Even as the government promotes Aadhaar as an enabler to ensure that food and other subsidies reach the poor, a new report on Thursday said that a large number of people do not get food ration under the Public Distribution System (PDS) due to factors related to the biometric identification system.
State capacity also has a bearing on the functioning of PDS, with wide variation between Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, said the report by IDinsight, a global development analytics firm working across India.
Expressing concern over the privacy of their data, almost all of the respondents (96 per cent) said it was important to know what the government would do with their Aadhaar data.
The "State of Aadhaar Report 2017-18" is based on the largest household survey since Aadhaar's inception, covering 2,947 rural households in 21 districts across Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
Overall monthly exclusion from PDS in Rajasthan is 9.9 per cent, whereas it is 1.1 per cent in Andhra Pradesh.
Of this, Aadhaar-related factors contribute 2.2 per cent and 0.8 per cent respectively, showed the results of the survey conducted between November 2017 and February 2018.
"PDS exclusion due to failure of local administration, though small, should be taken very seriously by the concerned agencies," Ajay Bhushan Pandey, CEO of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which is mandated to issue Aadhaar, said in a statement.
"They should ensure that not a single beneficiary is denied. The Aadhaar Act and Government instructions provide for alternate means of identification for genuine beneficiaries who encounter problems in authentication," he added.
Despite this, the report found that a majority of PDS recipients prefer Aadhaar-based PDS delivery in both states, as they perceive biometric authentication prevents identity fraud.
At the same time, 87 per cent of respondents approved of mandatory linking of Aadhaar to programmes like PDS, according to the report.
"The goal of the State of Aadhaar Report is to catalyse the Aadhaar debate and policymaking to be more data-driven," said Ronald Abraham, Partner, IDinsight.
The report found higher coverage of Aadhaar than voter IDs.
It said that 8.8 per cent of Aadhaar-holders reported errors in their name, age, address, or other information on their Aadhaar card.
Compared to voter IDs, the error-rate in Aadhaar was 1.5 times higher, the report said.
"Issues such as protecting privacy and eliminating exclusion are serious and require rigorous evidence to carefully unpack and address," Abraham added.
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The fate of the Aadhaar will be decided after a marathon hearing that was also historic, because the arguments and proceedings in the Supreme Court of India (SC) were avidly followed and commented by tens of thousands of Indians on with the same fervour and interest as a cricket match. For the first time ever, the proceedings were live-tweeted by a few intrepid lawyers. (Read: Historic Aadhaar Hearing, Second-longest in SC history, Concludes)
Unlike the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which had done an about-turn on the Aadhaar identification and then brazenly flouted a Supreme Court stay order, Moneylife has been among the earliest publications to take a strong stand against this identification system. In fact, as far back as nine years ago, when discussions happened in small e-mail groups that our managing editor participated in.
Moneylife followed it up with a series of articles and seminars and hundreds of articles on the many problems with the biometrics based Aadhaar and the international experience with such identification.
(https://www.moneylife.in/public-interest/aadhaar). Those days, the involvement of billionaire technocrat, Nandan Nilekani, gave the project its star status, but the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) the main opposition party was strongly against it, with current Prime Minister Narendra as well as Dr Subramaniam Swamy and others speaking out against it in the run up to the elections.
Moneylife followed up the talk with a series of articles from July 2010 on Aadhaar or UID by social activists, technology expert. This series dissected issues related with identification, biometrics as well as highlighted several lacunas in the functioning of Unique Identification Authority of India, (UIDAI). (Read: UID Issue: Numbers Game -1)
The Aadhaar project was supposed to eliminate corruption in welfare schemes and provide the poor with an identity. It is, however, clearly spreading into areas that dangerously intrude into our lives and rights. We organised a talk by Colonel (retd) Matthew Thomas, a former defence veteran and missile scientist on 12 January 2013 in Mumbai. He spoke on the evils of the Aadhaar project. Col (retd) Thomas, said that Aadhaar was conceptually flawed, deceitfully promoted, dangerously structured and ignorantly applied. For the first time, he exposed how the project give access to highly sensitive Indian data to foreign countries and contractors with dubious antecedents. One of UIDAI’s contractors, for example, is L1 ID Solutions, which was formed by merging two entities, one of which was under investigation by US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for certain offences. (Read: UID/Aadhaar – Medicine better than Disease?) Col Thomas is one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court in the Aadhaar case.
