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No beating about the bush.
It is absolutely necessary for the I-T department to come out with clear guidelines as to whether this LPG subsidy amount deposited in the bank accounts of some consumers is exempted from income tax. People who received LPG subsidy in their Aadhaar linked bank account are confused
Much water has flowed under the bridges since the controversial Aadhaar project was launched and reams of paper would have been consumed writing about the pros and cons of this project for the last nearly five years. As per the statistics placed before the Parliament, the government has issued 57.62 crore Aadhaar numbers till 31 January 2014. This means nearly 48% of the country’s population has been issued with this identity number, which has several ramifications on people of this country as unearthed by a series of articles published in Moneylife so far.
As an offshoot of this project, the union government has been aggressively pursuing for crediting the subsidy due on the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to consumers directly through their bank accounts linked with Aadhaar with the stated objective of curbing leakages and preventing black marketing of cylinders.
Till the end of last year, 66 million consumers in 184 high Aadhaar coverage districts, in 18 states, have been covered under the scheme. Till 31 December 2013 about 40 million cash transfers amounting to Rs2,000 crore to consumers’ bank accounts have taken place since the launch of the scheme in June 2013. And from 1 January 2014, it was proposed to cover gas consumers in Delhi and Mumbai who will get cash subsidy through their bank accounts, as the direct benefit transfer for LPGs (DBTL) scheme would be extended to 105 more districts. When this roll out is completed almost half the country covering 289 districts would get covered by this scheme.
Then on 30 January 2014, bowing to political pressure and hue and cry from common citizens, the Indian government put on hold its scheme to transfer subsidy money into bank accounts of consumers through Aadhaar. Explaining the reasons behind the move to put on hold a scheme that was dubbed game-changer, oil minister M Veerappa Moily said there were complaints about the implementation of the scheme, and a committee has been formed to look into them.
At present, in Delhi, the price of non-subsidised cooking gas is Rs1,080.50 and for subsidised LPG cylinder, it is Rs414.
How does the direct benefit transfer scheme for LPGs work?
As per the direct benefit transfer for LPG (DBTL), consumer will get her cylinder at full market price and the difference between subsidised price and full market price i.e. the subsidy will be refunded to her by crediting directly into her bank account. It was initially announced that this subsidy is restricted to only six cylinders in a year, where after, the consumer will have to pay full market price for every cylinder supplied. This cap was increased to nine cylinders and later to 12 cylinders per year for every consumer.
To start with, this scheme was made available only to those who have obtained an Aadhaar number and submitted these details both to her bank and to the gas supplier/dealer, for linking the Aadhaar number to the DBTL scheme. The consumers in that district where the scheme was introduced were given three months’ time to enroll themselves into this scheme, failing to which they would be denied the benefit of subsidy and they will have to pay market price for all the cylinders required by them, as they will be ineligible for the subsidy from the government.
Subsequently, under the Supreme Court order, the government announced that it is not mandatory to have Aadhaar number to be eligible for LPG subsidy and those who do not have Aadhaar number will continue to get the cylinders at the subsidised rates as before. There was however, considerable confusion as many banks and oil companies were not prepared with the logistics to credit the amount to beneficiaries’ accounts, and complaints started pouring in from the consumers, who did not know how to go about it if the subsidy was not credited to their account promptly. Due to the hue and cry from a large number of consumers, the government on 30 January 2014 decided to put on hold its scheme to transfer subsidy money into bank accounts of consumers through Aadhaar.
Read: Following articles in Moneylife:
As per the latest report dated 7 March, 2014 in the Indian Express, the Ministry of Oil and Petroleum has scrapped the ambitious Direct Benefit Transfer system for LPG subsidy with effect from 10 March 2014. A communication regarding this has been reportedly sent by the ministry to oil marketing companies (OMCs) and gas agencies a few days ago. Consumers will now get their twelve cylinders till the end of March 2014, and get the benefit of 12 subsidised cylinders in the next financial year from April onwards.
