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Aadhaar: Unique Identity Number: IN SEARCH OF BASE & IDENTITY, By Dr. S.Saraswathi, 3 July, 2012 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 3 July 2012

Aadhaar: Unique Identity Number


By Dr. S.Saraswathi

Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


Ridiculed as a “white elephant” by many and condemned as a “novelty” far removed from the reality of prevailing Indian conditions, Aadhaar continues to grow strong as the Government’s pet project. Notwithstanding, the aam aadmi neither understand the plan nor its utility.


Started with great expectations and given a unique status, Aadhaar or Unique Identity (UID) number has got caught in perennial controversies since its inception in 2006.  Perhaps, this is due to the unsuitability of private sector thinking and practices to a public sector project wherein the UID raises more questions than providing answers for building an authentic data base on India’s population.


Think. The common man does not know what Aadhaar is about, what its utility is, and what would be the long-term consequences if he does not enroll for it.  All the aam aadmi knows is that it is a massive project entailing several thousand crores expenditure wherein its cost has exceeded original estimates.


He is also aware that it has no development object and has created differences between Ministries and Departments over over-lapping responsibilities, duplication of work and lack of coordination. Needless to say, the project is shrouded in mystery over its purpose and operation.


Recall, UID started in 2006 with the limited objective of providing ID cards to BPL families.  The UIDAI (The Unique Identity Authority of India) was constituted by the Planning Commission in January 2009.  Its task was to collect demographic and bio-metric information and issue ID numbers to individuals which materialised last year.


 Aadhaar is a 12- digit individual identification number issued by the UIDAI on behalf of the Government which will serve as proof of a person’s identity and address anywhere in India.  The number is valid for life.  The original idea was to cover the entire population, which has now been scaled down to 600 million by 2014 and enrolment is optional.


Pertinently, UID is also similar to the National Population Register (NPR) in many respects and the Multi-purpose National Identity Card (MNIC) which is compulsory registration of all citizens under the Citizenship Act of 1955. 


Importantly, the crux of the UID issue is the question of adding bio-metric data in the register, as originally suggested. Notably, instead of simplifying the operation by using existing data, a huge project has been floated which has not only raised several administrative issues but also has financial implications.        


In fact, since its inception, lack of legislative sanction and possible duplication of work vis-à-vis the Population Register has been haunting the UIDAI. Shockingly, it has no statutory status.  As the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance rejected the National Identity Authority of India Bill 2010 which was intended to provide a legal basis to UIDAI.  On the contrary, it raised questions regarding ethics, feasibility, purpose and conduct of the project as well as its legality.


The Standing Committee pointed out that the scheme was approved by the Government without any feasibility study being conducted, mandatory in every large-scale project.  Doubts were also raised regarding UIDAI’s effectiveness of its methodology and reliability of the technology used. 


The Committee also remarked that the project was directionless with no clarity of purpose.  It urged the Government to reconsider and review the UID Scheme as the scheme would have serious consequences for national security.


Undeniably, for Aadhaar to be relevant it must be continuously updated for additions and deletions without which the present exercise would become futile and irrelevant. Thus, one can envisage a permanent UIDAI taking shape as a parallel to the Census organization.


There is no gainsaying, that similar projects in other countries too have met with serious objections and been dropped.  It is incomprehensible why India is toying with projects which have failed to take-off in other countries. Akin to the country often knowingly or unknowingly purchasing out-moded equipments and out-dated technology when the world has gone far ahead.


Further, it is claimed that the UID number will give the much-needed identity to those having no documentary proof of their existence in the country and make them eligible for benefitting from various welfare schemes.  Namely, Public Distribution Scheme (PDS), National Rural Employment Guarantee Authority (NREGA) and National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) will become accessible to the poor with the UID card.


Also, tasks like opening a bank account, taking out an insurance policy, getting a passport, gas connection, bank loans, etc., would become easier.  Primarily, Aadhaar is meant to be used as basis for efficient delivery of welfare services. Questionably, the Government has yet to clarify why it needs such a huge project involving enormous expenditure simply to establish an individual’s identity.


As it stands, every citizen above 18 years already has a voters’ identity card which could have been enlarged to cover the entire population.  More. There is a permanent Census organisation with trained staff and nation-wide offices preparing the National Population Register.


Arguably, if the assumption is that the data available with these organisations are not reliable, then the effort should be directed to improving the methodology and techniques of data collection and analysis and making these operations sound. 


Moreover, there is also no guarantee that the UIDAI can do a better job than the Census.  Some reports point to malpractices in acquiring the Aadhaar card. What to speak of the high rate of discrepancies in data collection by the UIDAI and other organisations.  Therefore, the decision to keep UID optional is the best option.


In addition, the scope for violation of people’s right to privacy is cited by many as the most objectionable aspect of Aadhaar.  The UID facilitates personal information including finger prints and eye iris scans becoming public and falling in the hands of   private parties like schools, hospitals, banks et al.


Clearly, this has the potential to open the Pandora’s Box of misuse and lead to crime.  Any wonder, the educated class’s aversion to avail of Aadhaar. Hence, the UIDAI needs to clarify all aspects of the UID and convince people about its purpose and utility. ---- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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