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No beating about the bush.
About a century ago, Gandhiji started the world famous 'Satyagraha' in order to oppose the identification scheme of the government in South Africa. Hundred years later, India is repeating a similar programme under the pretext of unique ID numbers
As the old saying goes, 'Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it'. It seems that both the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and ultimately the Indian government have overlooked history and even the Mahatma's views while going ahead with the ambitious and expensive unique identification number (UIDN) programme.
Mahatma Gandhi or the erstwhile Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had started his historic 'Satyagraha' in South Africa by opposing the identification programme in that country.
On 22 August 1906, the South African government published a draft Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance. The Ordinance required all Indians in the Transvaal region of South Africa, eight years and above, to report to the Registrar of Asiatics and obtain, upon the submission of a complete set of fingerprints, a certificate which would then have to be produced upon demand.
The move proposed stiff penalties, including deportation, for Indians who failed to comply with the terms of the Ordinance.
Since the late nineteenth century, fingerprint identification methods have been used by police agencies around the world to identify suspected criminals as well as the victims of crime. Knowing the impact of the Ordinance and effective criminalisation of the entire community, Gandhi then decided to challenge it. Calling the Ordinance a 'Black Act' he mobilised around 3,000 Indians in Johannesburg who took an oath not to submit to a degrading and discriminatory piece of legislation. This was the first time the world witnessed 'Satyagraha' or a non-resistance movement that later become a phenomenon in India's freedom struggle.
(Watch the video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNmJqRV7LOA).
Cut to 2010, when the Indian government has launched an identification programme, without even passing a Bill for the same. Even the draft National Identification Authority of India (NIAI) Bill approved by the Cabinet is not without some serious issues. Most notably the UIDN would not be issued only to Indian citizens; instead, it would be issued to all residents. In other words, the bill may aid illegal migrants from neighbouring countries to become citizens.
This will help legitimise illegal immigrants. Already corrupt 'babus' happily provide any document from a ration card (public distribution card) to electricity and telephone bills to these illegal immigrants.
Also registrars like insurance companies and banks, would feed their data into the UIDAI database and so on. There are even some media reports which say that online service provider eBay is interested in collaborating with the UIDAI. If these reports are true, then the day is not far off when ordinary citizens will be bombarded with targeted marketing campaigns. The bigger threat is caste- and religion-based profiling.
Some state governments have announced that they plan to add their own parameters to the UIDN. The Orissa government has decided to include at least a dozen-odd specifications to the UID number, like ration card number, BPL/APL number (below poverty line/above poverty line), NREGS data (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme), driving license number, PAN number, photo I-card number, passport number, Kissan and credit card number, LPG consumer number, Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana number (National Health Insurance Scheme), pension ID number and passbook number. This takes the UID dangerously beyond its stated scope.
This would leave the UIDAI database vulnerable to modification, alterations and so on. The huge cost of the UIDAI project, categorisation of people and particularly identity theft are some of the big issues. Even in the NREGA programme, the problem is not about issuing an identity for daily workers. It is the attendance at the end of the day marked by the supervisor that provides the workers their wages. Similarly, in PDS shops, it is not the problem of identification of the end-user. Most leakages in the PDS do not take place at the last mile as hypothesised by UIDAI; instead, it is the big corrupt babus and middlemen who are involved in siphoning grains before they reach the ration shop itself.
All the examples mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg - the non-sustainability of UIDN, but neither the Union government nor the highly qualified techies at UIDAI have time to take cognisance of these issues. Therefore, the old adage is correct in saying that if we forget history we are doomed to repeat it. Does this also mean that we need to go for another Satyagraha in order to save us, common citizens, from the identification ordeal?