Though there is still no clarity as to whether the DBTL scheme will be revived at all, what is agitating the minds of many of the consumers, who have received the subsidy in their bank accounts during this financial year, is whether the amount so credited by the OMCs to their account would be considered as ‘income’ for the purpose of payment of income tax on such receipts. This is because, a number of consumers, who have received the subsidy through their bank account, are tax payers, who will have to take a view on this matter, before filing their return of income for the current year. This confusion arose because of an article that appeared in Economic Times on 12 December 2013 under the headline “Direct LPG subsidy payouts may be taxed: Experts”. The media story in short reads as under:
“The money that the government transfers directly to consumers' bank accounts as LPG subsidy may well be considered as an income and taxed, say tax experts. There are no guidelines currently on taxing this type of subsidy payouts, and the income tax department may take a view on whether or not to claim a part of it. "
This subsidy is a new development which will accrue in the bank accounts of individuals starting from this year. There is no circular on whether this income should be taxed or not," a senior income tax department official is reported to have said. “
The subsidy that gets deposited in the bank account is likely to be treated as an income and be taxed accordingly although the amount would be small, said a partner at KPMG,” as per the media report.
One of the affected consumers wrote to local office of Indian Oil Corporation seeking clarification on this matter, and he received a reply that states, “This subsidy is paid by government of India; hence, we will not be able to satisfy your query, you may ask any tax consultant.”
Will the Income Tax department clarify this matter before it is too late?
It is preposterous to treat LPG subsidy as income, as it is contrary to reason. It is only a refund of the excess amount paid by the consumer to the gas dealer, which the oil company refunds to the beneficiary to comply with the government order to sell the LPG cylinder at the stipulated price to the users. It is therefore, impetuous for tax authorities to take a view that this amount is taxable at the hands of beneficiaries.
Besides, now that linking of Aadhaar is not mandatory for receiving the gas cylinders at the subsidised rates, and the whole scheme of direct benefit transfer has been scrapped for the time being, any decision to tax the subsidy received through bank accounts during this financial year would tantamount to penalising those who faithfully complied with the government instructions, leaving all those who have abstained from doing so unaffected by this decision.
The onus, therefore, is on the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) to clarify this matter well in advance of the date of filing the tax returns for the current financial year, to enable the tax payers to file their returns correctly. This, however, does not apply to those not coming under the tax bracket, and who are not required to file their tax returns. But since this subsidy is given to a large number of tax payers, it is absolutely necessary for the tax department of the government to come out with clear guidelines as to whether this subsidy amount is exempted from income tax, so that this matter is settled once and for all and all the tax assessing officers take a uniform view through out the country.
(The author is banking analyst and he writes for Moneylife under the pen name ‘Gurpur’)
BJP seems to have accepted Aadhaar as irreversible and as a face saving stance, it will have citizens believe that it will not accept the UID number but will gladly do so if it is mentioned as national population register or NPR
In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined.
-Thomas Szasz in The Second Sin, 1974
“Through a curious transposition peculiar to our times, it is innocence that is called upon to justify itself.”
When Yashwant Sinha headed Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance (PSCF) inconsistently and insincerely recommended handing over of the data collected by Planning Commission’s Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for biometric number branded as Aadhaar to Home Ministry’s Registrar General of India (RGI) for biometric National Population Register (NPR), it appeared inadvertent and a result of lack of imagination.
Now Sinha’s support for it reveals that it was by a questionable design, which is inconsistent and insincere because the same parliamentary panel had categorically raised question about the absence of legal mandate for biometric data collection. The parliamentary committee’s report observes, “The collection of biometric information and its linkage with personal information of individuals 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.”
Notably, the Committee’s report revealed that “Bharatiya - Automated Finger Print Identification System (AFSI), was launched in January 2009, being funded by the Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, for collection of biometric information of the people of the country.” But admittedly the same is not being used by UIDAI because according to the Government, “The quality, nature and manner of collection of biometric data by other biometric projects may not be of the nature that can be used for the purpose of the Aadhaar scheme and hence it may not be possible to use the fingerprints captured under the Bhartiya-AFSI project.” It is bizarre as why the Parliamentary Committee did not question AFSI program of Ministry of Communications and Information Technology headed by A Raja. How can this program be allowed to continue without “amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955”?
