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No beating about the bush.
Nandan Nilekani-led TAGUP recommended setting up goods and services tax network (GSTN) as national information utility or NIU, a private IT company, to take away the sovereign function of tax collection and data storage from the government. This is in addition to handing over biometric data of Indians to MNCs under the Aadhaar scheme
Lessons from Indian history and political correctness of historical personalities seem to have become the flavor of the electoral campaign in the run up to the upcoming general elections. There can be no politics without history. Such debates were long due. When Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi committed mistakes about facts of history, he was rightly corrected. But why is there a deafening silence when Congressman like Nandan Nilekani, an official of the Planning Commission, distorting history of India’s First War of Independence to rewrite the history of the formation by Indian National Congress? It was founded by a butcher of Indian revolutionaries.
Nilekani writes about AO Hume, a former civil servant of British East India Company and the father of Indian National Congress was educated at East India College, in his book, “Imagining India”. In a deliberate act of fraudulent misrepresentation of fact, he states that in 1885, the “Indian National Congress was founded by Allan O Hume, a British political reformer and avid birdwatcher, who had sided with the Indian soldiers during the army mutiny.” The indisputable fact stated by Hume himself is that he was with the soldiers of British East India Company and not the Indian soldiers.
As a recruit of Indian Civil Service of British East India Company, he was magistrate and collector of Etawah district in today’s Uttar Pradesh, which is Mulayam Singh Yadav’s constituency. Hume’s friend Colonel CHT Marshall of the Indian Army wrote, “Allan Hume joined the Bengal Civil Service in 1849, towards the end of his twentieth year. Before he had been nine years in India, the great Mutiny of 1857 broke out, and he had many opportunities of showing his capabilities as a soldier as well as a civilian.” After May 1857, especially between 17 June 1857 and 30 December 1857, he remained hidden in Agra Fort. But, by 6 January 1858, he managed to re-occupy the town of Etawah.
Hume, in his own report, says, “On April 21 (1858) we made a most successful cavalry attack on a party of Roop Singh's at Ajeetmul, and though the enemy were in great force all round, drove them with the loss of seven men helter-skelter into the ravines. The audacity of this attack, for the time, completely frightened the rebels. Next day, by a very pretty combined movement from two directions, we surprised the enemy, cut up fifteen, took prisoner and hung three...” (Source: Allan Octavian Hume, Father of the Indian National Congress: 1829-1912, by Sir William Wedderburn, Bart., 1913)
In such a scenario, why is Nilekani feigning ignorance about the fact that for Hume, Indian soldiers, who became revolutionaries were the “enemy” and he has recorded how he had killed many of them.
Nilekani’s term as a chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) holding cabinet minister’s rank ends in July 2014. How will he be held accountable and made liable for his acts of omission and commission during his tenure? Why no one especially from among the non-Congress parties is correcting him? Do they feel intimidated by him and his powerful civilian and non-civilian allies?
It is noteworthy that Nilekani mentions that his book began with the encouragement from Ramchandra Guha, the historian. Had Guha read the book prior to its publication, he must have given Nilekani the correct lesson in history about the role of Hume in 1857. Equally notable is the fact that barring five-six people like Upendra Baxi, Jean Drez, Prof Trilochan Shastry, Rajeev Chandrashekhar, MP and Yashwant Sinha, the former finance minister, most of some 200 personalities including Guha that have been acknowledged in Nilekani’s book either support the biometric profiling of Indians or chose to maintain studied silence. These personalities do not seem to realise that they have wittingly or unwittingly become part of the UIDAI chief’s “positive coalition of people who have a stake in its success.” Nilekani has admitted that “there is a huge coalition of…organisations, governments, banks, companies, others who have a stake now” in the future of biometric database. The idea was/ is to “create a positive coalition that has the power to overpower or deal with anyone who opposes it.”
Guha’s exhaustive work on Mahatma Gandhi must have revealed that Gandhi had referred to biometric identification ordinance in South Africa as a Black Act and had opposed it with the Chinese community and was supported by Gopal Krishna Gokhle when he visited him in South Africa. Sudheendra Kulkarni, currently with Reliance Industries supported Observer Research Foundation, is among those acknowledged in the Nilekani’s book. Kulkarni, who has also written a research-based book on Gandhi must have encountered his opposition to biometric identification and indiscriminate finger printing of Indians. Among the journalists Vir Sanghvi and Ram Manohar Reddy have been referred to as the “finest editors in India” in the book. Dalit writer, Chandrabhan Prasad, Yogendra Yadav, one of the founders of Aam Aadmi Party, Mahesh Rangarajan, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) and Anantha Padmanabhan, currently with Amnesty India, are notable mentions in the book.
