Seventy-year old Sathya Narayanan (name changed to protect identity) had a valid Aadhaar number until a month ago, when he decided to update his residential address. He submitted a photo of his driving licence on Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) website but it was not accepted and that triggered a whole new nightmare for him. He says, "However for some reason it got rejected on some quality level checks. The licence copy submitted by me was very clear. Instead of giving me a chance to send them (UIDAI) a new copy, they informed me that I would have to re-enrol and provide new demographics and biometrics."
Now, after running from pillar to post, trying the helpline and working to find other options to re-enrol, he is at a standstill. "I am mentally anguished and stressed because of this and have not even slept well for the past week,” says Mr Narayanan, who is most reluctant to go through the trauma of enrolling again. "I spent nearly five hours at the bank (where the enrolment centre is) taking off from work. I was so very tired standing for such a long time that I could not go back to work. And now they want me to go through this entire exercise all over again. I do not know how a simple address update can trigger something like that?" he asks.
How can people be put to so much inconvenience, he asks and wants to know whether people can get together to challenge the whole Aadhaar law. The irony is that UIDAI has been spending a bomb on advertising the importance of Aadhaar, but if every update is going to inconvenience people so much, then people in transferrable jobs are going to face a never-ending nightmare.
It is important to remember that UIDAI has been legally structured in a manner that is not answerable to people, nor is it obliged to complete any updations or explain why something takes so long. This is over and above the fact that the Aadhaar identity is deeply flawed because UIDAI does not independently verify any documents. And yet, the website says that it can take up to 90 days for UIDAI to 'process' an application or update and you will get no answers from the website or helpline until then.
This is exactly what Ramvilas Mishra, who works as security guard in Mumbai, is facing. In fact, the man is waiting for several months to be able to claim his savings in a nationalised bank, because his permanent account number (PAN) as well as Aadhaar had mistakes committed at the time of enrolment.
After obtaining a birth certificate from his hometown in Uttar Pradesh (UP), Mr Mishra decided to update his Aadhaar. After spending only half a day in the local post office due to help from a friendly postman who ensured he jumped the queue, he manged to enter the new details on the UIDAI website. But after 40 days, his date of birth remains un-changed on the website, while he nervously seeks help to find out if there is any progress. Accessing the UIDAI website is not easy for Mr Mishra and each effort to check means missing several hours of work and losing out on income.
When people go back to enrolment centres like banks to check if there is a problem, they are told: "We only collect and transfer all information to UIDAI”. This is the situation when UIDAI claims that 123.62 crore people already have an Aadhaar.
Calling the helpline of UIDAI is of no help at all since the call centre executives are trained to provide ready-made answers only, and not the solution. Their first response is to check after 90 days, which is the long time that UIDAI has given itself.
Last month, three people together enrolled for Aadhaar at a bank branch in central Mumbai. Two of them received their Aadhaar number after two days. The third person is yet to receive the Aadhaar number with the online status remaining static with this message, "This enrolment is under process. Please check again after few days".
During the enrolment process at the bank, it was found that high-tech machine for fingerprint recording was unable to capture fingerprints easily and it required several desperate attempts including using water and hand-sanitiser before the fingerprints were recorded — they were no senior citizens or even persons involved in physical labour. Getting the photograph right was also an issue that required multiple attempts for one of the three. If this was the horror at the time of enrolment, what can these people expect during a fingerprint authentication, which has been forced on the toiling masses who depend on the process to get their subsidised ration every month?
Interesting, two of the three people found that their enrolment was smooth and have received the Aadhaar card, the third person is in limbo. These were people rushing to catch the 31st March deadline for linking Aadhaar to PAN. So it is safe to say that at least one of the three would have been in default for no fault of his, if the deadline had not been extended.
Another activist, who enrolled for Aadhaar last month, is yet to receive his number despite several follow-ups with the bank branch, and numerous calls to the UIDAI call centre.
As Mr Narayanan points out, if this is the situation with educated, urban people, what must be the horror being inflicted on economically disadvantaged and less literate people all over the country? Especially where data connectivity as well as getting machines to work in the heat and dusty of rural areas will be a serious challenge?
We wonder who can answer Mr Narayan’s very basic questions” "Can they not just give me a simple opportunity to re-submit the proof of address again? I shudder to think that if a simple address update could cause so much issues. What will happen when I have to do entire biometrics and demographics again? I am a senior citizen and comparatively educated. What must be happening to the uneducated and less educated folks who do not understand anything?” Nobody has any answers. Yet, Aadhaar is being touted as the biggest tool of empowerment in India by highly educated tech-czars who stand to profit from its widespread use, doesn’t matter the hardship caused to ordinary people.