Ashok Gehlot government’s submission to the Supreme Court, just before vacating the office, not only dismisses fundamental rights of Indian citizens but also questions powers of the apex court. That too when several experiments in Rajasthan had revealed the failure of Aadhaar-based systems
“If once people become inattentive to the public affairs, “you and I, Congress and Assemblies, judges and Governors shall become wolves.”
-Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of USA in a letter, 16 January, 1787
“The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.”
-Thomas Jefferson in a letter, 13 November, 1787
Commenting on Aadhaar-based cash transfers, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, Shankar Singh of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan had prophetically said, “You transfer cash, we’ll transfer our votes.” The voters transferred the votes from Congress to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Out of the 49 assembly constituencies where direct benefits transfer (DBT) implemented, the Congress could win only three, while BJP won 39. This is a verdict against Aadhaar-linked programs of the Congress party. BJP cannot afford to delay announcement of its abolition. It should unsign the memorandum of understanding (MoU) the state governments signed with illegal and illegitimate Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) headed by Congressman Nandan Nilekani.
So far Rajasthan is the only state, which has filed its affidavit in the matter of biometric Aadhaar number in compliance with the Supreme Court’s order of 26 November 2013 seeking affidavits from all the states. Vasundhara Raje Scindia assumed the office as the 24th chief minister of Rajasthan on 13 December 2013 defeating Ashok Gehlot of Indian National Congress (Congress). It was unethical and inappropriate for the Gehlot government to have filed the affidavit in the matter on 5 December 2013 knowing instead of waiting for the new chief minister to take over. All the citizens of 33 districts of the state await Raje’s intervention to save them from the harassment caused to them due to the implementation of illegal and illegitimate biometric Aadhaar number scheme.
In its preliminary reply filed by Dr Hansraj Yadav, additional director (UID), Department of DoT&C, Government of Rajasthan under the regime of Congress in the matter of Aruna Roy Vs Union of India, which attached Justice Puttaswamy’s petition against biometric Aadhaar, submitted, “The State of Rajasthan is unambiguously in favour of implementation of Aadhaar Scheme. In fact, if Aadhaar Scheme as conceived and contemplated is implemented throughout the country then every resident shall have a unique identification number (UID) and which shall have obvious positive impact. Therefore, one cannot find fault with overarching scheme which postulates a unique identification number for every resident of the country.”
The affidavit submits, “The biometric science would only identify the concerned person and it is only for identification of person. Thus, use of aforesaid information cannot be termed as Invasion of Privacy and adequate care has been taken that the data collected during the preparation of Aadhaar Card does not come in public domain.”
It is not clear as to how this “obvious” inference has been arrived at.
But when one reads what this affidavit argues about the powers of the Supreme Court then it becomes abundantly clear that it is not only dismissing the fundamental rights of citizens but also the powers of the Court. It submits, “It is most respectfully submitted that the Court has very limited powers of judicial review to examine a policy decision.” This argument will have us believe that court has limited powers and the government has unlimited powers.
On the issue of “Lack of competence of Executive to implement Aadhaar Scheme in absence of legislation or when legislation is being contemplated by the Parliament”, it submits that “The executive power is only fettered by the fact that it should not be inconsistent with any law made by the Parliament or which contravenes the fundamental rights of the resident. In the present matter, the Union of India had the legislative competence to enact law and therefore shall proprio vigora have requisite executive power.” The Latin phrase PROPRIO VIGORE means by its own force or vigor or of one’s own strength. This proposition in the affidavit is absurd and the phrase in question has been used in an inappropriate context. The fact is that Government of India can introduce the Bill in the Parliament and propose the law but it does not mean it has “the legislative competence to enact law”, the competence for enactment of law lies with the legislature.
The affidavit is deliberate creating ambiguity about the involvement of private agencies and confines itself to the agencies involved in the distribution of Aadhaar. It feigns ignorance about involvement of transnational identification technology companies who admittedly work with foreign intelligence agencies.