Mahesh Rangarajan seems to have paid the debt of having been acknowledged in the book by inviting Nilekani to deliver a public lecture on ‘India and the Third Industrial Revolution’ on 10 October 2013 at NMML. It is claimed that Third Industrial Revolution, which refers to use of computers, the web and mobile phones from 1960 onwards provides unique opportunity to find 'leapfrog' using products and technologies. This claim is suspect. It was claimed that first industrial revolution was based on steam and railroads and the second one was based on electricity, internal combustion engine, running water, indoor toilets, communications, entertainment, chemicals and petroleum.
NMML provided a platform for the advocacy of legally questionable biometric identification technologies and helped propagate the propaganda of the technology companies, which have been debunked by European Court of Human Rights besides China, UK, France and Australia.
One is yet to hear the position of Amnesty India on indiscriminate biometric identification. Silence is also a position for sure.
It is quite strange that just because Nilekani has acknowledged them in his book these personalities seems to have entered into some stated or unstated Faustian pact with him. Unless they have been promised some share in the booty by the data mining mafia, why are they tongue tied on the issue of mankind’s biggest biometric database. Intellectual courage is an endangered species, it seems.
Why is Nilekani being allowed to distort language and commit linguistic corruption to take away the sovereign function of tax collection from the government and hand it over to National Information Utilities (NIUs) which is purported to be a private company with public purpose and which has profit making as motive but not profit maximizing. In his book, which was first published in 2008, Nilekani states that “NIUs would be databases that amass information…” He is deeply worried because “This makes zeroing in on a definite identity for each citizen particularly difficult, since each government department works as a different turf and with different groups of people.” He quotes the then chief election commissioner, N Gopalaswamy who said that “Our databases are in these disconnected silos.” It seems he considers the entire political class to be comprised of intellectual pygmies which cannot see through his machinations.
In a startling revelation it has come to light that in an unprecedented move country’s most sensitive financial data, entire tax data of Indians has been turned over to a private firm, set up as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) named Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN), an IT company on the recommendations of Nandan Nilekani-headed panel. Legislators, informed citizens and institutions must act to stop the takeover of Government’s sovereign function of tax collection by a private company. GSTN is supposed to provide information technology support under the proposed Goods and Services Tax (GST). There is no provision for data security in it.
GST is a value-added tax, which is expected to replace all indirect taxes on goods and services imposed by the Centre and Indian states. GST will replace the state VAT, central excise, service tax and a few other indirect taxes will be a broad-based, single, comprehensive tax levied on goods and services. It will be levied at every stage of the production-distribution chain by giving the benefit of Input Tax Credit (ITC) of the tax remitted at previous stages. GST is based on a destination-based taxation system, where tax is levied on final consumption. It is expected to broaden the tax base, foster a common market across the country, reduce compliance costs, and promote exports. The GST will be a dual tax with levy by both central and state tax administrations on the same base. The GST demands a well-designed and robust IT system for realising its potential in reforming indirect taxation in India. The IT system for GST would be a unique project, which will integrate the central and state tax administration.
While presenting the Union Budget in 2011-12, the then union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee informed the Lok Sabha that Technology Advisory Group for Unique Projects (TAGUP) headed by Nilekani, chairman, UIDAI has submitted its report dated 31 January 2011 and its recommendations have been accepted in principle. Other members of the TAGUP included CB Bhave, the then chairman of SEBI, R Chandrasekhar, secretary at the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Dhirendra Swarup, former chairman of PFRDA, S Khan, former member of CBDT, RV Ramanan, former member, of CBEC and Dr Nachiket Mor, chairman of IFMR Trust.
This was a follow up what the union finance minister had said in his Budget Speech of 2010–2011 with regard to the setting up of TAGUP. Para 104 of the Budget speech reads:
“An effective tax administration and financial governance system calls for creation of IT projects which are reliable, secure and efficient. IT projects like Tax Information Network (TIN), New Pension Scheme (NPS), National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), Expenditure Information Network (EIN), Goods and Service Tax (GST), are in different stages of roll out. To look into various technological and systemic issues, I propose to set up a Technology Advisory Group for Unique Projects under the chairmanship of Shri Nandan Nilekani.”
The TAGUP report states, “In recent years, government functioning in general and specific projects in particular have come to involve complex Information Technology (IT) system development. Five projects stand out:
1. Goods and Services Tax (GST)
2. Tax Information Network (TIN)
3. Expenditure Information Network (EIN)
4. National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA)
5. New Pension System (NPS)”.
It claims, “These five projects alone have immense transformative power and can change India’s growth trajectory.”
The report reads: “The group recommends that a class of institutions called National Information Utilities (NIU) may be put in place to handle all aspects of IT systems for such complex projects.”
“As conceived by the Group, NIUs would be private companies with a public purpose: profit-making, but not profit maximizing,” the report adds.
NIU is manifestly an exercise in linguistic corruption with the aim of ‘building a coalition for change’.
