Mumbai, 17th August 2010: "Aadhaar will not be able to effectively address the structural issues that lead to chronic poverty," explained Vickram Crishna, an IITian and Senior Fellow, Privacy International, elaborating on the government's contentious claim that its ambitious unique identification (UID) project will solve the problems of the poor and marginalised sections of the society. Mr Crishna was speaking on the occasion of a workshop conducted by Moneylife Foundation to explore issues revolving around the UID project or 'Aadhaar'.
Some of the key issues debated in the workshop were whether Aadhaar will be effective in stopping leakages in the public distribution system (PDS) as is being touted by the government, whether it will be able to put a stop to illegal immigration and whether the government would be able to ensure protection of the database and prevent it from being misused.
In his presentation, Vickram Crishna said, "India's privacy laws are draconian. There is a potential of misuse of the system. Whether the government can maintain an inviolable and secure database is a key issue. Have any safeguards been put in place to ensure that the processes are secure and transparent?"
However, the central point of debate was whether UID is restricting itself merely to issuing a unique number, not knowing what ultimate use to put it to. "End-user application is the issue here; not merely issuing a unique number," said Mr Crishna. The knowledgeable audience also debated on the efficacy of spending Rs42,000 crore over five years for issuing just a unique identification number (UIN) to half the population of the country. Some people were of the opinion that instead of spending such a huge amount on issuing an ID number, we should check the status of voter cards in the country and that the government should do a cost analysis for the UID project.
Another major claim by the authorities is that the UID project will give a significant boost to the economy through creation of multiple jobs and revenue streams. However Mr Crishna, a graduate of IIT (Delhi) and IIM (Calcutta), highlighted that the system would mostly use existing proprietary technology and will not be able to address systematic issues.
The implementation of technology for the project also emerged as a key cause of disagreement among the participants. Many people felt that it would be difficult to have devices across the country that would identify data based on biometrics, which are supposed to be used for the UIN. While some participants wanted to have an additional ID number, stressing that poor people's existence is basically linked to having some sort of identification; others felt there is no need to go for one more ID, especially if it is going to remain just a number and not a card.
Dr Prakash G Hebalkar, who was instrumental in forming and building up the joint venture of Tata and Unisys as a software and consultancy services activity, said that instead of going for the UID project in one go, we should start it with foreign visitors. After testing the UID with foreigners for about 10 years or so, if the results are encouraging then we should go in for issuing such a number to Indians, he said.
Pictures of the event
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