At that seminar in January 2013, technology expert Jude Terrence D’Souza, an expert in design and development of microprocessor-based embedded electronic systems, conducted a live demonstration of how a simple Fevicol mould, created either in collaboration with another or under deceitful circumstances, can be used for authentication.
Unfortunately, both the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and UIDAI were in such a hurry that they neglected basic principle of pilot testing and size of sample. UPA promoted UID as a pro-poor initiative to gain political mileage and acceptance. UID was projected as a device that would prevent corruption in welfare schemes. Both were plain deceitful.
For over 1.2 billion UID numbers, they used data from just 20,000 people, in pairs, as the sample and have on the basis of the results gone ahead with the UID number through the 'Aadhaar' project. According to test results of UIDAI’s biometrics-based Aadhaar project, there could be up to 15,000 false positives for every Indian resident. Moreover, this figure was just for identification and not for verification at that time.
Mr D'Souza, also analysed the pilot study conducted by the UIDAI, and felt that given the well-known lacunae in our infrastructure and massive demographics, biometrics as an ID will be a guaranteed failure and result in denial of service. "The sum of false acceptance rate and false rejection rate (EER) reveals only part of the problem, which is rejection or acceptance within a short duration of enrolment. The bigger problem is ageing, including health and environment factors, which causes sufficient change to make biometrics completely unusable and requires very frequent re-enrolment," he said. (Read: How UIDAI goofed up pilot test results to press forward with UID scheme)
In September 2013, Moneylife Foundation bought together bank employees union, several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as well as prominent activists and citizens to raise voice against Reserve Bank of India (RBI)'s move to install biometric enabled automated teller machines (ATMs). These NGOs, activists and citizens were startled at the complete lack of clarity on the huge costs involved in complying with RBI’s diktat on e-KYC. Also, lack of clarity on the issue of whether each biometric based transaction would involve a transaction cost to UIDAI – who pays this cost? Will it be distributed among all? These NGOs, activists and citizens then submitted a memorandum to the then RBI governor Dr Raghuram Rajan (Read: ATMs with biometric readers: Who will bear the cost: Round-table discussion)
In the meanwhile, Moneylife continue to publish several articles that pointed out several serious issues with Aadhaar and its enforcement by the government.
On 28 January 2009, the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh headed Planning Commission issued a notification creating UIDAI, which failed to get Parliament’s endorsement despite repeated attempts. It functioned with Ram Sewak (RS) Sharma as its Director General from August 2009 to March 2013 under whose tenure Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat was biometrically profiled for Aadhaar in spite of the fact that he himself had categorically questioned the legality and legitimacy of biometric data collection by Dr Manmohan Singh-led UPA government. (Read: Is Narendra Modi right in going back to Aadhaar? https://www.moneylife.in/article/is-narendra-modi-right-in-going-back-to-aadhaar/38576.html)
UIDAI was a creation of a Congress government under Dr Manmohan Singh and it gave UIDAI enormous power and resources without even the pretence of statutory safeguards. Mr Modi was against Aadhaar, until he became Prime Minister. After that, it took him a 15-minute meeting with Nandan Nilekani, the first chief of UIDAI, to do a sharp about-turn without so much as an explanation to the people.
Ironically, BJP supporters were prominent attendees at our Aadhaar seminars before 2014. But after the government did an about-turn, many of these have remained mute spectators to the government forcing it upon citizens for almost every activity from sports, to exam, birth, death, property registration, insurance or stock market transactions. The Modi government has been pushing Aadhaar on the pretext of ‘Digital India’.
Aadhaar, which is used as a tool under the Digital India movement, is ending up excluding rather than including eligible beneficiaries of government subsidies and programmes and has the potential to unleash undetectable financial crimes, was the broad conclusion of Prof Dr Usha Ramanathan and Dr Anupam Saraph. They were speaking at a seminar on “Legal issues that will arise if individual identity and biometrics are compromised” organised by Moneylife Foundation at Mumbai. (Read: How fool proof is Aadhaar? Does it serve the purpose that was claimed?)