TAGUP report claims that this concept is not new. It cites comparable examples like National Securities Depository Ltd (NSDL), National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS). The report underlines that “The UIDAI published early on, the UIDAI Strategy Overview that described the strategic vision, from which many aspects of implementation have been derived.”
The TAGUP report reveals, “GSTN is an NIU that is being set up to serve multiple levels of Governments (Central and State) in GST”. It also states that “The IT Strategy for GST was defined and accepted within Government even before the NIU was selected.” Notably, IT Strategy for GST was also defined by Nilekani.
GSTN has been given birth as private limited company amidst opposition from chief ministers and officials from the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC). GSTN has been set up on equity of just Rs10 crore. Government has provided it a one-time grant of Rs315 crore. Notably, although the Government has funded this start-up, it does not even have majority control.
GSTN headed by Naveen Kumar, former chief secretary of Bihar, is meant for controlling all new indirect tax data from the Centre and states.
Union finance ministry has compelled the CBEC and Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) to sign memorandum of understanding (MoU) with GSTN for sharing the data. This is to ensure that GSTN will be able to access and process the entire tax data-both direct and indirect taxes. The finance ministry has also asked CBEC to hand over the processing of data for tax surveillance to GSTN. This has been done without any security or privacy safeguards.
It is noteworthy that Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa had sent a letter dated 18 August 2011 to non-Congress chief ministers urging them to stridently oppose the introduction of a Goods and Services Tax (GST). She argued that it would affect the fiscal autonomy of the states. In the light of the proposal for GSTN, Jayalalithaa’s opposition has been proven right because as per the plan, entire individual data—direct and indirect taxes—including registration, return and payment by taxpayers will be in custody of a NIU. It is a case of handing over of public data to a private entity. It is akin to day light robbery.
While rest of media turned a blind eye, Open magazine did a cover story ‘Guess who can see your tax data’ (22 August 2013) and a New Indian Express story ‘Aadhaar cut down to size, data mining projects raise concerns’ (29 September 2013) underlined how NIUs like GSTN are linked to biometric UID/Aadhaar number. Supreme Court’s verdict on the legitimacy, legality and constitutionality of this identifier is likely to impact NIUs as well.
In November 2011, Sheila Sangwan, then member (Budget and Computerisation), had summarised the problems with the GSTN related proposals: ‘…a meeting was held on 14/15 November 2011 in the chairman’s office (SK Goel) to discuss the structure and functions of the proposed GSTN… Dr Nandan Nilekani has mentioned as minuted that there is need to go in for the SPV even without GST being introduced. ..There was unanimity amongst the officers present that the sovereign function to be performed by the tax administration should be kept out of the purview of the GST.’ It was noted that ‘Across the tax administration in the world, the privacy of taxpayer data is accorded utmost priority and it is the practice to house this data in Government hands…’ So far the chairman of CBEC has not addressed the essential question of who would be the repository of the data.
Strangely chairman of CBEC wrote that, ‘With regard to the concern of IT security, it is not connected to the ownership of the management—government or non-government. In fact, the level of security is dependent upon the standards, safeguards and control processes that are put in place by the management. The GSTN could be asked to build necessary safeguards for ensuring the security and privacy aspects…With regard to the legislative route to set up SPV as government entity, it is in complete contrast to the decisions taken in the past and it would jeopardize the consensus achieved so far and bring the discussions back to square one.’
Why is the CBEC made to hurry to comply with the whims and fancies of Nilekani and his coalition partners given the fact that the UIDAI chairman has never taken oath of office and secrecy?
It has been reported that Naveen Kumar, the head of GSTN was asked about control of the data. He said, “We will start from scratch with our own servers and beginning with a list of dealers we will start building a database of transactions on our system. For this, we do not need additional data from the Customs or any other department.” It is quite evident that servers of GSTN, a private company will be stored in a grid of sort.
‘No taxation without political representation’ was the battle cry of the American Revolution. The issue is how GST can be imposed when there is no political representation in the GSTN. Chief ministers of all non-Congress states and all the non-Congress parties be vigilant against the subversion of hard earned rights of true political representation in matters of taxation.
Such initiatives will lead to handing over the control over indirect and direct tax data to GSTN for tax profiling and surveillance without any legislation passed by Parliament, the personal sensitive information like biometric data is being handed over to UIDAI and its partner companies like Accenture from the US and Safran from France. This undermines citizens’ sovereignty, states’ autonomy and national security for good.
Coincidentally, Jeewan Lal, whose treachery led to the victory of British East India Company over Indian revolutionary soldiers in 1857 was associated with the introduction of Income Tax in India in 1860 along with James Wilson, a fee trade activist who became British India's first finance minister (called finance member then). It was introduced to overcome the losses on account of the ‘Military Mutiny’ of 1857 by Indian revolutionary soldiers after British government realized that it cannot govern India indirectly through the fiction of the East India Company.
