The five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court, in September last year, had restricted the mandatory use of Aadhaar to welfare programmes for which the money has been provided from the Consolidated Fund of India. The apex court also struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act that had allowed banks, telcos and other private entities to use Aadhaar. However, notwithstanding the Supreme Court judgement, the government is trying to make sure that private entities continue to use Aadhaar. In addition, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the law minister, has said that the government will bring a Bill to make it mandatory to link driving licences with Aadhaar. But more about it later.
Last week, the Narendra Modi-led government passed the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha with very little debate or scrutiny. The Bill is now in the Rajya Sabha. On an earlier occasion, when the upper house has rejected Aadhaar Act, the government got it passed as money bill by bypassing the Rajya Sabha.
Legal scholar, Dr Usha Ramanathan, says, "The Aadhaar Act was passed as a Money Bill. The Court was able to uphold the Act only after they struck down Section 57, which allows business interests to use the Aadhaar system. This new amendment attempts to get past that by a convoluted method—offline verification as may be specified by regulations, leaving it to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to experiment on us, and includes things like virtual ID, and other forms using the number."
Rethink Aadhaar campaign says it is alarmed by the government misleading Parliament on the Aadhaar Amendments Bill, and on the purported savings resulting from linking Aadhaar to various welfare schemes.
"Mr Prasad claimed the amendments proposed in the Bill are 'in compliance with the SC order'. This is not true, and the SC has nowhere directed the government to frame laws for linking Aadhaar to mobile or banking services. Right from the day of the SC judgment the government has manipulated the Court's directions with an aim to expand Aadhaar applications, with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on the day after the judgement hinting that the government may bring a new law to allow continued use of Aadhaar by private companies," it added.
According to Dr Ramanathan, the amendments allow not only offline verification, but also authentication, supposedly with the consent of the individual. She says, "After the judgement of the apex court, the use of the Aadhaar system by private and business interests is prohibited. Using 'voluntary' and 'consent' as a cover does not make it right. In Para 367 of the majority judgment, the judges had only said, 'if such a person voluntary wants to offer Aadhaar card as a proof of his/her identity, there may not be a problem'. That does not allow the use of the Aadhaar system, not even voluntarily."
The Supreme Court had allowed the use of Aadhaar for Section 7—which is for delivery of services, benefits and subsidies. On the issue of failures in linking and in authentication which has resulted in starvation deaths, the apex court merely said that the attorney general had stated that the government would take care of this. "Now, in this amendment, they say only this: provided that the requesting entity shall, in case of failure to authenticate due to illness, injury or infirmity owing to old age or otherwise or any technical or other reasons, provide such alternate and viable means of identification of the individual, as may be specified by regulations". This amendment, in other words, does nothing for the poor, only for business interest, which the court said could not be done using this project, Dr Ramanathan added.
Over the years, the government has been trying to make big claims on savings due to Aadhaar which were found to be not true. In fact, both Mr Prasad and finance minister Arun Jaitley's claims of Rs90,000 crore saving due to Aadhaar, are based on a report from the World Bank, although the Bank itself had debunked the report. "The report from the World Bank talks about total extrapolated value of direct benefit transfers was misrepresented as savings. As Dr Reetika Khera pointed out, the World Bank only perpetuated claims that were subsequently disowned by the government. The latest claims are again false and an attempt to mislead Parliament," Rethink Aadhaar says in a statement.
According to Dr Anupam Saraph, a renowned expert in governance of complex systems, who also advises governments and businesses across the world, neither the ministry of finance nor any government ministry or department has provided any indication of the steps in the flow of funds from the Consolidated Fund of India to the hands of the beneficiaries.
