A meeting of civil society groups from across the country trashed the government’s ambitious UID scheme, saying it is deeply undemocratic, expensive and fraught with unforeseen consequences
The government is set to issue the first set of unique identities (UID) to about 100 million people in the current fiscal year as part of its ambitious project to give every Indian citizen access to good governance and provide basic services to the poor. Already, however, some chinks in the armour have begun to appear in this landmark initiative, which was the subject of hot debate at a recent public meeting organised yesterday at the Constitution Club in New Delhi by a coalition of civil society groups under the banner of 'Campaign for No UID'.
The technological, economic, social and political aspects of the National Identification Authority Bill currently before Parliament came under heavy scrutiny at the meeting, which saw participation from groups from Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi. Speakers at the meeting asserted that the government's claims are grossly exaggerated, false and unjustified. One of the claims made by the government is that the project will put a stop to leakages in the public distribution system (PDS). However, it was pointed out that issues such as corruption and non-inclusion of families under BPL (Below the Poverty Line) ensure that PDS does not meet its stated objectives. The issuance of a 12-digit number to the poor will therefore hardly result in them accessing cheap food.
Another doubtful claim by the government is that UID will lead to financial inclusion for beneficiaries of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). But again, this does not make sense because 83% already have bank accounts and systemic thefts remain a deeper concern, which will not be addressed by UID.
In fact, it is very likely that many poor people will actually be excluded from accessing services because of technical problems with the use of biometrics. JT D'Souza, an expert on biometrics, asserted that using biometrics as a core authenticator is deeply flawed as it has never been tested on such a large scale (850 million people) and is easily susceptible to forgery. Research by experts shows that with the technology available today a $10 investment can spoof finger-print and iris scanners with fake fingers and patterned contact lenses.
The meeting also noted that the functioning of the UID has been non-transparent and undemocratic. It was pointed out that despite setting up the UID Authority of India (UIDAI) in June 2009, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is yet to issue a white paper on the scheme and how it is going to go about delivering basic social services to the poor.
Senior Member of Parliament from the Revolutionary Socialist Party of India (RSP) Abani Roy called for the launching of a massive campaign to resist this expensive and dangerous project through which several companies will gain massive contracts from the public exchequer. The budget estimates vary from Rs45,000 crore to Rs1.5 lakh crore. He also noted that the UID is yet to be comprehensively discussed or debated in Parliament.
It is now increasingly apparent that the UID project is a half-baked idea that will drain the coffers of the exchequer without showing much for it. The project aims to cover only 600 million people over the next five years, at an estimated cost of Rs45,000 crore. However, nobody seems to be factoring the likelihood of a further escalation in costs for the project due to inflation and other reasons. This will be a huge burden on the nation - money which should be directed towards more pressing needs like infrastructure development, education etc., will find its way to the pockets of a few companies under contract from the government.
There is also the issue of duplication of identities. If the government's aim is to provide an ID to those who are at the sidelines of society, then it is overlooking the fact that people who already have PAN cards and passports will be issued another ID, making for a large chunk of the target group. As such, this exercise will barely benefit half the target number, as they have alternative IDs.
Most unfortunately, the real objective behind this project is being drowned out in the frenetic attempt to bring out the UIDs. Sadly even the revered technocrat Nandan Nilekani, who has been assigned the project responsibility, seems to be directing his attention more towards putting the mechanism in place for the project and authenticating the technical aspects. In his zealous drive to get the job done, he has perhaps lost touch of whether the project will ultimately create meaningful value for the nation.
The question that begs to be answered is: Is this project genuinely in the national interest or does it serve some underhand purpose of the government?
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New Delhi: After wranglings between the power and transport ministries, the government has now decided to notify fuel efficiency standards for auto makers under the Energy Conservation Act which will come into force from January next year, reports PTI.
"The standards will be notified under the Energy Conservation Act, 2002 by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) and not under the Motor Vehicle Act," environment minister Jairam Ramesh said at the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) summit here.
This has been decided, he said, "after considerable wranglings between different ministries and inhibition by the automobile sector.
"And since technical work has been done. Only fine-tuning is remaining. I would urge SIAM to work with the power and surface transport ministries to work with the clear objective of moving towards mandatory fuel standards from January next year."
For quiet sometime, the matter had been a bone of contention between the power and the road transport and highways ministries.
The SIAM has agreed to move towards voluntarily labelling from October this year under which all of its members declare mileage of their vehicles certified by the Automotive Research Association of India.
However, Mr Ramesh felt that it was high time that the automobile industry move at the earliest from the voluntary regime to the mandatory fuel efficiency standards regime in the absence of which it is expected to be a major contributor to the country's total green house gas emissions.
"I had been fighting all along that we must move from voluntary to mandatory regime of fuel efficiency standards. If the US could do it... president Obama has done it even though he had legislation problem, he used the Environment Protection Act to move into the regime of mandatory fuel efficiency standards. Let's also quickly do that," he said.
Presently, the transport sector contributes about 15% to 20% of the country's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
"But the rate at which the automobile sector is growing our own estimations are that by the year 2025-30 it could account close to 25% of our GHG emissions.
"Hence not only because of the air pollution point of view but also the climate change point of view, environment-friendly transportation assume special importance," the minister said.