How can any office of the government pay taxpayers’ money to private companies and not disclose the contracts to taxpayers?
In response to a RTI (Right to Information) query seeking copies of the Unique Identification Authority of India’s (UIDAI) contracts with four private companies—two foreign and two Indian—the authority claimed that these could not be furnished since they have signed non-disclosure agreements with them. The UIDAI is set up and functioning without the sanction of law. It enters into contracts with private companies, including foreign ones, pays them out of the exchequer and refuses to furnish copies of the contracts. Are not these contracts illegal? How could the UIDAI sign contracts on behalf of Planning Commission? Assuming, but not admitting that the UIDAI is empowered to enter into the contracts, are not the non-disclosure agreements illegal? How could any office of the government pay taxpayers’ money to private companies and not disclose the contracts (purpose for which the money is paid) to taxpayers?
The UIDAI has been informed that one of the foreign companies has links with intelligence agencies from a foreign country. This information failed to obtain any reaction from the UIDAI. The response to an RTI application seeking information on foreign company contractors was even more inexplicable. The UIDAI stated that it did not know the country of origin of these contractors and is not concerned about such facts. It added that as long as the bidding contractors had an office in India or an Indian partner and had sent a RFP, the Authority would not bother with origins. That is saying a lot about the kind of due diligence UIDAI has done in choosing contractors for “India’s prestigious world’s largest database project” of the country’s biometric and demographic information.
In answer to another RTI query to furnish copies of contracts pertaining to three empanelled Enrolling Agencies (EAs), the UIDAI did not furnish the copies of applications submitted by these companies and minutes of decision to empanel them. Instead, the UIDAI replied stating that the companies “were empanelled as EAs during the year 2010-11 on the basis of eligibility conditions provided in RFE-2010 and subject to satisfying other terms and conditions.” Such obfuscation is characteristic of the UIDAI’s “transparency”. One of the three companies is a tea estate company. How does a tea estate company satisfy “eligibility conditions” for empanelment, as EA is mysterious, until one reads the RFE. The RFE states, “All organizations (single agency/consortium) interested in undertaking enrolment activities for the UIDAI project shall be empanelled under Level T1, provided they meet the general eligibility criteria”. It is a free for all; anyone and everyone can join the melee of the enrolment process to capture biometric and demographic data of the people of this country.
The UIDAI magnanimously added that the RFE-2010 runs into 74 pages and that the same could be provided at the cost of Rs2 per A4 size page. The UIDAI was careful to point out that it has not signed any contract with any of the EAs. It stated, “It is the sole responsibility of the registrar to assign work order subject to fulfilment of terms and conditions mentioned in Request for Quotations”. Originally, particulars of 209 EAs were published on the UIDAI website. The number has since reduced to around 180. EAs empanelment is renewed yearly. No reasons are available as to why the number of EAs is reduced.
Press and media have reported several instances of fraud and crimes by EAs. FIRs have been filed. Nothing is known about what happened to these cases. Police and media are equally silent on this, and strangely so. One would have thought that the stories on them would make juicy media stories. The UIDAI too, is not forthcoming on details of these cases. An RTI query elicited a vague response from the UIDAI, almost disowning responsibility for what the EAs do. The Authority claimed that this is the responsibility of registrars.
Several instances of the government, which is the executive estate of our democracy, acting contrary to constitutional and parliamentary norms happen with discomforting regularity. The government’s actions in the UID scheme are typical of political arrogance translating into the executive domain. Firstly, The UIDAI has been functioning sans legal mandate ever since it was set up through an executive order in 2009. The UIDAI claims that such executive action is justified through constitutional provisos; a claim, if tested, might wither in the light of judicial scrutiny. If the executive function unchecked by Parliament, spend public money, intrude into people’s lives and commercialize people’s data, then Parliament would become a redundant institution.
The government’s logic is befuddling and sometimes, appears driven by expediency and political convenience. For example, when ‘Team Anna’ was pushing the Jan Lokpal Bill, the government, as well as several politicians of varying hues, waxed eloquent on the supremacy of Parliament. However, when it comes to the UID project, expediency takes over and Parliament propriety is conveniently forgotten. The executive has a highly selective approach towards such niceties as legality, honouring the institution of Parliament and accountability to the people.