On 3 March 2016, the Aadhaar Bill passed as money bill by side lining Rajya Sabha, which can only make recommendations unlike the Bill that UPA tried to pass in 2010. Aadhaar now has the much-needed legislative backing. However, unlike UPA, which passed it as a regular bill, got it reviewed through the Parliamentary Standing Committee, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government decided to completely bypass Rajya Sabha. All the concerns raised by the Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Yashwant Sinha at that time, are still valid.
Even before Aadhaar had the backing, it had been linked to direct benefit transfer (DBT), used to check attendance in Government offices, made mandatory for matrimonial sites, added to PDS, used for passport verifications, EPFO, and sim cards by the current Government.
Be it birth or death, the government had tried every trick to make Aadhaar (which still is issued to ‘residents’) mandatory for citizens. Also this was not limited to subsidies, or benefits given to the citizens. The government even tried to force Aadhaar on private services like mobiles, investments and many others.
Despite the matter reaching the Supreme Court, the Modi government continued with its mission to mandate Aadhaar for everything. In fact, as stated in the apex court, the government had issued as many as 144 notifications to make Aadhaar mandatory for over 200 services or benefits. This includes those services or benefits totally unrelated with Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act for which money needs to be spent from the Consolidated Fund of India.
Unfortunately, even today, the harassment caused to citizens for not having Aadhaar or fingerprints not matching shows no sign of abating, even as the government vociferously denies any problems with the Aadhaar scheme and stoutly defends this extraordinarily invasive programme. (Read: Aadhaar’s Unabated Harassment and Disempowerment)
All eyes are now on the five-judge Constitution Bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan. The Bench will decide whether Indians can continue to live as citizens with a right to privacy and dignity or be turned into digital slavery under the pretext of an unverified and unaudited number (Aadhaar) issued by third party vendors.
The marathon Aadhaar hearings, the second longest in the history of the Supreme Court, after the Kesavananda Bharati case, according to Attorney General K Venugopal, concluded today. Over 38 days, the finest lawyers of India, have argued for and against the way Aadhaar is being implemented by the Modi government that tramples on the privacy and security of 125 crore people of India. This is also the first time ever, that the hearings have been shared with the public, through live tweets giving argument-by-argument account on twitter by three accounts.
Today, in the concluding session, Gopal Subramaniam, Arvind Datar and KV Viswanathan concluded their rejoinders. Mr Subramaniam argued that all notifications on Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, are in furtherance of the dignity of the individual. If that is so, there is no question of imposing conditions when dignity is an inherent and inalienable right. Sikri J asked about deduplication and therefore reaching the correct targeted beneficiary. “If it is indeed such an affirmative action law, it needs to stand constitutional scrutiny. Stated purpose of the law is not necessarily the proper purpose of the law for constitutional test,” pointed out Mr Subramaniam.
“The law really does not achieve its stated purpose which is seamless delivery. The same delivery points remain under the 144 notifications. The aim is laudable, may be there is no malafide. But no stated purpose of the law has been attained or attainable by the law,” he argued. “The State has furnished no evidence to suggest that any of the 144 notifications have changed the landscape of seamless delivery of the said services. And all the evidence we have is of exclusion.”
“Section 7 reinforces the asymmetry of power between the citizen and the state giving state giving unlimited power to limit citizen rights. The law lacks proper purpose. A claim to a proper purpose is not proper purpose,” he argued. He referred to the Delhi High Court local commissioner's report on how Point of Sales machines were not working at most fair price shops.
“Authentication is at the heart of the Act. Without authentication, there is nothing special about Aadhaar than other identities. But all evidence we have pointing to authentication simply not able to work reliably,” Mr Subramaniam argued. He pointed out how there is no real and effective oversight over enrollers. DY Chandrachud J (DYC) agreed to this and said in legislation such as this, we need a hierarchy of regulators. “Subsidy benefit or Service in Section 7 are words of condescension. Can all affirmative action where rights under 14, 15, 16 and 17 and 21 and Fifth schedule can be subject to a condition now?,” Mr Subramaniam asked. DYC J asked at this point “are subsidies largesse or a matter of right?“ Mr Subramaniam pointed out that this was settled in 1982 if not earlier that all of these are matters of right. Bonded labour rehabilitation now is linked with Aadhaar...contrary to the judgment in Bandhua Mukti Morcha.