Despite such observation of the Parliamentary Committee that Sinha heads, his support for NPR brings to mind his failure to defend himself during the debate in the Lok Sabha on Black Money, when he faced factual attack on his person and integrity in his role as Union Finance Minister from Manish Tewari. His questionable defence exposed him to the core. Tewari’s name calling exposed Congress as well. The link between black money and three sectors—real estate, the gold-bullion and the Mauritius round tripping of black money route has been underlined. Tewari contended, “Interesting thing about the Mauritius route that there was a Circular called 789, issued on 13 April 2000, by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government-led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It prevented the assessing officers from finding out whether a person was a bona fide resident of Mauritius or not. This exempted anyone who claim to be Mauritius resident from tax.”
Tewari added, “I can give you far more examples to show the manner in which the NDA, during those six years, actually diluted the provisions of the law help, to generate black money.” Responding to it Sinha, the then finance minister said, “The Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) with Mauritius was signed in 1982 when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister and foreign direct investment (FDI) and other investments were opened in 1993 when Manmohan Singh was the finance minister. We did nothing except continuing the policy. Sinha added, “Facts can be twisted by ignoring facts and that is what Manish Tewari has done.”
On Hasan Ali issue, Tewari submitted that between 1997 and 2006, money in Ali's bank account rose to $8 billion. “Out of those nine years, who was ruling for six years? The NDA. Was it not its responsibility to find out how money was siphoned off and went abroad?” he questioned. These exchanges of allegations and counter allegations, which is now part of parliamentary record has revealed beyond any reasonable doubt that both BJP-led NDA and Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) are neck deep in patronising generation of black money.
Now Sinha’s dubious advocacy for NPR exposes him once again. His advocacy of NPR is an exercise in sophistry akin to his defence of his role in issuing circulars that facilitated and nourished black money. Similar stances are being taken in the case of illegitimate and illegal biometric data collection. Sinha and the Parliamentary Committee’s silence on illegality of AFSI program undertaken during A Raja’s tenure appear to be either an act of grave omission or complicity. Sinha’s role in promotion of corporate funding of political parties to the tune of 7.5% of company’s annual profit also merits rigorous attention. The complicit silence of non-NDA and non-UPA parties is quite inexcusable as well.
This Parliamentary Committee had recommended, “The data already collected by the UIDAI may be transferred to the National Population Register (NPR), if the Government so chooses.” The Committee’s report itself recorded, “Registrar General of India was engaged in the creation of the National Population Register (NPR) and issuance of Multi-purpose National Identity Cards to citizens of India, it was decided with the approval of the Prime Minister, to constitute an Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) to collate the two schemes – the NPR under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the UID scheme. The EGoM was also empowered to look into the methodology and specific milestones for early and effective completion of the scheme and take a final view on these. The EGoM was constituted on 4 December, 2006.”
When convergence of biometric NPR and Aadhaar/UID scheme was part of the conceptual design, it had left not even an iota of doubt that both the schemes were in fact one.
Besides the Ministry of Planning in their written reply stated, “UIDAI is adopting a multiple registrar approach and the Registrar General of India (RGI) will be one of the Registrars of the UIDAI. To synergize the two exercises, an Inter-Ministerial Coordination Committee has been set up to minimize duplication. The UIDAI is making all efforts to synergise with National Population Register (NPR) exercise.” This recorded reply illustrates that BJP’s proposal for NPR and Congress’s Aadhaar is simply the same rose with different names.
A seasoned politician and an ex-bureaucrat like Sinha cannot be so naïve as to fail to understand that Aadhaar and NPR are one and the same. This feigned ignorance seems to demonstrate the collusion between BJP and Congress on biometrically profiling Indians. Admittedly, biometric data is a property. It is not surprising that property dealers of all shapes and shades are visible on the horizon.
Let us revisit the terms of reference of UIDAI. The entire political class and citizenry was taken for a ride regarding a so called turf war between the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and UIDAI, which media was made to understand that got resolved by diving the Indian population in two parts of 60 crore for coverage under Aadhaar and the rest under National Population Register or NPR, which also generates Aadhaar number. The fact is the terms of reference of the UIDAI mandated it "take necessary steps to ensure collation of National Population Register (NPR) with UID (as per approved strategy)", to "identify new partner/user agencies", to "issue necessary instructions to agencies that undertake creation of databases… (to) enable collation and correlation with UID and its partner databases" and UIDAI “shall own and operate the database". The executive notification dated 28 January 2009 that set up UIDAI mentions this. The entire exercise has been staged to hoodwink unsuspecting Indians.
