Finally, real truth about lack of data privacy is exposed
On 24th March, in one fell swoop, the Supreme Court of India (SC) defanged the Congress-led government’s most expensive and most controversial Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) programme. The government was asked to withdraw all orders making the Aadhaar number mandatory and told that UIDAI cannot share Aadhaar details with any agency without a person’s concurrence.
Strangely, the deathblow came from UIDAI’s own petition. UIDAI had appealed against a lower court’s order asking it to share biometric data with the police for a criminal investigation. UIDAI did not want to share data or allow its competence or capability to be tested, as ordered by the high court. It was then that it admitted that its technology was not foolproof as touted and the 0.057% error rate could lead to lakhs of false identification possibilities in criminal cases, if applied to 57 crore Indians whose biometrics (fingerprints and iris scan) are captured by UIDAI.
The UIDAI has always maintained that Aadhaar was not mandatory and that the data could not be shared without a person’s consent. However, in the absence of a clear statute and non-transparent functioning, privacy activists had filed petitions raising several key concerns about UIDAI’s backdoor strategy of making Aadhaar mandatory for payment of salaries to government employees, LPG subsidies, birth and death registrations, admissions to schools and colleges, etc. Nandan Nilekani, a founder of Infosys and the high-profile technocrat behind this programme, personally lobbied with Reserve Bank of India (RBI), individual banks and the capital market regulator to try and make it mandatory even for those with multiple identities.
Ironically, the massive spending on Aadhaar was sanctioned on the grounds that it would provide identity to millions of poor and disenfranchised Indians and allow them to get the benefits of government schemes and subsidies. In making these claims, Aadhaar hid many crucial facts.
These were: biometrics are not fool proof; finger prints change, have to be revalidated every few years and can be cloned easily; and the sub-contracted data collection process was flawed. People have multiple Aadhaar numbers and Aadhaar numbers have been issued to chairs and tables and, as a sting operation confirmed, Aadhaar was easily issued to foreigners for a price and a letter from a politician.
On 26th March, CJ Karira, an activist, won an appeal against the UIDAI’s reluctance to respond to Right to Information (RTI) queries and obtained answers to some crucial questions. First, that oil companies are not using Aadhaar to ‘authenticate’ the identity, but only to ‘match’ the number for themselves. There is no way to delete biometric data if a person wants to ‘opt’ out of Aadhaar—there is no exit. The most stunning revelation was that UIDAI does not maintain any record of who the Aadhaar data is shared with or when.
All this only exposes the dubious role played by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on a project that admits to have spent Rs4,000 crore already to enrol 57 crore Indians and has been sanctioned a huge budget for further spending without a parliamentary nod.
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, who unearthed Prabhakar Deshmukh’s land scam and acquisition of wealth in gross violation of service rules, filed a complaint to CVC, which will now conduct an inquiry
Over and above the 300 acre agricultural land scam in Jambhe village of Satara district of Pune’s Divisional Commissioner Prabhakar Deshmukh, details of which are here, owns several properties in his family’s name. Right to Information (RTI) activist Vijay Kumbhar unearthed other properties of Deshmukh in the name of his wife and other family members. The case of owning such assets is in gross violation of All India Services (Conduct) Rules. A formal complaint was sent to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) Delhi last fortnight. The CVC has acknowledged the complaint that would lead to investigation in this matter against Deshmukh.
In his complaint to the CVC, Kumbhar has alleged “corruption and favouritism”, stating that Prabhakar Deshmukh (IAS), presently Divisional Commissioner of Pune, Maharashtra, “is a very influential officer in Maharashtra. In his entire tenure, he has hardly been posted out of Pune Division and since last more than ten years he has been posted in Pune only”.
Kumbhar, who rigorously used Section 4 to bring out the scandal, says he has sent “substantial evidence” against Deshmukh. His complaint reads thus:
“Although there are several allegations against Mr Prabhakar Deshmukh, I am citing only those cases for which there is concrete documentary evidence. There is violation of All India Services (Conduct) Rules especially Sections 9, 11, 13, 14 and 16, Maharashtra Agriculture Land Ceiling Act and the nature of these acts is unbecoming of an IAS Officer. All details of Jambhe land scam here…
• Mrs Anuradha Deshmukh, wife of Mr Prabhakar Deshmukh in October 2006, purchased a plot in Mundhwa area of Pune admeasuring 593 Sq. m. from a real estate management company named Abhay Property Management Pvt Ltd, at a cost of Rs4.75 lakh, almost 75% less than the ready reckoner cost, which was Rs16.04 lakh. Normally, such transactions are always at prices that are more than the ready reckoner price. Mrs Anuradha Deshmukh signed an agreement regarding the property for a project floated as Eastern Ranges by Phadnis Properties. The cost of the above-mentioned property escalated to Rs60.28 lakh from Rs4.75 lakh. The ready reckoner price had come to Rs41.44 lakh. Mrs Phadnis has been signing other documents in the name of Phadnis Properties. This is evident because she also had a development agreement with Phadnis Properties.
• Mrs Deshmukh has purchased agriculture land at Wakhari in Daund Tehsil of Pune district. Here too, she purchased a property of which ready reckoner rate was Rs36.40 lakh by paying just Rs12.26 lakh to poor farmers
• In 2006, Mrs Deshmukh’s father purchased three acres of agricultural land for a mere Rs8 lakh. The father then generously gifted this land to Mrs Deshmukh. On the setting up of the Integrated Township Project, Mrs Deshmukh sold this plot at an unknown price. However, the cost of this land shown in the Immovable Property Return (IPR) of Mr Deshmukh is Rs95 lakh.