As finance minister, a chapter ‘Extended and Specialized Lending,’ in Silent Revolution The International Monetary Fund 1979–1989 by James M Boughton published by IMF in October 2001, it is revealed that Congress prime minister Indira Gandhi “gave the go-ahead to enter into secret negotiations” with IMF, following which on 25 November 1980, RN Malhotra, secretary for Economic Affairs at the ministry of finance “visited the Managing Director at the Fund to signal his country’s interest in obtaining a credit. In January 2011, Pranab Mukherjee too announced that India has “voluntarily sought a full-fledged Financial Sector Assessment Programme” from International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. This is similar to the voluntariness displayed in the drafting of Sixth Plan (1980-1985) after secret negotiations with the Bank.
In arrangement under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) offered the option of longer-term credits. The first negotiating mission went to New Delhi in January 1981, led by Tun Thin, director of the Asian Department. The then finance minister, R Venkataraman, met with IMF’s managing director in Washington and subsequently signed and submitted the Letter of Intent (LoI) on 28 September 1981. Following the IMF’s approval for EFF, Indian National Congress-led government faced massive criticism for subjecting itself to IMF’s conditionality.
In an exercise of sophistry, this government argued that “the EFF arrangement did not impose conditionality at all, because it was fully consistent with the policies that were already incorporated in the Sixth Five-Year Plan”. After having internalized the conditionality imposed by IMF, Indira Gandhi informed the Parliament that “the arrangement does not force us to borrow, nor shall we borrow unless it is for the national interest. There is absolutely no question of our accepting any programme, which is incompatible with our policy, declared and accepted by Parliament. It is inconceivable that anybody should think that we would accept assistance from any external agency which dictates terms which are not in consonance with such policies.” This IMF publication unequivocally establishes that Indira Gandhi lied to the Parliament and misled the nation.
GSTN is being created with an ulterior motive to bring it under the financial sector surveillance program of the IMF, World Bank Group in continuation of the policies pursued since the days of Indira Gandhi. These policies have made India servile to the dictates of the Bank. GSTN helps the Bank to make deeper inroads and erode the financial sovereignty of the country in complicity with the ruling party.
Foreign Policy magazine of the Washington Post company listed Nilekani, apparently a protégé of Mukherjee as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2010. This was prior to disclosures about invasion of privacy by intelligence agencies of US and UK by monitoring emails, web searches, and telephone records. Is it impossible for them to monitor Nilekani? Or is the case that Nilekani is undertaking their task by collating biometric data of India. Admittedly, his masters have volunteered his services to other developing countries as well. President of World Bank did so in April 2013 at his headquarter in Washington.
In his book, Nilekani recalls that in 1935 “The British pass(ed) the Government of India Act, giving India its first step towards independence, creating a constitution and elected governments in the provinces. Indian leaders assert that the law does not go far enough. Nehru thunders, ‘The basic policy of this Congress is to combat the Government of India Act-the new Constitution- and destroy it!”
In 1950, the same Government of India Act, 1935 was adopted as the Constitution of India.
It is now evident that Indian National Congress is out to undertake the unfinished task of destroying the Constitution of India with the help of Nilekani who is acting as an agent of non-state actors.
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
State governments must apply their legal minds to abandon biometric data collection the way it has been done in UK, US, France, China and Australia before being compelled by the Court to do so
The Supreme Court has listed 26 November 2013 as the next of hearing in the matter of 12 digit biometric unique identification (UID)/ Aadhaar number project. The Court in its order dated 23 September 2013 directed, “In the meanwhile, no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card in spite of the fact that some authority had issued a circular making it mandatory”. But in manifest contempt of court, states like Jharkhand, Mizoram and others are making it mandatory. After Court’s order, Jharkhand Government issued an appeal in all the newspapers in October 2013 making Aadhaar number mandatory for all the students in the state. The appeal is attached. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will take these states to task.
A Dalit activist who was one of the first 17 eminent citizens who issued the Statement of Concern against UID at a Press Conference at Press Club of India in New Delhi on 28 September 2010 said, "This project wants to fix our identities through time. Even after that we are dead. The information held about us will be fixed to us by the UID number. Changing an identity will become impossible. We are working for the eradication of the practice of manual scavenging, for rehabilitation of those who have been engaged in manual scavenging, and then leaving behind that tag of manual scavenger. How can we accept a system that does not allow us to shed that identity and move on? How can a number that links up databases be good for us?" But be it Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), or Samajwadi Party (SP) or Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) or Janata Dal (United) (JD-U), they are busy endorsing or implementing the questionable project.
