Aadhaar: Rapidly Disempowering the Old and Needy
The mindless mandatory linkage of biometric Aadhaar numbers to every aspect of our lives—from birth to death, plus telephones and banks accounts—is causing widespread harassment. It has, finally, woken up many who believed the hype that biometric identification was a gift to citizens and a world-beating technological leap. The number of people who are wary about the risks involved in linking Aadhaar to all activities has now risen dramatically, with details of its fallibility being reported every day by the media. 
But the continued coercive tactics by phone companies, banks, insurers, cooking gas suppliers and regulators indicate that UIDAI (Unique Identification Development Authority of India) and the government are in no mood to listen, or even wait for the Supreme Court to hear the issue in January 2018. 
Meanwhile, three things have worked at making people cautious. First, there is  growing evidence of how inefficient a biometric Aadhaar is; but I will discuss that later. Second, Aadhaar is not merely about acquiring an identification number; there will be a cost/fee involved in every authentication and updation (for those who are not net-savvy). The government has maintained a complete silence on the cost of Aadhaar updation and other mandatory services; but it will happen.
Third, most people are, finally, realising that biometrics change over your lifetime. This means that Aadhaar authentication can fail at any time and would need to be updated frequently (in case of senior citizens, it may have to be done even every year or two).  
Sections 6 and 31(2) of the Aadhaar Act make it very clear that citizens’ biometrics change and people will have to “update their demographic information and biometric information and from time to time” in the manner specified by the UIDAI regulations. If you find it frustrating to update bank KYC (know your customer) every couple of years, get prepared for perpetual harassment of multiple updates every time you change your telephone service-provider, bank or insurer; or when your biometrics let you down. 
While secure updation is not an issue for the tech-savvy, Aadhaar is a nightmare for vulnerable, less-literate people and it is extremely disempowering for senior citizens who will need to rely on ‘Aadhaar Kendras’ or bank officials to handle updation. 
What is stunning is that UIDAI appoints enrollers and mandates linkages, but it provides no recourse to those who are cheated by enrolment agents and banks. If you are a victim, you will end up fighting a legal battle or chasing the police for redress. 
Consider another aspect. Like direct debits for loan repayment and standing instructions for credit card and other payments, the effort involved in the Aadhaar updation exercise will make us even more reluctant to change service-providers and put up with shoddy service. This makes a mockery of competition and choice in a free market. 
Interestingly, even the Institute of Development and Research in Banking Technology (IDRBT), a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has called for caution in use of Aadhaar for government programmes based on a study of implementation in Andhra Pradesh. It says that it is also unclear if, in the long run, the benefits of Aadhaar will outweigh the negatives. 
Let us look at how people across the economic spectrum are already affected. On 1st December, Premani Kunwar, a 64-year old widow died of starvation. Her old-age pension was credited into the account of her husband’s  dead first wife who had a valid bank account with updated KYC. It is alleged that Premani and her relative operated two bank accounts linked to the same Aadhaar to which funds were transferred, even 20 years after her death. The case reeks of collusion between bank officials and a nephew, who has been arrested; it also exposes the easy manipulation of records and its devastating impact on the very poor. 
At another end of the spectrum is N Vadia, a high net-worth chartered accountant, who had his bank account abruptly frozen by HDFC Bank for failure to update KYC. While Mr Vadia claims that the Bank never informed him, HDFC Bank, which relentlessly spams everybody throughout the day, claims to have sent multiple messages. There is no explanation why it failed to follow RBI rules prescribing graded freezing of the account, or couldn’t have made a call. Instead, it even dishonoured RTGS/NEFT credits. Since the banking ombudsman rarely rules in favour of customers, Mr Vadia will have to battle it out in a consumer court, switch banks or simply accept shoddy HDFC Bank service. In effect, he is only slightly less vulnerable than Premani Kunwar. Failure of biometrics adds another tool of harassment to this situation. 
In the previous issue, I wrote about Ravindra, a 64-year old Central government officer, who, harried by repeated failure of Aadhaar authentication, wrote, “I am desperate and sometimes start thinking of ending of my life. It is getting too much for me to handle.” Ravindra’s issue also is the lack of redress, no recourse or empathy and fear of disempowerment. Writing to UIDAI was of no use. Instead he received gratuitous advice to procure a phone in his son’s name, thereby defeating the very purpose of linkage, disempowering the senior citizen and placing a needless burden on his son/relative.
Now, imagine the plight of the 82-year old in Mumbai, who was curtly told by an Airtel employee that he could not have his SIM (subscriber identification module) card transferred from his daughter’s name to his own, despite having all identification documents including Aadhaar. Why? Apparently because Airtel has an unwritten policy not to issue SIM cards to people over 75 because “they may die soon.” 
Dnyanada Deshpande, a journalist standing in the same queue, was a witness to this atrocity. Ironically, she says, he wanted to transfer the phone to his name (from that of his daughter) because it had to be linked to his Aadhaar and, in turn, to his bank account. Neither the government nor the UIDAI has bothered to respond to thousands of such senior citizens posting angry or plaintive complaints on the National Consumer Complaints Forum (https://www.complaintboard.in/complaints-reviews/aadhar-card-l231003.html). 
Then there is Airtel Payment Bank, which colluded with its telecom provider, Bharti Airtel, to open illegal accounts for subscribers who linked their Aadhaar to the phone and diverted over Rs138 crore of subsidies to these accounts. It was fined Rs2.5 crore by UIDAI, but the 560,000 consumers who were harassed got no compensation; getting their money back was the only reward. This case raises serious issues about sharing of data between related entities and account opening procedures followed by payment banks; but RBI has been silent so far. Moneylife was the first to point out that due to the NPCI mapper, things like the Airtel Payment Bank will happen. (Read: How Aadhaar linkage can destroy banks)
Whether it is the uneducated Premani who lost her life, a helpless Ravinder or the tech-savvy N Vadia, every consumer segment today is equally vulnerable to coercive actions or fraud by bankers and other service-providers in the opaque Aadhaar environment. We are not even talking about data security. a more serious issue. 
Forced linkage to Aadhaar, no matter what the government claims, will leave too many people, especially less tech-savvy senior citizens and the faceless and nameless poor, extremely vulnerable to fraud. What is worse, a government, which is in the habit of repeatedly changing its goal-posts and objectives, is not called upon to explain its claim that it will help unearth black money.
Senior citizens, many above 80, are active, independent, and sometimes living on their own while capable of looking after themselves and their needs. But they are unable to face the unique harassment unleashed by our biometrics-based system. Even as new deadlines loom, there is no solution in sight. If the Supreme Court rules in favour of the government, be prepared to be forever vigilant about your savings and to keep jumping through hoops each time the government, RBI or UIDAI issues a new notification or your biometrics fail you. 
Harish Lalwani
6 years ago
Its absolutely true. Implementation and the cost is the most discerning factors not being alerted by anyone.
Jagannath Adavi
6 years ago
The last paragraph of the writeup aptly summarises the plight of senior citizens; if they are not tech-savvy, as is the case with most senior citizens, their woes are compounded.
c babu challa
6 years ago
Aadhar empowering the rich and greedy. The innocent and tax abiding citizens are put to task in multifold with no respite. All rules and regulations of the government is for the tax payers and law abiding not for law brakers.
6 years ago
Aadhar: An unfolding horror story: A gimmick sold to Khangress by Nilekani and now enforced by BJP as it's sole program of Non Casteist, Non Communal, Vikas:
kapil bajaj
6 years ago
Oddity in second para: "or even wait for the Supreme Court to hear the issue in January 2017."
Was "January 2018" meant?
Mathew Thomas
Replied to kapil bajaj comment 6 years ago
Yes. 2018. Thanks for correction
Ralph Rau
6 years ago
Does Adhaar impinge on personal freedoms and privacy. Of course it does.