If there was still any doubt about the oneness of NPR and Aadhaar, the report of Press Trust of India of 30 January 2014 revealed the proposal of the Planning Commission to allow UIDAI to start enrolments in areas other than 18 states and Union Territories allocated to it. The Commission's proposal is based on the view that this is required to speed up collection of biometrics details of residents and for issuing them Aadhaar numbers as well as a National Multi-purpose Identity Cards (NMIC) based on NPR. It was reported, "The Commission discussed the proposal with Registrar General of India (RGI) under the Ministry of Home Affairs. They have agreed that UIDAI can be allowed to enroll in some states where they are collecting biometrics details of resident, to speed up enrolments."
In such a situation Sinha’s proposal of replacing biometric Aadhaar with biometric NPR is reminiscent of Danish King Cnut who commanded the crest and trough of tidal wave to obey him and lived in a make believe world thinking that the waves become go up or down in order to obey his command! It indicates that BJP has accepted Aadhaar as irreversible and as a face saving stance it will have citizens believe that it will not accept Aadhaar but will gladly do so if it is mentioned as NPR.
It may be noted that the states and union territories where RGI is enrolling residents and collecting their biometrics details under NPR are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu & Kashmir, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Dadar and Nagar Haveli and Lakshadweep. Notably, RGI is also enrolling residents in Udupi, Gadag, Uttara Kannada, Haveri, Davangere, Bangalore rural, Chikkabalapur and Kodagu districts of Karnataka. So far 14 crore Indians have been enrolled under NPR.
UIDAI has been enrolling residents in Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Chandigarh, Daman and Diu, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Puducherry, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Tripura. It claims that so far it has enrolled 56 crore Indians.
Both NPR and Aadhaar are online databases by design.
James Ball, Julian Borger and Glenn Greenwald reported for the Guardian referring to revelations of earth wide surveillance by Edward Snowden have stated that the leaked files show that the US’ National Security Agency and its UK counterpart Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) have broadly compromised the guarantees that Internet companies have given consumers to reassure them that their communications, online banking and medical records would be indecipherable to criminals or governments.
According to media reports, the MHA accused telecom operator Vodafone of secretly sharing subscriber data with a British GHCQ, a charge denied by the company. According to documents of the Internal Security Division of the Home Ministry, Vodafone is alleged to have given the GCHQ, "secret unlimited access to their network of undersea cables, which carry much of world's phone calls and Internet traffic".
"GCHQ's mass tapping operations has been built up over the past five years by attaching intercept probes to the transatlantic cables where they land on British shores," the home ministry documents claimed. "Intercept partners are paid for logistical assistance," it added.
The drive to mastery over men is not merely a by-product of a faulty political economy but also of a world view, which believes in the absolute superiority. It has become more and more apparent that genocides, Eco disasters and ethnocide are but the underside of corrupt sciences and psychopathic technologies wedded to new secular hierarchies, which have reduced major civilisation to the status of a set of empty rituals, observes Ashish Nandy in his book The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism. The lessons from database based genocides are part of recent world history and should not be forgotten in the face of a large section of complicit and partisan corporate media.
Now that it has been established that surveillance agencies of the US, UK and their allies have dismantled firewalls created for online privacy and encrypted Internet communications, the alliance of political parties who get the electoral verdict post 2014 parliamentary elections must promise in writing in their manifestoes their resolve to dismantle the illegitimate biometric database to undo the damage to done to Indians. The political parties must be made to promise creation of a mandatory decentralised, secure and offline communication structure. The new regime will have to unequivocally reject the proposal of Aadhaar based GST, GST Network and the intricately linked solutions architecture of World Bank Group, NATO, Interpol and WTO.
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
Legislators, who are wittingly or unwittingly promoting UIDAI’s biometric data collection, have committed an inexcusable, unpardonable blunder. Our future generations may deem this to be an act of treason for having facilitated entry of cyber Trojans that endangered India's territorial integrity by hollowing it from within
If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?
-Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of US, who was assassinated in 1865
The Internet was conceived and designed by a man named Larry Roberts in 1963. Larry was invited to Washington by Ivan Sutherland, the then head of Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA)’s computer research. Internet was called ARPA network (ARPAnet) then and was designed to be a fail-safe messaging system that packetized information. The military was funding ARPAnet at a time when the cold war was almost at its peak. Some countries including United States, want to make sure that there is some means for them to listen into messages, like wiretapping.
-Prof Nicholas Negroponte, author of Being Digital, 1995
“Who arrogates the power to spy on the entire earth-every single of us-and when he is caught red handed, explains to us that “we’re going to have to make a choice. Who is that person? Let’s be careful about who we call “traitor”. Edward Snowden is one of us. Bradley Manning is one of us. They are young, technically minded people from the generation Barack Obama betrayed. They are the generation that grew up on the internet, and were shaped by it.”
-Statement of Julian Assange of Wikileaks, who may have to stay in Eucadorian Embassy until 2022 (22 June 2013)
“We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity.”
- a Proclamation from La Paz, capital of Bolivia, 16 July 1809
It has officially been admitted that the chief executive (CEO) of MongoDB met senior officials of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)’s Technology Centre at Bangalore. In a reply to a RTI question, UIDAI said, “Mr Max Schireson CEO Mongo DB while on a tour to India, sought a meeting at UIDAI Tech Centre and the meeting was held on 13 November, 2013.”
These disclosures do not reveal what was the aim of MongoDB chief’s visit to India and whether the CEO accomplished the task for which he had come. MongoDB’s link with US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) merits the attention of Indian voters to ascertain what is uniquely strategic about a MongoDB database and similar other databases being creation. It is akin to identifying and matching mailing addresses of communities, ethnic groups and individuals against a database. It is as specific as targets for precision bombing and drone attacks.
Political parties must be made to include their position on cloud computing in their manifesto especially in the aftermath of disclosures by whistleblowers like Wikileaks, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and the recent report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology. Cloud computing refers to a computing model enabling ubiquitous network access to a shared and virtualised pool of computing capabilities (e.g., network, storage, processing, and memory) that can be rapidly provisioned with minimal management effort.
In response to a question as to the names of UIDAI officials who met MongoDB’s CEO during all the meetings, the UIDAI said, “DDG Tech Centre and ADG IT-II, Tech Centre” met him. In reply to the query about the copy of the full contract signed between UIDAI and MongoDB, and/or any of its previous or successor names / titles / agents, UIDAI and IBM, UIDAI and Oracle and UIDAI and In-Q-Tel, the UIDAI has written, “No contract signed” between UIDAI and MongoDB, and/or any of its previous or successor names / titles / agents and “No contract signed” between UIDAI and IBM.
With regard to the query about contract between UIDAI and Oracle, UIDAI has stated, “Production support for MySQL is provided by Oracle; not contact signed.” This reply reveals that UIDAI is engaging companies like Oracle and others without signing any contract. As to contract agreement between UIDAI and In-Q-Tel, UIDAI has written “No contract signed” between them. Oracle too is also in the business of ‘cloudifying’ database that seems to have the potential to turn governments into puppets at least as far as control over database is concerned.
Strangely, in response to the query about “the country of registration of above listed companies and the names and profile of the persons as the Board of Directors”, UIDAI has given an evasive and disturbing reply stating, “No Information is known”. This reply merits probe. Similar reply was initially given by UIDAI when it was asked about the origin of the country of security, identification and surveillance companies like Accenture, Safran Group’s Sagem Morpho and L1 Identity solution who had signed contracts with UIDAI.
To the query about copy of the relevant pages of the guidelines, surveys and reports on record for 100% accuracy of biometrics and that biometrics data of any person that changes because of ageing, UIDAI states, “Information is not available.” The RTI application was filed on 24 December 2013. The reply is dated 14 February 2014 by UIDAI but it was received on 21 February 2014 by speed post. The reply states that the point wise response to the RTI application was given by the Tech Centre, Bangalore, UIDAI. The RTI application was filed by Qaneez-e-Fatemah Sukhrani.
It may be recalled that MongoDB (formerly called 10gen) is a technology company from the US, which is co-funded by the CIA. It has not been explained as to what transpired at the meeting of UIDAI officials like DDG Tech Centre and ADG IT-II, Tech Centre, Bangalore with Max Schireson, CEO of MongoDB. Ashok MR Dalwai is Deputy Director General (ADG), Tech Centre.