In a late but significant development, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on 1 November 2013 urged the central government to "seriously reconsider" its decision to make Aadhaar compulsory for getting subsidised cooking gas (LPG). She said, "There is a Supreme Court verdict that Aadhaar cannot be made compulsory for getting benefits of government schemes. The government appealed against it, but the SC rejected it. Even then, how can the petroleum ministry decide that without Aadhaar people won't get the subsidy of nine cylinders?"
"I request the prime minister to take care or our party workers will lay siege to the Indian Oil Corporation office. It is an ‘attempt to cheat the people’…I am shocked to see this attitude. People are not beggars, why are they the sufferers?” she added.
She also criticised central government agencies for ‘harassing people’. Memorandum of understanding (MoU) to implement UID/Aadhaar was signed with Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) when Communist Party of India (Marxist)—CPI(M) was in power in West Bengal. In effect, both Trinamool Congress (TMC) of Mamata Banerjee and CPI (M) seem to have similar position on Aadhaar.
Earlier, on 29 September 2013, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to stop the linking of cooking gas subsidy to the Aadhaar number. The chief minister highlighted the need for the states to be consulted before launch of any ambitious scheme if the central government’s intention is to ensure efficient delivery. She said, “The State government is strongly opposed to the proposed rollout”. She argued that LPG, an essential commodity, is to be made available to the users in a timely and need-based manner. Replacing the subsidy with a direct cash transfer is not appropriate.
Sadly, legal minds in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have not informed these chief ministers that it is not a question of being voluntary or mandatory. It is a question of the grave ramifications of illegal and illegitimate biometric Aadhaar number which is quite well documented.
Kerala’s leader of the opposition VS Achuthanandan from CPI (M) has asked the government to drop the ‘Aadhaar' project on 26 August 2011. He noted that fingerprints and other biometric information of citizens were being collected under the project violated provisions of the Citizenship Act of 1955 and Citizenship Rules of 2003, neither of which permitted collection of biometric information of Indian citizens.
The state government, which was pushing ahead with the project in Kerala, appeared little worried about the serious concerns being expressed the world over about the implications of the UID project for citizen's right to privacy and security. It must be noted that Achuthanandan as the chief minister of Kerala, launched the unique identification number project, Aadhaar in the State on 24 February 2011. In his inaugural speech he has said that Aadhaar project has elicited mixed feelings within the minds of people. “As we launch this project in the State, we will take necessary measures to spread awareness of the pros and cons of enrolling into this scheme before people enrol themselves,” Achuthanandan had said. But enrolment for the UID/Aadhaar had begun with immediate effect during his tenure. Wisdom seems to dawn when politicians are in opposition, now he has rightly demanded scrapping of Aadhaar.
But in Tripura, where CPI (M) rules, this belated wisdom seems to await the time when chief minister Manik Sarkar will be in opposition. Tripura was the first state in the northeast and the eighth in India where the Aadhaar scheme was launched on 2 December 2010. Tripura secured top position in the country in implementing Aadhaar project. But this performance is shrouded with allegations of irregularities in spending of Rs15 crore meant for Aadhaar. Bowing to the Congress party's persistent demands, chief minister Sarkar announced in the state assembly on 1 March 2012 that the state government would request the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate alleged irregularities in implementation of the 12-digit number being issued by the UIDAI for all Indian residents.
"We would take up the matter with the CBI and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) to examine whether any misdeeds occurred in spending the central funds meant for 'Aadhaar' scheme," he said.
Tripura’s rural development minister Jitendra Chowdhury quoted a communiqué of the union rural development ministry in the state assembly saying, "The central government, at a function in New Delhi recently awarded Tripura and other well performing states in implementation of the Aadhaar scheme." One does not know whether the demand for CBI probe has been pursued.
After receiving the award from the Indian National Congress led government, under the title “Aaadhar Illegal”, on 25 September 2013, the CPI (M) issued a statement saying, “The Polit Bureau welcomes the judgement of the Supreme Court that the Aadhaar Unique Identity cannot be made mandatory for receiving social benefit schemes. The government has been illegally instituting the cash transfer schemes and identification of beneficiaries of social welfare schemes based on the Aadhar identity.” (Source: http://cpim.org/content/judgement-welcomed)
CPI (M)’s position on Aadhaar/UID that has been articulated so far appears to be exactly the same which has been voiced by TMC and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) despite their sharp differences on the issue of illegal immigrants. It merits rigorous attention as to how ‘migrant workers’ and ‘illegal immigrants’ are beginning to be mischievously used interchangeably.
When the MoU by National Coalition of Organisations for Security of Migrant Workers (NCOSMW) with UIDAI was criticized, the proceedings of the first general body summit of the NCOSMW convened in Bhopal on 26th and 27 November 2010 hosted by Samarthan-Centre for Development Support admitted "One of the triggers for creation of the coalition was the UID project. There was a good overlap between the mandate of the coalition which sought a mobile identity for migrant workers and the work of the UID. However, the recent roll-out of the UID project has been ridden with controversies. In view of the recent developments, the Coalition felt the need for critical engagement with the UID Authority and not a blind endorsement of the project." Campaigners against UID project had written to them and some of their resource persons withdrew from it.