“Section 7 has been interpreted virtually as a mandate and not discretionary by the government inasmuch as there are as many as 144 notifications covering many fields. There is no common denominator in Section 7 for any proportionality analysis. Only wants to impose conditions such that all his rights are given as grant or dole by the state. That is the end of dignity.
With the march of constitutionalism...the dissolution of certain identities are guaranteed. The identity of the manual scavenger cannot be further entrenched. It has to be removed. Can you deny a person rehabilitation on any condition and ... have him return to that activity? That is simply unimaginable under our Constitution,” Mr Subramaniam argued.
Finally, he pointed out that no adequate justification has been offered by the government in tethering 125 crore people to their numbers. “The last study on fakes and ghosts of beneficiaries of welfare programmes was in 2007, which in turn relied on data as of 1997…The doctrine of mere possibility of misuse does not apply here because there is actual denial of rights and infringement demonstrated.”
In the afternoon session, senior counsel Arvind Datar began his rejoinder by arguing that the whole Act should be declared null. He argued that proportionality test not satisfied because all data for deduplication of PAN etc are based on 2006 data. “Only magic words like black money and terrorism cannot be thrown around. The justification of the law for proportionality cannot be a ritualistic exercise like this,” Mr Datar argued. “Aadhaar E-KyC is fatally dumbing down existing KYC norms and is contrary to claims, actually making money laundering easier. So more ease for money launderers and more hassles for bona fide account operators, with a threat of account freeze!...All this is colourable exercise of power. To collect the personal sensitive data of 120 crore people compulsorily in the name of and disguise of all these magic words like terrorism and black money,” he charged.
Mr Datar argued that “Not a single test of compelling state interest satisfied in Aadhaar. The whole Act is manifestly arbitrary. Every one of the nine privacy principles suggested by the Shah Committee of experts is flouted by Aadhaar. At a minimum, he argued for no Aadhaar for anything outside Section 7; strict scrutiny of every notification within Section 7; definite choice for opt-out; absolutely make it optional for vulnerable groups - manual labourers, farmers, old age persons. “When the government has all the data of all its citizens, the tipping point to the other side of democracy is extremely nigh and easy.
Following Mr Datar, senior counsel P.Chidambaram began his rejoinder on Money Bill. “Implications of non-money bill being passed as a money bill is immense. Violation of the basic structure...as it disables one half...of the Parliament from exercising its wisdom in a bicameral legislature.
Such exercise of power should not be condoned by this Court. No provision in our Constitution to sever and save an invalidly enacted legislation. It is not the function of this Court to save legislation that is fundamentally unconstitutional.” He concluded by stating SC does not have to deal with consequence of Act being struck down. Parliament will find that answer. Suffice for SC to just declare this Act void. Any other decision will make a mockery of Article in 110. “
Following P Chidambaram, KV Viswanathan began his rejoinder.
He says several fundamental errors vitiate the defence by Union. Least restrictive means is a facet of proportionality. Contrary proposition by Rakesh Dwivedi, senior counsel representing UIDAI, is totally incorrect, he argued. No balancing is possible among the bundle of rights of individual. It is the first principles of right that the majority's rights will score over a minority's! No fundamental rights will survive if we accept the balancing proposition put forward by the State. In this case no evidence by state of fraud etc. We have shown how identity fraud is a really a negligible percentage of frauds. He also pointed out how Dwivedi's submissions refer to an overruled judgment in Mitlesh Kumari.
“Resort to exception handling to save the Act is a complete misconception. Exception handling is ultra vires the Act and UIDAI has no control over such exception handling at all. Correlative duty on state is to provide for welfare ...that burden cannot be shifted on citizens...to a technological menace. All fundamental and statutory rights related services ought to be exempted from mandatory Aadhaar...at a minimum.
Sikri J asked about targeted delivery and the efficiency. KV Vishwanathan pointed out “that is only putting people against people. An argument of convenience. It is the state's duty to have strong internal enforcement mechanisms. The whole burden cannot be shifted to the citizen! Final arguments on this case came from PV Surendran Sr. Advocate.