MongoDB company is a Palo Alto and Manhattan-based database software provider in the $30 billion relational database market. Relational databases commenced in the 1970s when computers were moving away from punch cards (that facilitated holocaust in Germany using census data) to terminals. UIDAI remains tight lipped about MongoDB’s relationship with CIA. It is yet to become clear whether this company is providing “production support” like Oracle without signing any contract or is it operating through some pre-existing entity, which is already working with UIDAI. In a somewhat different context, Schireson has explained, “We deliver enterprises a 10 to 1 improvement — we charge tens of thousands of dollars to complete projects in a few months that they charge millions of dollars to finish in years” processes for large volume and diverse variety of big data.
It is germane to recall that one of the investors of MongoDB is In-Q-Tel (IQT), a not-for-profit organization based in Virginia, US created to bridge the gap between the technology needs of the US Intelligence Community and emerging commercial innovation. IQT was launched in 1999. Its core purpose is to keep CIA and other intelligence agencies equipped with the latest in information technology to support of intelligence capability.
George Tenet, former CIA director has revealed in writing, “We (the CIA) decided to use our limited dollars to leverage technology developed elsewhere. In 1999 we chartered ... In-Q-Tel.... While we pay the bills, In-Q-Tel is independent of CIA. CIA identifies pressing problems, and In-Q-Tel provides the technology to address them.” In-Q-Tel was funded with about $37 million a year from the CIA. Notably, In-Q-Tel sold 5,636 shares of Google in 2005. The stocks were a result of Google’s acquisition of Keyhole, the CIA funded satellite mapping software now known as Google Earth.
In its reply UIDAI should have disclosed the names of companies which are providing support to it without signing any contract, the details of the terms and conditions and financial component involved in the production support being offered by Oracle and the details of meetings between MongoDB and Nandan Nilekani, the biometric data collector.
In a statement dated 5 December 2013, Communist Party of India (Marxist) had taken cognizance of the engagement between MongoDB, L-1 Identity Solutions, Safran Group and UIDAI. It stated, “The collection of personal data and biometrics of all Indian citizens through the Aaadhar programme has been made available to the US agencies through the employment of these companies. It is now known through the Snowden files that the US authorities have been suborning all data through US telecom and internet companies. The Indian government and the UIDAI has compromised the vital data collected of Indian citizens by such tie-ups. The UIDAI collection of data has no legal basis.”
This party had demanded “the cancellation of the tie-up with foreign companies and a suspension of the Aaadhar scheme till Parliament deliberates and decides on its future and, if required, a legislative enactment.” It is puzzling as to why this party’s government in Tripura has not cancelled the MoU it has signed with UIDAI? Notably, in the home state of Nandan Nilekani, Karantaka BJP took cognizance of the news report in December 2013 about MongoDB but stopped short of issuing any statement.
In a seemingly different context, on 14 February 2014, The Hindu published an AFP news report from Kabul on its front page titled “Prisoners’ release from Bagram angers US”. The news story is about how ahead of withdrawal of US-led foreign troops after 13 years of battling militants, some 65 alleged Taliban fighters walked free from jail in Afghanistan, who were allegedly responsible for killing NATO and Afghan soldiers and civilians. They were released from Bagram prison compound, 50km north of Kabul. It is noteworthy that according to US military one of the released prisoners Mohammad Wali is suspected Taliban explosives expert is “biometrically linked” to two bombings against troops in Helmand province. The question arises as to whether Government of Afghanistan right in releasing the “biometrically linked” prisoners in a context where biometrics is admittedly “inherently fallible” or is Government of US right in biometrically profiling the Afghan citizens? It seems evident that Government of US has the biometric database of citizens of Afghanistan. Is it in the national interest of Afghanistan?
The mission of India’s National Cyber Security Policy dated 8 May 2013 is "to protect information and information infrastructure in cyber space, build capabilities to prevent and respond to cyber threats, reduce vulnerabilities and minimize damage from cyber incidents through a combination of institutional structures, people, processes, technology and cooperation." This is an afterthought. The biometric data collection for unique identification number being generated by Planning Commission’s UIDAI and Registrar General of India for National Population Register (NPR) under Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has created “Big” data and has deliberately been compromised. Is it in accessible to data miners like Government of US? Is it really in India’s national interest to ensure that Indians are biometrically profiled the way Afghanistanis, Pakistanis and Egyptians have been profiled?