Not only them even Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has revealed his position by launching biometric e-Shakti initiative in Bihar. It is turning Biharis into guinea pigs for biometric technology companies. In the name of ‘Financial Inclusion’, what is unfolding is surveillance of transactions, mobility and every aspect of life. The biometric data collection faces legal challenge in Supreme Court. The e-Shakti project was launched under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) Bihar on 24 February 2009 in Paliganj Block of Patna. More than 5 years and 7 months have passed since the project was launched. It is noteworthy that e-Shakti project was launched within a month of the creation of UIDAI, which was brought into its controversial existence on 28 January 2009 by a notification of the Planning Commission. While presenting the Union Budget 2009-10, the then Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee had announced the setting up of UIDAI to “establish an online data base with identity and biometric details of Indian residence and provide enrolment and verification services across the country” in paragraph no. 64 of his speech. It is this notification meant for biometric data collection which faces robust legal challenge in the Supreme Court.
State governments must apply their legal minds to abandon biometric data collection the way it has been done in UK, USA, France, China and Australia before it is compelled by the Court to do so. There is a compelling logic to reject those parties which implicitly or explicitly support tracking, profiling, databasing and mortgaging of citizens’ rights and their sovereignty under the dictates of their donors and non-state actors.
Under the e-Shakti project, a biometric smart card, which contains particulars of the individuals as textual and biometric data (photograph and fingerprints) in electronic form is used to establish identity of the individual. The project has been started in Patna districts of Bihar as pilot project and proposes to cover approximately 331 Gram Panchayats of 23 blocks. It has disclosed, “After successful completion of the pilot phase, the project would cover entire state of Bihar in phased manner.”
The 48 page Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance submitted to both the Houses of Parliament in December 2011 reads (in the section on Observations/Recommendations): “The collection of biometric information and its linkage with personal information without amendment to the Citizenship Act 1955 as well as the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003, appears to be beyond the scope of subordinate legislation, which needs to be examined in detail by Parliament.”
It is clear that Bihar being taken in that non-democratic route through such biometric identification. The multi-party Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance comprised of Yashwant Sinha, Shivkumar Udasi Chanabasappa, Jayant Chaudhary, Harishchandra Deoram Chavan, Bhakta Charan Das, Gurudas Dasgupta, Nishikant Dubey, Chandrakant Khaire, Bhartruhari Mahtab, Anjan Kumar Yadav M, Prem Das Rai, Dr Kavuru Sambasiva Rao, Rayapati S Rao, Magunta Sreenivasulu Reddy, Sarvey Sathyanarayana, GM Siddeswara, N Dharam Singh, Yashvir Singh, Manicka Tagore, R Thamaraiselvan, Dr M Thambidurai, SS Ahluwalia, Vijay Jawaharlal Darda, Piyush Goyal, Raashid Alvi, Moinul Hassan, Satish Chandra Misra, Mahendra Mohan, Dr Mahendra Prasad, Dr KVP Ramachandra Rao and Yogendra P Trivedi.
Under the influence of biometric technology companies, Bihar Government is creating a situation where if you do not have the biometric smart card you may not get the right to have rights. The project in questions is being implemented by a consortium consisting of Smaarftech Technologies Pvt Ltd. Partners in the e-Shakti project include Bihar’s rural development department as the principal force behind the e-Shakti project, Bihar State Electronics Development Corp Ltd (BELTRON), a government of Bihar undertaking which is engaged in business related to Electronics and Computer technologies and services, and Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS), a infrastructure development and finance company. Beltron and IL&FS have together formed a joint venture company, Bihar e-Governance Services and Technology (BeST), which is monitoring the e- Shakti project, which is being implemented by the service provider consortium. Smaarftech Technologies, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) of Glodyne Technoserve Ltd is implementing, managing & maintaining the NREGS-Bihar (e-Shakti Project) over a period of five years for the department of rural development, Bihar. Smaarftech Technologies is a subsidiary of Glodyne Technoserve Ltd. Glodyne Technoserve is a leading IT Services company, having a pan India and US presence, which has been partnering with various e-governance initiatives by providing its competencies in the IT Project Management Space. Dr Mahendra Prasad from JD-U is/was a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance that rejected the Aadhaar project. Hence, the motivation for e-Shakti Project which is duplication of Aadhaar is inexplicable.
On 22 October 2013, BJP vice president Smriti Irani said, “The reality is that the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, which gives sanction to this particular card, was rejected by the Standing Committee on Finance”.
Quite like CPI (M), TMC and JD (U), she failed to announce that since Aadhaar violates constitutional rights and has been rejected by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, BJP ruled states will not implement it and if her party comes to power it will scrap it.
