Is UID anti-people?-Part 4: Does the implementation smack of corruption and negligence?
Mathew Thomas 20 December 2012

Every year foodgrain worth thousands of crores rot due to lack of storage facility because the Indian government says there is no money. Where should the priority be—in spending whatever the little money available to build storage or embark on a fancy UID scheme? This is the fourth part of a nine-part series on the unique identification number scheme and its possible misuse by politicians, bureaucrats and foreign contractors

The impudence

It is inexplicable that sensible, highly qualified, experienced people would do things like this, especially when they are in responsible positions. Who in his (her) right mind would launch a project that encompasses the entire population of a nation, without careful investigation of the feasibility, pros and cons and without some study of costs and benefits? Even more incredible is that significant numbers of people, either out of fear, or faith in the government or the person heading it, with his media created image, have enrolled and still go for enrolment in the UID scheme.


Perhaps, those who launched it did bet on the ignorance of the masses or their herd mentality or their helplessness against the power of government. If so, they have a diabolical game plan. It cannot be that they did not know what the project entails or what it would achieve. The media too has played along. This is as expected.


When dictatorial leaders rise, either in a coup or metamorphose from democratic processes, as when Hitler or Mussolini, or Stalin, or Nasser or Sukarno and many others strode across their nations and the world, the media and the public acquiesced. The people who launched the UID scheme are thought to be good men. As the judge who sentenced Rajat Gupta said, "Good men do bad things". The manner in which the UID scheme was launched and is promoted now, is characterised by impudence, call it a kind of foolhardiness, if you will. They pretend that it is for giving people an identity.


They project it as a tool that would reduce corruption in welfare service delivery. Yet they are all in a government which has been rocked by one scandal after another over its entire second tenure. While they make these claims, they do not say how the goal would be achieved.


Did they look at alternatives? If, as is admitted, they did no study of the UID project, how could they have investigated alternatives?


For the past several decades, thousands of crores of rupees worth of foodgrain rots due to lack of storage. Government spokespersons say that there is no money. Where should the priority be in spending the little money available—to build storage or embark on a fancy scheme spending these crores?


Is the promotion of UID deceitful?

UID is promoted as a noble pro-poor program. The National Population Register (prepared under the amended Citizenship Act), on the other hand, is supposed to identify and counter illegal immigrants and prevent such immigration. Whether NPR would succeed in achieving its objectives is a moot question. A government decision resulted in sharing the work of capturing the data of the population on a 50-50 basis. UID is for all residents. NPR is only for citizens. This exposes the incongruity of the decision. NPR does not provide for capturing biometric data. It does not also have any provision for sharing the data with other agencies such as banks, insurance companies and so forth, whereas UID is promoting the sharing of data for all kinds of applications. The finance ministry questioned the duplication of work and waste of money with multiple agencies doing the same work. This led to the sharing of population decision. There is confusion on registering twice, once in NPR and again in UID.


One of UIDAI's foreign contractors is a US firm, L1 ID Solutions (L1). It is now a subsidiary of Safran, a company in France. It is now called Morpho Trust. It still has an address and operations in the US. L1 provides a host of intelligence services to US intelligence agencies, Defence Department and for commercial organisations. The services, which L1 provides are given in the annexure to the Monograph.


UIDAI has refused to disclose details of the contract with L1 in replies to RTI queries. An appeal has been led with the CIC. The refusal to furnish contract details gives rise to the suspicion that the UIDAI has something to hide and in all probability, L1 is providing intelligence services to the government, the disclosure of which, would take the lid of the fig leaf of UID being a pro-poor initiative. More about L1 and its background is given in another article in this series.


RTI queries to the UIDAI raise many questions and leads to misgivings and apprehensions of corruption and a cavalier approach to capturing, processing and handling sensitive data of people of the country. UID has a system of private firms UIDAI empanelled for field work of data-capture. Initially, the UIDAI website gave a list of 209 such companies. The empanelment seems to have been done in a lackadaisical way.


Among the empanelled firms are a tea estate, a printing press, a NGO in education, stock brokers, etc. Three of the empanelled firms have the same addresses and appear to be from the same family. The UIDAI also has registrars. The registrars are government departments, banks and public sector organisations such as insurance companies. The registrars are to contract out the field work of data-capture to the empanelled agencies (EAs). There are many instances of corruption, fraud and termination for such activities. With difficulty it was possible to obtain information on the criminal cases led against the EAs who indulged in fraud.