“Data can be considered as the equivalent of water. There are a number of processes involved before the actual consumption of water and data. The journey begins with data, like water, being generated at multiple sources. These are then brought together into one central location”, reads a paper titled Analytics - Empowering Operations: The UIDAI Experience. The paper is dated January 2012.
The simile of water flow for data flow reveals the sensitivity of the controller and owner of the grids- be it water grid, power grid or data grid. Do Indians know about the forces that seeks centralization of every conceivable resource and its civilizational cost? Is the legal and political imagination of Indians in general and informed citizens in particular so barren that it cannot fathom its far reaching ramifications despite colonial experience? One of the key factors for colonization was information asymmetry between the occupiers and the occupied.
The UIDAI’s paper states that “The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is working to provide residents of India a Unique Identification number (called Aadhaar).The authority, in a short span, is set to become the largest biometric capture and identification project in the world.” The paper goes on to explain how to handle “Big” data. It states that “Over time, data will increase exponentially, fuelled by data coming in from residents, vendors and partners. Big data refers to data that is many orders of magnitude larger than traditional data. This size and nature of data makes the traditional database methodologies and technologies obsolete. Hence, provision should be made to ensure the system can handle this.”
Who is the handler of the system?
Dermot Mccormack et al, in the book 10 Technologies Every Executive Needs to Know, underline how some of the encryption, security and signal encoding issues that we might blame the manufacturers on may in fact have another source of culpability. During the 1990s the US Government was urging the industry to pursue a policy of “weak encryption”. The Government’s argument was based on the belief that building highly encrypted, absolutely secure products would be an impediment to their intelligence gathering operations! It is unclear who is winning the argument for tougher security. In the post 9/11 world the government is in a strong position to browbeat security wireless system manufacturers to abide by their ‘guidance’.”
Nilekani, the cabinet minister-ranked chief of UIDAI, who has been made the chairman of Congress Manifesto Consultation Committee, has been assuring Indians that firewalls that have been created will protect the biometric assets of the Indian residents. He refrains from referring to them as his compatriots. Dermot Mccormack et al categorically state, “Firewalls are not a security panacea.”
In simple words, Prof Nicholas Negroponte, author of Being Digital explains how world trade has traditionally consisted of exchanging atoms, not bits. Bits form the basis of cyber world. He predicts that “Like a mothball, which goes from solid to gas directly, I expect the nation-state to evaporate without first going into a gooey, inoperative mess, before some global cyber state commands the cyber ether. Without question, the role of the nation-state will change dramatically and there will be no room for nationalism than there is for small pox.”
His argument that most laws were conceived in and for a world of atoms, not bits therefore it seems national law has no place in cyber law. He underlines that cyber law is global law. This merits urgent attention of jurists, law makers and legal luminaries else the country can get colonized yet again by the asymmetry of information about information, communication, identification and surveillance technologies.
The promoters of online database of Indians like Nilekani and Sam Pitroda, the cabinet minister-ranked chief of Public Information Infrastructure have implied that nation-state is an endangered entity in the cyber world.
In the Lok Sabha, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was asked whether the Ministry has received proposals from various quarters for the issuance of unique identity card and resident identity card based on the National Population Register (NPR) in the country including nearly 130 border districts. Eight Members of Parliament (MPs) namely, Ingrid Mcleod, Jose K Mani, Madhu Goud Yaskhi, Anandrao Adsul, Dharmendra Yadav, Gajanan D Babar, DB Chandre Gowda and Shivaji Adhalrao Patil asked the question on 26 February 2013. They wanted to know the steps being taken by the government to check duplicity in the issuance of such cards and whether the government proposes to link the cards being issued under the NPR with that of the Aaadhar being issued by the UIDAI to check duplication of efforts.