All claims of benefits from biometric identification are highly suspect. How can the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance that questioned government’s right to collect biometric data be ignored in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and in all the other states. The collection of sensitive biometric information is an assault on democratic rights of citizens. It is high time state governments desisted from doing so the way Barack Obama and 25 states of US opposed the REAL ID Act, 2005 and UK, Australia, China, France and European Court of Human Rights rejected indiscriminate collection of biometric data.
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
Does the BJP's prime ministerial candidate know that neither Congress's prime minister nor its undeclared prime ministerial candidate have been biometrically profiled so far? It appears that Narendra Modi was taken for a ride but he must explain as to why he subjected himself to the ignominy of being biometrically profiled
Is it a coincidence that Lyon, France based INTERPOL, world’s largest police organisation too has called for global electronic identity (e-ID) card system? Does this not constitute “illegitimate advances of the state” because the state is complicit in it?
Increasingly biometrics and e-Identity co-exist. Capt P Raghu Raman, chief executive of National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), Union Ministry of Home Affairs, says, "the NATGRID is not an organisation, but a tool". It simply routes “information from 21 data sources to 10 user agencies ... it is like a Google of such data sources." NATGRID will function as a central facilitation centre, to "data sources" such as banks and airlines, they are the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) and the Directorate General of Central Excise Intelligence (DGCEI). These agencies will get access to information from NATGRID. Security agencies can seek the details from NATGRID database. Data from companies like airline and telecom would be uploaded to NATGRID database. All the security agencies will have an access to NATGRID. The fact is Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) of Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar number and UID number generator National Population Register (NPR), Union Ministry of Home Affairs is a subset of NATGRID.
When asked about the qualification of CEO of NATGRID, the process for appointment of CEO, names and headquarters of the companies and government entities from which the data would be uploaded in the NATGRID and the names of the various government agencies that would have an access with NATGRID database under RTI Act, the Home Ministry on 30 June 2011 replied, “NATGRID/MHA is out of purview of RTI Act, 2005 under Gazette Notification No. 306 dated 9 June 2011”. The first RTI application was filed on the 11 May 2011. Clearly, NATGRID was removed from the ambit of RTI Act after the application was filed. How can information be denied based on a notification which was an afterthought with retrospective effect?
Notably, when asked whether Council of Union Ministers’ have got themselves enrolled for UID number, UIDAI denied the information under RTI application stating that it is third party information. There is nothing on record to show that the promoters of biometric identification like Pranab Mukherjee, LK Advani, Nandan Nilekani, P Chidambaram Sushil Kumar Shinde, Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi or Jairam Ramesh have got themselves biometrically profiled. In fact, Jairam Ramesh reportedly is on record for his refusal for the same. Senior leadership of no political party except Narendra Modi has got themselves enrolled for such an exercise.
In a panel discussion on Rajya Sabha TV, in the matter of biometric Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar number and National Population Register (NPR), this author was a fellow panelist of Dr M Vijayanunni, former Census Commissioner & Registrar General of India, Union Ministry of Home of Affairs. What Dr Vijayanunni said needs to reproduced ad verbatim. He said, “National Population Register is something that was tried in 1951 after the first census of independent India. It was a big disaster. National Population Register NPR never took off. It was given a very silent burial. It was never heard of again till now that is in the 21st century. Suddenly, the idea has been revived. Now having a National Population Register covering the entire citizenry of the country, it is not something new. It has been tried elsewhere in the world. China has a comparable population. They had attempted and they had given up after spending lots of money. They have found that in a country of such dimensions both geographically and as well population wise it is just impossible. It will never have a satisfactory population register for the whole country. Remember, it is not a onetime exercise. It has to be a continuing exercise forever. It is just impossible for a country of that size. We have the recent example of the United Kingdom. There also this was tried and they had to give up.”
Responding to the direction issued to the Union of India and Union Territory of Chandigarh by Punjab and Haryana High Court in the matter of Civil Writ Petition 569 of 2013 filed in the High Court against Union of India and others, the Executive Order for making Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar has been withdrawn. In its order the bench of Chief Justice AK Sikri, and Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain dated 19 February 2013 had not noted that the petition “raises a pure question of law.” Since the Executive Order was withdrawn, the case too was disposed of 2 March 2013 with a two page order.
The Order observes, “In this writ petition filed as public interest litigation (PIL), the petitioner has challenged the vires of notification issued by Union of India for making it compulsory to have UID cards. Admittedly, this issue is pending before the Supreme Court and therefore, on the last date of hearing i.e. on 19 February 2013, we did not observe anything on this issue.” It further observed that “Second issue raised in this petition is that vide order dated 5 December 2012, respondent No3 i.e. Deputy Commissioner, U.T., Chandigarh has given directions to the Branch In charge Registration-cum-Accountant, office of Registering & Licensing Authority, Chandigarh not to accept any application for registration of vehicle and grant of learner/ regular driving license without UID card.”