Contrast this with the action of the UK government, when it scrapped the National ID Card Act of that country. They have the problems of terrorism and illegal immigration, for which the Blair government thought that a biometric national ID card system was the answer. They passed the Act, appointed contractors and went ahead. The new government scrapped the Act and the project. In doing so, the UK government said, “We propose to do government business as servants of the people, not their masters”.
Our “aam aadmi” government seems to imagine that they are feudal lords. It is time people reclaim sovereignty.
(Mathew Thomas is a former defence services officer and missile scientist turned civic activist, campaigning against state database control of the people.)
UIDAI is currently working under an executive order as the Bill was rejected by the Parliamentary panel in view of lack of proper groundwork, unjustified cost, and instance failure of such exercises in other countries
New Delhi: The government will introduce a bill during the Monsoon Session of Parliament to give legislative powers to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to facilitate its work relating to collection of biometric data of residents.
"We will bring it [UIDAI Bill] in the next Monsoon Session of Parliament instead of the forthcoming Budget Session," Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia told PTI.
The Commission, which is providing administrative support to the Authority, has been asked to draft the Bill that would provide legal sanctity to the UIDAI. The authority is currently working under an executive order.
"In the Budget Session, there are other things, that have to be done. It is not a big decision. We have lots of things to do like annual Plan discussions [with states]. We don't want to be pressurised [with too many engagements]," he said.
Earlier the bill for providing legislative powers to the authority for collection of biometric data and issuing unique identification numbers to all residents, was put off by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance headed by former Finance Minster Yashwant Sinha in December.
The bill was rejected by the Parliamentary panel in view of lack of proper groundwork, unjustified cost, and instance failure of such exercises in other countries.
The UIDAI has recently wriggled out of a row, that continued for a year between Planning Commission and Home Ministry.
While the Home Ministry had raised doubts over the authenticity of data collected by UIDAI, the Planning Commission pitched for the project arguing that it was required for inclusive development.
According to the UIDAI study, it has been affirmed that the authority’s biometric enrolment system is ready to handle high throughput of up to 10 lakh registrations per day and has 99.965% accuracy in terms of duplication detection
New Delhi: Dispelling fears that the biometric technology being employed for the Aadhaar project is flawed, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on Monday asserted that its system is reliable and can achieve the task of providing unique ID cards to the entire population of the country, reports PTI.
“Based on the analysis, the UIDAI confirms that the enrolment system has proven to be reliable, accurate and scalable to meet the nation’s need of providing unique Aadhaar numbers to the entire population,” the UIDAI said.
Amid concerns raised by the home ministry about the quality of data collected by the UIDAI, which could be a security threat, the body today released a report titled, ‘The Role of Biometric technology in Aadhaar Enrolment’, which confirms the high degree of accuracy of biometrics used in the UID project in the context of the large-scale enrolment across India.
The Planning Commission and the home ministry are at loggerheads over the need for the UID project, with both putting forward their respective points of view to prime minister Manmohan Singh.
The controversy is centred on the collection of biometric data of all residents. While the home ministry has maintained that data collected by the Registrar General of India for the National Population Register should form the basis for issuance of unique ID cards, the Planning Commission has reposed faith in the data collected by the Nandan Nilekani-led UIDAI.
The Union Cabinet is likely to discuss the proposal for allowing the UIDAI to continue its work beyond the mandated 200 million enrolments on Tuesday.
According to the UIDAI study, it has been affirmed that the authority's biometric enrolment system is ready to handle high throughput of up to 10 lakh registrations per day and has 99.965% accuracy in terms of duplication detection.
The system meets the country’s requirements in terms of scale as well, with the database capable of accommodating 1.2 billion people.
“The UIDAI biometric system is processing over 100 trillion biometric person matches with a high degree of accuracy each day, capable of issuing 10 lakh Aadhaars daily.
This makes it not only one of the most accurate, but soon to be the largest biometric system in the world,” UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani said in a statement here.
“This certainly gives us a high degree of confidence in executing this project of national importance with scale and accuracy,” UIDAI director general RS Sharma said.