The Gehlot government had issued a circular on 17 October 2012 to all the residents of Rajasthan including government servants to get enrolled for Aadhaar. Field visits in Rajasthan in February 2013 revealed that two months after the roll out in 20 pilot districts, the total amount of money transferred nationally was only Rs5.5 crore through the Aadhaar-based payment network. In Ajmer, out of some 20,000 potential beneficiaries, only some 220 beneficiaries received money in the bank through the biometric Aadhaar. Even this money was not through a biometric identification, illustrating how it was a failure. In the Janani Suraksha Yojna, out of some 1400, only 139 women who delivered children in the hospital received money in the bank through Aadhaar sans biometrics.
The experiment in Kotkasim, Alwar district, Rajasthan brought to light the fact that the crash in sale of kerosene happened because many ration card holders did not have bank accounts but financial newspapers reported that the sale dropped because leakage has been plugged based on District Collector’s report. The fact was since the subsidy could not be reimbursed to many ration card holders, they were compelled to stop buying kerosene. The banks are located far away adding to the villagers having to incur transport expenses. If such experiments continue even the existing system will collapse as people are being driven out from it. It is not about the “bogey of non-access to public services”, these experiments reveals that the Aadhaar based system is not working.
The Congress-led Rajasthan government had linked 10-key schemes to the Aadhaar unique identification programme making it compulsory for arms license, old-age, widow and differently-abled pension schemes, rural job cards, ration cards, driving license, property registration, water and electricity connections, Indira Awas Yojna and student scholarships.
The affidavit observes, “since Aadhaar number corresponds to a unique record, therefore, tagged to a unique individual, merely introduction of Aadhaar in the beneficiary database ensures detection of a large number of duplicates.”
The fact is that there is no evidence about the extent of the leakage due to duplicates. The paper done by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy at the behest of UIDAI is an exercise in assumptions because the authors themselves admit that their data is outdated and in some aspects the data is not available. This is admittedly not an independent study as was claimed by Nilekani in April 2013 in Washington. The biometrics collected for “de-duplicating” all the residents of Rajasthan is an improbable task because the December 2009 report of UIDAI’s committee on biometrics revealed that in its sample of 25,000 people, 2-5% did not have biometric records. It is estimated that approximately 5% of any population has unreadable fingerprints, either due to scars or aging or illegible prints. In the Indian environment, experience has shown that the failure to enroll is as high as 15% due to the prevalence of a huge population dependent on manual labour, according to RS Sharma, the then director general and mission director, UIDAI. When as many as 15% fail to enroll, how does “Aadhaar in the beneficiary database ensures detection of a large number of duplicates”?
The affidavit submits, “It is equally a sedimented proposition of law that possibility of misuse or even some aberrations whilst implementation or enforcement of a policy decision would not invalidate a scheme or policy decision.” Similar indefensible arguments have been advanced by Congress-led union government in the matters of coal block allocation and 2G spectrum allocation. It has been admitted by the government that Court can intervene if “the policy decision is patently arbitrary, discriminatory or mala fide”. There is sufficient evidence to infer that decisions regarding Aadhaar and related schemes are ‘patently arbitrary, discriminatory or mala fide’. It is arbitrary because there was no feasibility study and no cost-benefit analysis that preceded their launch.
In response to a question in the Lok Sabha: "whether any pre-feasibility study or cost benefit analysis was done before the notification for creation of UIDAI was issued on 28 January 2009; if so, the details thereof," V Narayanaswamy, as minister of planning, replied on 18 August 2010 that "An Empowered Group of Ministers which was constituted in December 2006 .... decided that a Unique Identification Authority of India be constituted under the Planning Commission and be made responsible for implementing the project which would aim at better targeting of welfare services, improving efficiency of the services and better governance. The benefits accruing out of the project should far outweigh the cost of the project." It did not undertake the cost-benefit analysis and this was underlined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance in its report. It is mala fide because it has not disclosed to Indians that the biometric profiling under Aadhaar is linked to National Population Register (NPR), which in turn is related to National Intelligence Grid.