It is quite bizarre that Union Territory of Chandigarh remains ignorant of the fact that UID is not a card, it is a 12-digit number. The entire government machinery is hiding the fact that fundamentally UID is not a proof of identity, it is an identifier contained in the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) of UID numbers. Union Territory of Chandigarh failed to inform the Court the UID is not a card but an identification number based on biometric data without any legal mandate.
The petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court had made the following prayers:
i) Issue a writ in the nature of certiorari to quash Executive order dated 5 December 2012 passed by respondent no.3 passed in violation of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989 vide which UID has been mandatory for the registration of vehicles and grant of learner/ regular driving license.
ii) a writ in the nature of mandamus directing Union of India to accept other proofs of Identity and address i.e. Voter I-Card issued by Election Commission of India, the Constitutional body and Passport issued by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Govt of India and other proofs of address, age prescribed under Rule 4 of Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 for issuance of learning/ regular driving license and for registration of vehicle;
iii) Further it sought direction for Union Territory of Chandigarh and Union of India not to make mandatory UID for essential public utility services and accept other documents as proof of Identity and address as per the Rules;
iv) a writ in the nature of certiorari quashing notification dated 28 January 2009 being illegal and further issuance of a appropriate writ declaring the Unique Identification Authority of India constituted vide Notification dated 28 January 2009 unconstitutional as the same has no legal sanctity as the UIDAI been constituted and functioning illegally.
The writ petition had emphasised that during the pendency of the petition, Executive order dated 5 December 2012 and other similar executive orders vide which Aadhaar have been made compulsory for essential public utility services may kindly be stayed.
In its concluding paragraph the 2 March 2013 order of the High Court reads, “Today, short affidavit of Mr M Shayin, IAS, deputy commissioner, UT, Chandigarh is filed stating that the aforesaid instructions have been reviewed and now the insistence of UID card is no longer treated as mandatory. No further orders are required to be passed in this petition, which is accordingly disposed of.”
It is noteworthy that Indian National Congress led Government’s budget speech of 2013 announced that “We are redoubling our efforts to ensure that the digitized beneficiary lists are available; that a bank account is opened for each beneficiary; and that the bank account is seeded with Aadhaar in due course.” In the light of the Punjab & Haryana High Court’s order, the implementation of opening of bank accounts seeded with UID/Aadhaar is legally and constitutionally questionable.
By it is somewhat well known that UID number and UID number generating NPR is based on biometric and retinal profile procured from Indians. This is the most repulsive aspect of the project. Any biometric profile directly violates the very dignity and privacy of Indians which is guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
What is normally used for terrorists and criminals is now sought to be used against the common citizens of this country. Does it mean that the state has lost confidence in its people and wants a criminal profile of all its citizens? Can there be a more shameful aspect of the state intrusion into individual privacy? Supreme Court’s judgement dated 4 July 2011 upheld Right to Privacy as Right to Life.
Disregarding this, the government seems to be acting under the influence of surveillance technology companies and biometric technology companies.
Take the case of RS Sharma, who in his role as director general of Government of India’s UIDAI (who is currently the chief secretary of Jharkhand) is rare person because he biometrically profiled Bhartiya Janata Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate. On 1 May 2012, Sharma “took the biometric fingerprints of Mr Modi for his identity card and registered him under the project” as per the website of Narendra Modi. (Source: http://www.narendramodi.in/cm-kicks-off-uid-project-in-gujarat/ ). As chief secretary of Jharkhand, he has committed a manifest act of contempt of Supreme Court by letting his principal secretary, Department of Human Resource Development to issue an appeal in the Patna edition of The Times of India asking all the schools including those which are non-governmental and unrecognized to mandatorily submit “Aadhaar card” to the school. While this is in violation Court’s order of 23 September 2013, it is noteworthy that Sharma allowed his subordinate official to refer to biometric Aadhaar number as “Aadhaar card” despite his involvement with UIDAI. Hopefully, the Court will take him to task for his temerity. Does the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate know that neither Congress’s prime minister nor its undeclared prime ministerial candidate have been biometrically profiled so far? It appears that he was taken for a ride but he must explain as to why he subjected himself to the ignominy of being biometrically profiled.
The statement of concern on UID number issued on 28 September 2010 a day ahead of the launch of the UID number Sonia Gandhi and the prime minister by the eminent citizens including former judges, jurists, educationists aptly stated, “there is a fundamental risk to civil liberties” and sought the halting of the project. Now who else is required to convince Indians in general and non-Congress parties in particular that there is no excuse to postpone call for boycott and civil disobedience movement against biometric identification in any form.
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)