Although years have passed, nothing further is known about the progress of the cases. More importantly, the question of what is to be done with the data these firms captured prior to their termination and criminal cases is not answered. UIDAI and government registrars do not seem to be bothered about such trivialities. They are evasive regarding the responsibility towards data security. UIDAI says that they only empanel the EAs and have no further responsibility.


An RTI reply from the UIDAI, Bangalore giving details of a FIR filed in a police station with allegations of fraud in enrolments is placed in the annexure. A firm, Global ID Solutions, acting as a franchisee of Alankit Fin Sec is alleged to have issued fake ID cards with the UIDAI logo. The case was led 29 July 2011, even though the RTI reply states that information of the fraud was received on 29 June 2011. A newspaper advertisement in a Tamil daily on 2 November 2011 stated that the advertiser would issue national ID cards in seven districts of Tamil Nadu. A FIR was filed in Dharmapuri police station. A scanned copy of the RTI reply is in the annexure.


Alankit Fin Sec is one of three firms, which appear to have some relationship with each other. UIDAI says that this firm has not been re-empanelled.


Over a year has passed. Nothing is known about how the fraud was committed, who were the persons behind it, how many people have these false IDs, were their biometrics uploaded on to the UIDAI servers, etc. If these are just two frauds that were detected, how many might have gone undetected? Such frauds have been reported across the country. Neither the UIDAI nor the government seem to be bothered.


UIDAI's other foreign contractors

One of UIDAI's foreign contractors is Accenture Plc. The company has a history. The information given here is garnered from the Internet. The truth of the information could only be established through a proper investigation. The information is such as to warrant such investigation before the Government of India or the UIDAI enter into business dealings with the company. However, this does not seem to have been done. Even worse, UIDAI in a RTI reply, stated that they do not know the country of origin of its foreign contractors.


Accenture's partners were the same as those of Anderson Consulting. The partners split from Arthur Anderson shortly before it went into liquidation following the Enron scandal, whose auditors they were.


According to Wikipedia, in October 2002, the US Congressional General Accounting Office identified Accenture as incorporated in a tax haven country. Accenture was incorporated in Bermuda. In May 2009, Accenture changed its place of incorporation to Ireland. It then became Accenture Plc. Accenture is a prime contractor to US Defence Services. Accenture has been embroiled in several cases under US Laws of "The False Claims Act", "the Anti-kickbacks Act" and the "Truth in Negotiations Act".


According to a US Department of Justice release of 12 September 2011, Accenture paid $63.675 million to settle False Claims Act allegations. The laws under which Accenture was proceeded against in the US would constitute offenses under the Prevention of Corruption Act and would entail criminal liability in India. The website details from where the data about the company were gathered are in the annexure to this monograph.


Impudence, Imprudence, Corruption or Negligence

Impudence is characterised by offensive boldness; insolent or impertinent behaviour. Imprudence on the other hand denotes indiscretion or lack of wisdom, perhaps even common sense. The nonchalance of UIDAI and the Government in the face of such information about their contractors in so important a project that affects the entire population and costs several thousands or lakhs of crores of rupees is astounding. They dismiss any criticism with utter disdain.


The media, which has such information, is in a "Maun Virat" mode. There is a conspiracy of silence. What due diligence did the UIDAI do before appointing these contractors? The answer would be "None whatsoever," if the RTI reply stating that there is no way of knowing the origin of the contractor companies is to be believed.


The UIDAI chief being an IT honcho could not be unaware of the past history of Accenture. It is difficult to believe that the RTI reply was given by a junior official without knowledge or permission from higher-ups in the UIDAI hierarchy. Is this deliberate deceit? Deceit is always deliberate. It is neither accidental nor innocent. Could the denial of information regarding the contracts and contractors be induced by corruption or could it be sheer negligence. Only an impartial investigation would reveal the truth.


Meanwhile the nation and its people would have to stoically suffer the impudence and imprudence of those in authority.


(Col (Retd.) Mathew Thomas is a former defence services officer and missile scientist turned civic activist, campaigning against state database control of the people.)

Is UID anti-people?-Part 3: Tall claims and tomfoolery of UID
Is UID anti-people? –Part 2: A bundle of contradictions, misconceptions & mirages
Is UID anti-people? The database state –Part1

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