"UIDAI and ministry of finance must certify that this money has been transferred to real and genuine beneficiaries. Neither the recipients’ database nor the money transfers have been audited or seem to have been verified by the CAG. Furthermore, no beneficiary database, or even the basis for inclusion or exclusion of beneficiaries from this database, is available with the public. The UIDAI has stated unambiguously that it takes no responsibility for the use of Aadhaar. It cannot recognise the use, or the absence of use, of Aadhaar in any business process. Neither can it certify the beginning, progress or completion of the business process," Dr Saraph, says in his article published by Sunday Guardian
In her article in the Economic Times
, Dr Khera and Jean Dreze say the numbers touted as saving due to Aadhaar by the government have no solid basis. "...the savings estimates do not pertain to Aadhaar as such but to the use of digital technology in subsidy transfers. Indeed, the smart cards study invoked in the said footnote does not involve Aadhaar at all. Even in the direct benefit transfer for liquefied petroleum gas (DBT-L) experiment, Aadhaar is only one component of the project, and a direct bank transfer can itself increase enforcement, irrespective of unique ID. The $11 billion figure (quoted in the World Bank report) is routinely construed as an estimate of ‘Aadhaar-enabled savings’," the article says.
Earlier in August 2016, a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), said, 92% of the Rs23,316.21 crore the government saved in subsidy payout in FY15-16 occurred due to a drop in crude oil prices and both the government and oil marketing companies had overstated savings under the scheme.
The actual subsidy payout during April-December 2015 was Rs12,084.24 crore against Rs35,400.46 crore during the same period in 2014.
had reported that Aadhaar and DBTL savings for FY2016 were less than 1% or Rs121 crore, excluding the costs of implementation, as against finance minister Mr Jaitley's claim of an estimated saving of Rs15,000 crore. The news report was based on a revelation by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) based on publicly available information. (Read: Ghost Savings in DBTL: 99% gap between Jaitley’s claims and actual savings)
Delivering his address at the 106th Indian Science Congress, Mr Prasad, the minister for law, electronics and information technology, has said the government will soon make it mandatory for linking Aadhaar with driving licences.
"At present, what happens is that the guilty person who causes an accident flees the scene and gets a duplicate licence. This helps him go scot-free. However, with the Aadhaar linkage you can change your name but you cannot change your biometrics, neither iris nor fingerprints. So the moment you go in for a duplicate licence, the system will say this person already has a driving licence and should not be given a new one," the minister was quoted as saying in a report
The only problem with this, according to Dr Saraph, is that the UIDAI does not certify the biometric or demographic data associated with any Aadhaar number. "It (UIDAI) seems to have no view about the number of unique records based on biometric or demographic fields. It does not even know if there was an enrolment operator, belonging to a private agency appointed by one of the 20 registrars whose enrolments make up most of the Aadhaar numbers, in the 600,000 villages, 5,000 towns and cities, or even the 707 districts where enrolment allegedly happened. It has no information about the original documents of proof of identity, address or birth used to capture the demographic data for Aadhaar. Furthermore, the Aadhaar database has never been verified or audited. It is the world’s largest database of ghosts and duplicates. Using the Aadhaar to create or modify any database can, therefore, entail the risk of populating those databases with duplicates and ghosts," he added. (Read: #Aadhaar: UIDAI cannot make any assertion about the uniqueness of identity, RTI reply show s )
In that case, nobody seems to ask how the linking of Aadhaar with driving licence will help reduce number of accidents. Or whether the government want to reduce number of accidents or bulldoze Aadhaar into driving licence system. While Aadhaar is unverified, unaudited and unauthenticated number, an official from the regional transport office (RTO), by signing on the driving licence, is liable for the information. No official from any government authority or even UIDAI neither signs on Aadhaar nor is liable for genuineness of the information and data recorded in their database.
Rethink Aadhaar, along with eminent civil society members, petitioners in the Aadhaar matters that were the subject of the 26 September 2018 judgement, as well as other citizens of India, demands that members of Parliament (MPs) in the Rajya Sabha should immediately send the Bill for a legislative review by a Select Committee of Rajya Sabha, and public consultation.
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