RPN Singh, the minister of state in MHA replied, “The requests have been received from various security agencies to complete the National Population Register (NPR) and issue Resident Identity Cards based on NPR in the country.” He added, “Government has approved the scheme of creation of NPR in the country at an estimated cost of Rs6,649.05 crore and the same is under implementation. Presently, the proposal for issuance of Resident Identity (smart) Cards to all the usual residents in the country who are of age 18 years and above under the scheme of creation of NPR has been appraised by the Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) and recommended. The Union Cabinet, in its meeting on 31 January 2013, has considered the proposal and referred the same to a Group of Ministers (GoM).”
The minister explained, “As per the approved methodology, three biometrics collected under NPR (photographs, 10 finger prints and 2 IRIS prints) are sent to UIDAI for de-duplication based on biometrics and assigning of Aadhaar number to each resident. This would ensure that there are no duplicates in the NPR. The Aadhaar number would be printed on the Resident Identity Card. The mandate of the UIDAI is to issue unique identity numbers (Aadhaar) to all residents of the country and not a card. The UIDAI is generating Aadhaar numbers and communicating it to the residents through a letter which is referred to in common parlance as the “Aadhaar Card”. The proposed Resident Identity Card on the other hand is a Plastic Smart Card, which would not only be durable but also enable field authentication of identity without dependence on any external media like internet on mobile connectivity. Given the security threat perception in the country, this Smart Identity Card would greatly enhance the capability of agencies involved in counter-terrorism, anti-insurgency and border control to check identity of persons on the spot.”
The MPs who posed the questions feigned ignorance about the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance on biometric data collection. By accepting the fait accompli with regard to ongoing illegal and illegitimate biometric data collection they seem to be complicit in implicitly supporting it. The February 2014 report of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology on Cyber Crime, Cyber Security and Right to Privacy reveals how Aadhaar number and NPR number compromise both national security and citizens’ sovereignty for good. The database of these numbers is being stored on cloud which is beyond India’s jurisdiction. Those legislators who are wittingly or unwittingly promoting them have committed an inexcusable and unpardonable blunder which future generations may deem to be an act of treason for having facilitated entry of cyber Trojans that endangered India’s territorial integrity by hollowing it from within. Is it irrelevant to recollect the role of the Trojan horse in the battle of Troy?
“The division of labour among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing,” said Eduardo Galeano, the author of Open Veins of Latin America: Five centuries of the pillage of a Continent. To quote his words in the Indian context, it is apt state that our part of the world was precocious: it has specialized in losing since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilization. Centuries have passed, and Indian sub-continent perfected its role. Cyber Trojans can easily masquerade like the character of “No Body” in Homer’s epic Odyssey to vanquish nation-states with a hitherto unknown finality. "Nobody" is the name Odysseus gives to himself when Cyclops Polyphemos asks for Odysseus' name, he gives his name as 'No Body'. When Polyphemus is screaming on being beaten to death, the Cyclops screams that ‘Nobody’ is hurting him.
The position of BJP led alliance on cyber Trojans leaves a lot to be desired, the surrender of Congress led alliance to NSA and its machinations is quite manifest but the stance of the Left Front and their alliance partners for Federal Front on the unfolding global surveillance regime does not cover themselves with any glory either. The way likes of Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal have failed to rigorously examine this grave issue of life and death too is highly disappointing. The imagination of the political class as a whole seems to have become infertile. The political workers who are not pimps of business enterprises seem frozen by the stance of their parties which are evidently caught in a time warp. What is politics without imagination? Are these political organizations structurally myopic? Or have they outlived their utility?
Can voters turn their subjugation through databasing by national and transnational tycoons in league with countries like the US into an electoral issue? Isn’t it a case of so called “free trade” in personal sensitive information at any national cost? It appears to be more lucrative than trade in opium and the real estate. Perhaps, it is an extension of the trade in real estate.
India has been shrinking in the last few centuries. Its trade share in the world trade too has been shrinking. Surveillance is not only about violation of privacy but also about the treasure hunt for unprecedented financial surveillance and economic intelligence in the economic history of mankind. Will India evaporate to become a cipher in our life time? If Nilekanis, Pitrodas and Rahul Gandhis have their way, the path appear paved to that end with the “solutions architecture” akin to The Final Solution for divided Indians. The electoral verdict of 2014 general elections is turning out to be a referendum on the life span of India as a nation state.
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)