Aadhar: Today India, tomorrow Bangladesh?

“Another significant criticism of the project has been the possibility of illegal immigrants being issued aadhaar cards. This criticism is aimed primarily at immigrants from Bangladesh. who have been living and working in many parts of India.”

By Reva Yunus for AlalODulal.org 

One of the latest welfare schemes to fall foul of the aadhaar project is a prematric scholarship scheme for students from SC/ST/OBC communities. The scheme, administered by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, was launched with the intention of reducing the educational gap between backward and non-backward classes in India.

The requirement of documentary evidence regularly obstructs disbursement of scholarship funds. It also often results in humiliation and frustration for pupils and parents from socioeconomically weaker sections. Given the frequency of such delays and denials, why has the government linked scholarships with a document which does not yet have legal backing? And yet, this is far from an unwise or hasty move. It is smart and calculated. Going ahead with linking Aadhaar cards with disbursing funds for multiple welfare schemes is a way of pressurising courts into approving the concept of the Aadhar card and the UIDAI (and thus the thousands of crores awarded in contracts to various companies; UIDAI – Unique Identification Authority of India) over some very serious concerns raised by the Standing Committee on Finance which submitted its report on the National Identification Authority of India, Bill 2010, on Dec 31st, 2011. This is obvious in the way the central government has argued to the court that a stay order would not only disrupt and bring to a halt the distribution of subsidies for cooking gas (LPG), but also lead to great loss of money.

There are very serious grounds for opposing systematic biometric profiling of citizens. The most obvious being our infamous inefficiency and corruption; the less obvious and more serious being the opacity of the entire project. Information on who will store the information, who will have access to it, all the purposes that it will be used for, details of contracts awarded – has not yet been made available in the public domain.

Aadhaar is actually being linked to provisioning for all the rights that are most fundamental to human dignity and survival, and must not be made continget upon governmental whims and fancies in a democracy. Or on WB/IMF diktats, for that matter. These are also areas where government has steadfastly refused to invest adequate funds, or to strenghthen and steamline delivery systems, and owning responsibility for provision and delivery. Instead the government insists on creating an incredibly vast and complicated web of cash transfers, targeted schemes and new, untested, and humungously expensive identity-documentation. So we have cash transfers instead of a universal Public Dsitribution System (PDS). We have the centre clamouring for voucher systems, and selective, inegalitarian concepts of model schools and scholarship schemes instead of committing funds and political will to transform the entire huge existing system of public-funded schools. Yet, the same state has shown uncharacteristic alacrity to spend thousands of crores, ignore serious criticism, and undertake a project of dubious constitutional and legal validity to hurriedly create a new system of profiling and documentation. To top it all, it then calls the whole mess, ‘aapka aadhaar’ (aadhaar = foundation, aapka = your/yours).

Another significant criticism of the project has been the possibility of illegal immigrants being issued aadhaar cards. This criticism is aimed primarily at immigrants from Bangladesh. who have been living and working in many parts of India. Given that there have been incidents of such immigrants acquiring fake credentials such as voter-identification cards, it is not difficult to understand why the possibility of provision of aadhaar cards to illegal immigrants has sparked off a heated debate around the UID project. The Standing Committee also raised this question of card holders’ citizenship as the Bill sought to issue aadhaar cards to all residents of India. In response to the Supreme Court’s recent directive that aadhaar cards must not be issued to residents who are not citizens of India, the UIDAI has submitted aadhaar cards are only intended as evidence of identity, not citizenship. The Authority argued that assessing and documenting citizenship of residents is the job of other authorities, which it cannot ‘impinge’ on. This only highlights concerns raised by the SCF on role and purpose of UID numbers, duplication of work by multiple authorities in the country as well as the efficacy of the proposed introducer system.
Finally and most importantly, we cannot forget that the UID project is incredibly undeniably big business for Big Business, and not just in India. Contracts have been awarded and information collected while the government has not yet provided credible, coherent and complete information on all the purposes for which this personal biometric and other data would be used, and under what conditions it would be shared with other agencies or what inter/national agencies these would be. After all, it is our privacy, our rights, and public funds which are at stake here. So, why should we not remind the policy makers that what is urgently needed is direct and adequate investment in provisioning for basic rights of people, to create a far more solid and substantial ‘aadhaar’ for the country and all its people.

Reva Yunus is doctoral Researcher at the Department of Sociology, University of Warwick

(1) http://socialjustice.nic.in/pre-matric.php
(2) http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/Indore/MP-Dalits-told-to-get-clicked-with-dead-animals-for-wards-scholarship/Article1-1128493.aspx
(3) http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/industry-and-economy/info-tech/hcl-info-bags-rs-2000crore-aadhaar-contract/article3749967.ece ,
(4) http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/centre-seeks-modification-of-court-order-on-aadhaar/article5200236.ece?ref=relatedNews
(5) http://www.thestatesman.net/news/7372-aadhaar-unmasked-card-or-number-crow-or-cuckoo-26th-july-2013.html?page=3).

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