The Supreme Court bench is quite capable of deliberating the pros and cons.

Surely their lordships have been buying time to formulate their thoughts in the matter.

The key question to ask. How did a system announced to plug leakage of state subsidies become so ubiquitous that soon one will not be allowed to breathe without a linked Adhaar.

A devilish system that aids the creation of a dehumanised police state.
Sundaram S
6 years ago
This article paints a scary picture which is in all probability 'the reality' We are definitely living in very testing times. and the tests are just going to get tougher to clear since there are no logical, reasonable, clear and concise ways to pass; only by crook and hook that you can clear and that too by knowing the invigilator to do some background work for you - requiring a guile that many Sr Citizens and middle aged folks, illiterate and poor won't be able to muster to venture forth for.
Look at the Aadhar site - it is getting glaringly complex to find anything on the site, even the site administrators might be find it unmanagably hairy. The information on the site is unimaginably complex.
1. Now you see charges even for enrollment - https://uidai.gov.in/images/akr_policy_on_pricing_30082016.pdf ;
2. refer to these sites - https://uidai.gov.in/enrolment-update/ecosystem-partners/state-wise-aadhaar-saturation.html; https://uidai.gov.in/images/StateWiseAge_AadhaarSat_24082017.pdf - how can saturation be more than the population?
The Aadhar support phone number is not reachable 99% times and when you do connect you don't get an answer, you are asked to send email;
3. Refer to the site - https://uidai.gov.in/images/Aadhaar_MythVsFact_May2017.pdf - there is no letter head - who has written this document, who has authorised it?
4. this link is a new addition - https://resident.uidai.gov.in/notification-aadhaar - and it has such a complex display that only those who know what the machine language written there means will understand - it is not for normal citizens to understand. Why was this link given - so that means that there is possibility someone can use anyone's Aadhar number and the affected party is wholly responsible to prove his/her own existence beyond the transactions carried out.
5. For minors also, Aadhar is now being asked for - and check this - they can't have same mobile number as their parents. What does this mean? My kid's Aadhar number is not getting verified - I don't get OTP at all though my number is registered and I paid Rs. 100 for enrollment. On enquiry I am told that the mobile number has to be different it can't be mine. What other 'dandhli' can you expect from UIDAI and its scrupuluous agents - the very Sarkaar which is holding the reins to every citizens existence - is China's single party rule too similarly totalitarian???
Mathew Thomas
6 years ago
Thanks for an excellent presentation of the difficulties into which, the ill-advised and purposeless scheme has put the most vulnerable sections of the population. May I add a few questions? Here they are: Are not those in power – the PM, his ministers, the bureaucrats, leaders of other political parties aware of all this? Why are they all silent? The motivations are varied, but the underlying essence behind is the same. One of ignorance and complacency. Some are motivated by prospects of power (control over others – other parties), others by greed (make money out of it) still others to use it for ulterior ends. Some might have been bribed, others blackmailed. The majority of the population is slowly coming to terms with the reality, even the “bakth brigade” is no longer clapping so vociferously. It is pinching them too.
The real question is why are those behind the nefarious scheme pushing it against all odds?
Your readers may ponder over the question. Its answers will show up who are patriots and who are traitors. Who are corrupt and who are gullible. Who are sycophants and who are hypocrites.
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