The new government in Rajasthan should immediately withdraw this circular issued by CK Mathew, the chief secretary in compliance with the Supreme Court’s order to tide over the sad legacy of the Congress government.
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
There is an urgent need to encourage corporate bodies to invest in building up the infrastructure facilities for storage and exports of foodgrains
In order to support the Food Security Act, the Ministry of Agriculture has estimated that the essential foodgrains in India, to the extent of 53 million tonnes be maintained as a buffer stock. This is based on the assumption that it is safe to have this divided into three categories. A three month buffer stock, at the rate of 5.1 million tonnes (mt), three months reserve and a strategic reserve of 7.5 mt would be sufficient, as a start, as per Tejinder Singh, a well known foodgrain trade analyst.
Also, we must remember that as fresh supplies are coming in, stored materials are also being despatched continuously for daily consumption. The foodgrains in overflowing godowns are stored, in large quantities, outside under plastic sheets, tarpaulins etc, which are subject to heavy climatic damage, besides being vulnerable to pilferage and act as a regular storehouse for rodents! Any excess inventory of even 13 to 15 mt are estimated to be worth Rs32,500 crore to Rs37,500 crore!
According to information available in the media, as of December 2013, the stock level of foodgrains with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) stood at 45 mt, some 20 million more than required, based on the estimation of 5.1 mt per month. This figure varies from time to time, based on consumption pattern, arrivals and despatches. We must also bear in mind that most state governments have their own food subsidy schemes, and there is no uniformity on a national scale.
Our foodgrains should be sold, on export basis, at the best possible prices in the overseas market, and our own minimum "floor price" rules have no bearing on the purchaser. Fresh supplies to the godown are simply placed on the top of the heap of the lot already in, which causes irreparable damage at the bottom!
Take the question of wheat stocks in the country and the overseas demand pattern, apart from the aggressive activities of our competitors. At this point of time, cold weather conditions in the US, prime and leading grower and exporter, are indicative of shortfall in their supplies.
Indian wheat stocks, as on 1st December, stood at 31 mt, which is the statutory requirement for buffer stock. Agricultural experts estimate a bumper crop this season, amounting to over 95 mt, as wheat acreage in the current rabi season is estimated to be over 302 lakh hectares, thanks to various state schemes in operation. In Madhya Pradesh, the government had announced a bonus of Rs150 per quintal over the minimum support price (MSP) and it appears more farmers increased the wheat acreage! The central government had announced a MSP of Rs1,400 per quintal, an increase of Rs50 over the previous year, to encourage production.
As a sequel to the bulging stocks of wheat, export efforts by government authorities, besides private exporters, are bearing fruit. Fortunately, in line with the international market, the government had to reduce the floor price from $300 per tonne to $260 per tonne to push up exports and to literally get rid of the stocks, and to make way for the new crop to come in. Preferred supplies from Black Sea producers were fetching $305 per tonne, while both US and French supplies were quoted at about $ 300 per tonne. However, with the cold wave, there has been interest in the tenders called for by India, prices above the floor price of $260 per tonne has been obtained, such as $282.62 per tonne from Vitol Group, for shipment from Mundhra port, while Al Ghurair of UAE bid $ 283.60 per tonne for shipment from Chennai. India thus plans to export at least two million tonnes of wheat before the new crop starts arriving in April, with hopes to reach four million this fiscal, as there are several tenders on the anvil.
Other items like corn (maize) have also made headway in exports, with orders booked for 350,000 tonnes at $216 per tonne. Iran has increased its purchase of basmati rice and soya meal with other items like sugar picking up.
Our efforts to push up export of foodgrains is imperative; at the same time, there is an urgent need to encourage corporate bodies to invest in building up the infrastructure facilities for storage, but allocating free land or on long term lease, suitable for this purpose, in every state and more importantly near the ports to facilitate exports. Anything that can be done in these areas to prevent loss of foodgrains due to climatic damage would be most beneficial to the country.