• Mr Deshmukh himself, wife Anuradha, son Mayuraj and daughter Harshada purchased land at Nanded Township in Pune city and here also a huge integrated township has come up and all purchasers have signed joint venture agreement with the developer.
• One Sindhu Naik-Nimbalkar gifted two plots at Akluj in Solapur district in September 2010 admeasuring 311.40 sq. m. and 290.4 sq. m. (In IPR only one plot is shown) to Mr Deshmukh’s son Mayuraj and in April 2011, he sold these plots for Rs35 lakh.
• Mr. Deshmukh’s family has floated four companies. None finds a mention in his IPR. These companies are (a) Ornate Graphics Private Limited, 11, Pushpanjali Apts., 20/100 Gidney Park, Salisbury Park, Pune (b) Kernel Ornate Private Limited, 11, Pushpanjali Apts., 20/100 Gidney Park, Salisbury Park, Pune (c) Dream Social Foundation, Sadamangal Co-op Hsg society, S. no. 103, flat no 10, bldg no 3, Shastri Nagar, Yerawada. One of these companies has purchased about 5,000 sq. ft. commercial office in Magarpatta city, a huge and prime township in Pune. Obviously, this is not shown in IPR of Mr Deshmukh
• Mrs Deshmukh is director in a company named Subodh Industries Private Ltd, 11, Pushpanjali Apts., 20/100 Gidney Park, Salisbury Park, Pune since 2004. This Company possesses many immovable properties. This too is not mentioned in IPR of Mr Deshmukh
• Many companies are registered at 11, Pushpanjali Apts., 20/100 Gidney Park, Salisbury Park, Pune. In some of these companies relatives of either Mrs Deshmukh or Mr Deshmukh’s are directors. Moreover most of the directors of these companies have purchased huge immovable properties in prime locations of Pune.
• In Ornate Graphics Pvt Ltd, there was one director named Sangram Zunjarrao Deshmukh. This gentleman is also a director in Anupriya Sugar Pvt Ltd. In Anupriya Sugar, there is another Director Sangram Khanajirao Jadhav. Mr Jadhav is the one who has sold land in Nanded city to Prabhakar Deshmukh.
Kumbhar says, “This is just the tip of the iceberg. If you investigate the matter in totality, you will find more and more such misdeeds. I have already lodged complaint with Government of Maharashtra. MP Kirit Somaiya has lodged a complaint with Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) of Maharashtra. It is also said that ACB has asked sanction for public inquiry in this case. However, the Government of Maharashtra has not given such permission. Please investigate the matter and take appropriate action as per law as soon as possible.”
To add to this, Ajit Pawar, the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, had gone on public record stating that after hearing a few conversations on phone (phone tapping?), he has concluded that all the accusations are invalid.
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How RTI activist exposed Pune Div Commissioner Prabhakar Deshmukh’s land scam
It may be presumed that Reliance will have to continue its supplies of gas, "on account basis", because, so far, no clear announcement has been made as to what would happen to pricing of natural gas
It took several months of negotiation. From a high production, the fall in gas supplies from Reliance Industries, has gone down to 10 msmcd, whereas, at once stage, it was in the 60s and hopes were high to reach the 80s! At the moment, it looks more like a geographical surprise than anything else, but our national plans have gone wary.
The revised price, announced by the Ministry of Petroleum, cannot be brought into effect from 1st April, in line with the existing contract, due to the ensuing elections when millions will go to the polls from 7th April. According to the announcement already made, polling will continue till the evening of 16th May, and the results will begin to hit the TV screens probably from 17/18th May onwards. Details are expected.
Though Reliance has 50 agreements with its consumers, only 16 of them are "active" or "alive" as these relate to supply of gas to fertiliser units. Exact quantities of gas supplied to each of these unit is not readily available, but, whatever the quantity supplied is not adequate to meet the full demand.
The model of code of conduct, which comes into effect now, technically expires only on 16th May as mentioned above. It may, therefore, be presumed that Reliance will have to continue its supplies of gas, "on account basis", because, so far, no clear announcement has been made as to what would happen after the "polling" is effectively completed on 16th May.
Since a clear cut statement has not been made by the Ministry, both Reliance and the fertiliser industry are at a loss to know what to do, except hope, that in order to maintain supply continuity, Reliance will serve the cause of the national interest and supply the gas "on account basis", till official announcement is made by the new government.
It is difficult to conjecture as to who will be forming the government, and what will be their order of priorities for the jobs to be done, since portfolios have to be allocated and cabinet meetings have to take place before decisions of such national importance are made.
Meantime, it is reported that Reliance wants to have new negotiated agreements with buyers, calling them as "bridge agreement" which may have to be revised when final decision on price is taken! As far as the fertiliser industry is concerned, they want such agreements to be for a period of 5 years, instead of one year as suggested by Reliance, who has also maintained that the proposed agreement is "aligned" with the Rangarajan price formula based on which price changes every quarter!
Revision of price, every quarter, would not be practical in actual implementation and a simpler annual rate, perhaps, would be more realistic and workable.
The other major issue that has been raised is to follow the global practice of adhering to "gross caloric value" (GVC); if Reliance calculates on GVC, then the price may go up by a $1 per unit. This again, needs further clarification and approval by the ministry.
Moneylife has regularly covered on the gas supplies in the past; and it is now time that, when the new government takes over the administration, a detailed study is made and discussions are carried in depth with all the gas and oil producers to come to a consensus decision, so that there are no periodic pinpricks that come up and affect the people at large.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)