened in the course of years since the time the Aadhaar scheme was initiated. There have been reports of Aadhaar cards being found in garbage bins, applicants being issued the Aadhaar cards ‘twice’ over, lakhs of Aadhaar cards being ‘misplaced’ even being ‘issued to a dog, a chair and a tree!’
In the past, investigations revealed that of 48.80 lakh Aadhaar generated in Andhra Pradesh, 2.30 lakh were false and subsequently cancelled. Similar situations in other states too came to light. In Delhi, the biometric exception was introduced for people with high level of disabilities but was used too frequently, raising questions on the credibility of Aadhaar numbers.
Similar instances of fake Aadhaar numbers came to light from Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh. The authority revealed that, of the total Aadhaar generated under this clause, only 22,195 were found to be genuine. Another 6,600 Aadhaar numbers were under investigation.
For enrolment of around 90 crore residents in subsequent phases, the UIDAI has asked agencies not to opt for biometric exception without approval from a senior, preferably a government official. The former UPA-led government had even decided to use Aadhaar payment platform for delivery of its welfare schemes once the enrolment is complete as well.
Hopefully, with the new and well-meaning government in place, the Aadhaar imbroglio may finally be resolved. Like they say, better late than never.
-Gajanan Khergamker (The writer is an independent editor and legal counsel with over three decades of experience. He heads DraftCraft – an India-based media-legal think tank. Website: www.draftcraft.in / Twitter handle: @viewsonthefly)