(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.)
Bloomsbury withdraws all copies of Jitender Bhargava's book that chronicles the fall of Air India and tenders an apology to former aviation minister Praful Patel, even as the author has refused to back down and avers that whatever he wrote was factual
In a sudden and shocking incident, Bloomsbury Publishing India Pvt Ltd has withdrawn Jitender Bhargava's 'The Descent of Air India' with an apology to Praful Patel, the leader of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and union minister. In his book, Mr Bhargava detailed all the people, including Patel and events that led to Air India's downfall. But Mr Bhargava is not planning to take it lying down. In his post of facebook, he has made it very clear that he does not agree with the publisher's stand and will stand by his charges recorded in the book. Here is what he says in his facebook post:
"This decision of Bloomsbury was unilateral, and without discussing with me, as an author. Their stand thus naturally came to me as a surprise. And it may surprise you too when you see the apology of Bloomsbury published in the newspapers," said Jitender Bhargava in an email.
According to Mr Bhargava, after the book, 'The Descent of Air India' was formally released on 11 October 2013 in Delhi attempts were made by Praful Patel to obstruct its distribution. "Besides ensuring that the books were not sold at airport book stores (he still appears to wield clout with airport operators) had TV channels to drop scheduled programmes relating to the book - in the case of one news channel even after the interview had been recorded; he served a legal notice, alleging that the book contents were defamatory," says Mr Bhagava.
"He (Patel) filed a case in the court of the metropolitan magistrate, Mumbai. While I told the judge on 6 January 2014 that everything stated in the book about Praful Patel is true, backed by documented evidence and will be duly justified and contested in the honourable court, the publishers, Bloomsbury, on whom also the notice was served, decided on not pursuing it, and instead agreeing to offer an apology to Praful Patel," Mr Bhargava said.
Earlier, in November, Moneylife Foundation organised an event in Mumbai where Dr Subramanian Swamy, former minister of commerce and law launched the book. On the decline of Air India, Dr Swamy highlighted a few reasons: harmful bilateral agreements, all profitable routes of the airlines were shutdown and made available to other airlines. He also mentioned that the airline bought aeroplanes that were probably overpriced and recently they sold these brand new planes as junk to Etihad, at one-third of the buying price.
Mr Bhargava, who was the executive director of the airlines till January 2010, mentioned that every decision was being taken by the government as Air India never had a culture of speaking up. Those who voiced their opinion were asked to leave. Instead of implementing decisions that should have been taken, the airline was bleeding because of decisions that should not have been taken. Impractical expansion plans and thoughtless use of the airline's resources contributed to the national carrier's collapse.
Highlighting one such instance in his book, Mr Bhargava wrote that when India won the T20 cricket world championship, Praful Patel, former aviation minister who oversaw the airlines for some seven years, awarded the entire Indian Team and their families’ free tickets on Air India for five years. The loss making airlines was also made to spend Rs3.5 crore on advertisements to celebrate the T20 win. A media house, for its annual summit, was given Rs30 lakh verbal commitment of free tickets from Air India, again by Praful Patel, in return for publicity! This oral commitment too was honoured since it was made by the minister.
Mr Bhargava also explains how the airline reached a point of no return under chairman V Thulasidas who acted as ‘His Master’s Voice’ to minister Praful Patel who seemed bent on decimating the airline. The story is important for all concerned citizens, at a time when opposition to privatisation is based on false romanticism about it being a national carrier. Politicians will continue to plunder the airline as long as it remains under State (minister’s) control.
Speaking about the publisher’s decision to withdraw the book, Mr Bhargava said, "As everything stated in the book is true, based on documents, I will have the book, 'The Descent of Air India' reprinted either on my own or through a new publisher. Simultaneous action is being initiated to bring out ' The Descent of Air India', as an e-book. I am told this can take up to four-five weeks. I will be back soon because neither can I be bulldozed into submission nor can facts be allowed to be suppressed."