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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Supreme Court says 'Aadhar' is not compulsory

Govt. policies do change, especially when there is change in Government….. but something supported and promoted so much by this Govt. is going for a toss – and alongwith it crores of investment !! …….  You may or may not have Aadhar… but sure would know of it… the 12-digit supposedly unique number which the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was to  issue for all residents. The number will be stored in a centralized database and linked to the basic demographics and bio metric information – photograph, ten fingerprints and iris – of each individual. The Aadhaar data collection programme is the largest biometric data collection programme in the world without any data protection law or data protection authority to provide any privacy safeguards.

A couple of days ago, UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani expressed hope that the target of issuing 60 crore Aadhaar numbers would be met by 2014, saying that so far 40 crore people have already received them.  In most parts of Tamilnadu the Aadhar programme is on in right earnest – there are delays, snarls, system error – still the work is on……… also personally experienced that though details such as Voter ID; passport; PAN etc., were all provided – not all captured and when captured, only for the head of the family and not for all !!!!

Briefly, the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 introduced in Rajya Sabha on 3 December, 2010 was referred to a Parliamentary Committee and Aadhar was born reportedly with a view to ensure that the benefits of centrally sponsored schemes reaches to right person and not misused.  The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), is an agency of the Government of India responsible for implementing the  Aadhar scheme. The agency which is part of Planning commission,  is headed by a chairman, who holds a cabinet rank. Nandan Nilekani, former co-chairman of Infosys Technologies, was appointed as the first Chairman of the authority and there have been much news than its making or issuance…..

Govt is hell-bent on making its Direct Cash transfer scheme a grand hit.   To make it a success, Govt linked it to LPG scheme and subsidy and stated that LPG would be sold at market price and the subsidy would be credited to the bank accounts thus making the linkage between bank accounts and Aadhaar number.  So, from the days of cycle delivery, it moved that for a refill, one would need - a Bank Account, Aadhar Unique No.; have link between the two – then pay the high price, later expect the subsidy to be transferred to their bank account. 

The deadline was drawing to a close…….. and now comes the news that the Supreme Court has ordered the government not to withhold any social benefits from those who are yet to get the Aadhar card and not to issue the unique identification card to illegal immigrants.  The interim order of the Apex Court bench states that  "No benefit of service shall be denied on account of non-possession of Aadhar, and no illegal immigrants would be issued Aadhar."  The SC bench, comprising Justices BS Chauhan and SA Bobde, has thwarted the governmental attempt by directing that Govts should not link subsidies and social welfare benefits to the possession of Aadhar cards.

Surprisingly, it is noted that the Solicitor General on behalf of the Govt tendered before the Court that Aadhar was purely voluntary and denied all the charges raised in the PIL filed by retired Karnataka High Court judge KS Puttaswamy.  The petition claimed that different governments have linked social benefits to Aadhar which resulted in many people being denied these benefits. It cited several examples such as Maharashtra paying salaries to teachers only into Aadhar card-linked bank accounts and such cards being made mandatory in Jharkhand for registration of marriages. Represented by senior lawyer Anil Divan, the petition also claimed that Aadhar cards are being issued indiscriminately to all, including illegal immigrants, posing a huge security risk to the country. The whole process was rushed through vide an executive order for political ends, the petition alleged. The PIL also claimed that the UID was in violation of Article 21, right to life guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, as it was against a person's right to privacy.

Only recently, papers were awash with speculation about Nandan Nilekani, Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI),  would fight the next Lok Sabha elections on a Congress ticket. His contesting the elections and affiliation to a party is no news ~ he is an articulate person but it appears clear that there was no legal backing to the scheme and it has not gone well within the party circles as well.   

Interestingly, there was an article in Firstpost calling the Aadhar scheme, a Trojan horse gifted by a dysfunctional government which will ultimately compromise our security without even a figleaf of statutory protection for our privacy. It has been sold as a means to reach government benefits to the poor, but it could well end up as one more tool in the hands of the powerful to exclude some and extract speed money from the rest. Other than the legality, the article points out that there is no such assurance to Indian citizens that their fingerprints will not fall in the wrong hands. The  idea of keeping an entire population’s biometric and personal details – every man, woman and child living in the territory of India, even if not a citizen – in huge databases is scary. Some 1,210 million people will stand exposed when UIDAI is completed. No country has ever done this for unstated purposes, though the US does so for social security, and has strong laws protecting people against misuse. The Aadhar data falling in private hands makes it too vulnerable for impersonation and all other associated evils.  It points out that contrary to the purpose of weeding out duplicate / fake identities, it could breed more corruption; the author is wary of the safety breach that one’s assets and financial status could be known to unscrupulous elements……… and hence the scheme itself is not trustworthy……….

As you read more, you tend to get carried away in to scarier details ~ and one does not know for sure –whether to feel happy with the present Apex Court directive …. !!

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

24th Sept. 2013.

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