Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the body entrusted with the Aadhaar scheme, has become a fully for-profit business in the name of service. For example, for providing authentication service for e-know-your-customer (e-KYC), UIDAI has earned nearly Rs240 crore over the past 21 months.
As per information obtained by Aniket Gaurav, a law student and Right to Information (RTI) user, for the 21-month period between May 2019 and March 2021, UIDAI says it has earned Rs239.09 crore for e-KYC authentication service alone. Even for just providing feedback in yes or no formant, the resident numbering authority earned Rs14.98 crore during the same period.
Overall, for providing e-KYC authentication and yes or no answer, UIDAI has garnered Rs299.81 crore, including goods and services tax (GST). The contribution of GST is Rs45.73 crore. This means, in the 21-month period, UIDAI earned Rs254.08 crore from just two services. More about other paid services offered by UIDAI later.
In his RTI application, Aniket had asked for information about the total amount collected by UIDAI for Aadhaar authentication services for e-KYC transactions and for each yes or no authentication transaction from requesting entities between May 2019 and March 2021.
He had also asked for names of entities that have not deposited authentication transaction charges within 15 days of issuance of the concerned invoice based on the usage and the amount not deposited in such cases.
Further, Aniket had requested UIDAI to provide names of entities that have been discontinued for authentication and e-KYC services for failing to deposit the requisite payment to the Authority.
For both the queries, Sanjeev Yadav, assistant director general and central public information officer (CPIO) of UIDAI denied the information to Aniket. In the reply, Mr Yadav says, "The information sought cannot be disclosed as per provision of section 8 (1) (d) of RTI Act 2005."
Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act, says, "information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information."
Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner says that the claim of 'commercial confidence' in denying access to information to citizens runs counter to the principles of the RTI Act. "In my opinion the claim for exemption under Section 8 (1)(d) is flawed since it cannot be classified as being 'commercial confidence, trade secret or intellectual property," he says.
Coming back to the for-profit business of UIDAI, which also earns money when the holder of the Aadhaar number wants to make any change or rectification in the records.
As reported by Moneylife, every time an Aadhaar number-holder wants to do an e-KYC or even yes or no authentication, she will have to pay the money. And this includes paying charges for availing ration from the public distribution system (PDS) shops as well since the buyer is required to undergo biometric-based Aadhaar authentication. This is because these shops, which are part of the public distribution system (PDS) are still private entities, which are mandated to use Aadhaar authentication.
In a gazette notification issued on 6 March 2019, UIDAI says, "Aadhaar authentication services shall be charged at Rs20 (including taxes) for each e-KYC transaction and Rs0.50 (including taxes) for each yes/ no authentication transaction from requesting entities; and government entities and the department of posts shall be exempt from authentication transaction charges." (Read: Aadhaar: Start Paying Rs20 for Each e-KYC, 50 paisa for Yes/No Authentication Now!
Further, as per an office memorandum issued by UIDAI on 12 April 2021, residents are required to pay certain charges for various Aadhaar-related services at all enrolment and update centres. Aadhaar enrolment and mandatory (first time) biometric update along with demographic details is free of cost. This is how UIDAI garners data from gullible residents, who have no idea of subsequent charges, they need to pay for making changes in their own data that is used by the Authority to earn money.
As per the circular, whenever the Aadhaar-holder wants to update her biometrics with or without demographic updates, she needs to shell out Rs100. If only demographic needs to be updated, the charge is Rs50 per update. UIDAI says update of more than one field on a single instance is considered as one update.
UIDAI charges Rs30 for e-Aadhaar download and colour print on A4 size paper.
Even for updating address or other demographic details like spelling correction, sequence change, short form to full form and name changes after marriage on UIDAI's self-service update portal (SSUP), the user needs to pay Rs50 per update. However, these changes can be carried out only two times in the life time of the Aadhaar-holder and it needs to be authenticated through one-time passcode (OTP) sent on the registered mobile number of the user. Gender and date of birth can be changed once in the life time, while there are no restrictions on change in language on the SSUP.
An office memorandum issued by UIDAI on 12 October 2020, says, "Update of more than one field on single instance will be considered as one update and the fee to be paid through online mode, at the time of submitting the request."
While speaking at a seminar organised by Moneylife Foundation some years ago, Dr Usha Ramanathan, an independent law researcher, had predicted that Aadhaar had become an attempt by technocrats (and politician and bureaucrats) to turn everyone into a customer for financial technology-related products that are based on the UID data of over 1.21 billion Indians.
UIDAI has proved her right by fully becoming a for-profit business entity and garnering money in every possible way after forcefully collecting user data for free.