Is UID anti-people?–Part 5: Why UID is impractical and flawed “Ab initio”
VK Somasekhar 21 December 2012

No scheme or subsidy can be free and open-ended. The facts hidden are that there would be some fees levied for each transaction that would be a burden on the citizens without option of retracing as it is already introduced. This is the fifth part of a nine-part series on the unique identification number scheme

Myth, false assumptions, illusions and imagination


While some of our friends more competent to talk on technical issues would deliberate on the subject with much more competence and alacrity, I would like a lay man (aam admi) seek to respond to the doubts in my mind.


The UIDAI has spun this as a “game changer” to tackle corruption that exists in reaching subsidy to the poor and the most deserving sections of our society. They are basically meant to handle pilferage and leakages in government schemes that are in vogue. (Remember Rajiv Gandhi stated that only 10 paisa of every rupee reaches the ultimate intended beneficiary!)


This is not meant for security or protection from illegal immigrants as many would like to presume including our most distinguished Members of Parliament (MPs) who believe and also support it for that purpose.


The socio-economic issue is to be handled through technology by collecting data, biometrics and iris. This is why it is so complicated that many are unable to understand and are even afraid of questioning an icon from the most successful information technology (IT) industry in the country—Nandan Nilekani. Incidentally many are unaware that Nilekani is a marketing man and would not know much about intricacies of information technology compared to those who have worked in IT as techies would know. However, his association with an IT major gives him an aura as if he were a technological genius. He could hardly be expected to know anything about biometric technology.


Such ignorance could be the reason for his faith that this technology could cure the ills of corruption in our welfare schemes. Behind the success of any venture it is the marketing that contributes to selling or packaging a product with a brand name. Therefore we grant him that in abundance. He has been just doing this with great success and aplomb.


Even a lay man would ask the question of where the data is going to be stored and the capacity to store this huge data base of over 1.21 billion citizens, not to include the 'residents' that are floating as also the increasing population on an ongoing basis. We are also eager to know on what platform this is going to be built. As the adage goes—it is wrong to put “all the eggs in one basket”. So multiple servers will have to be hired and therein lies another problem of security, safety of data and infringement. Well, the response is not satisfying and convincing. We have no official word on this.


Now for the provision of infrastructure assuming everything else from the IT is handled. We are reminded by MN Vidyashankar, former secretary E-governance of Karnataka that the biometric machines are of far superior quality and therefore can be relied upon. Though he promised to give details, perhaps he forgot with his pressing commitments, we presume.


Let us take the case of PDS, the elementary question is that there has to be a computer and a biometric, iris scan reader in each shop together with an internet connection that too in rural areas along with electricity to operate it. You also need internet connectivity in all the villages and towns.


What about electricity? Though power sector reforms were mooted way back in 2003 and unbundling of the electricity boards have taken place, yet no major investments are forthcoming and there is an acute shortage of power all round the country. Therefore on what basis are they going to provide the accessibility and operational issues that follow?


In most of the rural areas the power supply is just for 3-4 hours if not less and we are still struggling to meet the demand. So without addressing this in the first place how can they go for advanced technology: So the building is built without the foundation? How can it sustain?


Therefore it is only in some urban areas where this can be introduced but what is the use? Roughly 300 million access the net in cities on a rough estimate but they are all not beneficiaries of the welfare schemes as they are above the poverty line. Also they don't need any fresh identity as they have plenty of them that too more than one that the government recognizes.


Further all the equipments have to be sourced through proper procedure and these shops have to be equipped. How is it going to be done and by what time?


Remember when electronic voting was introduced, the major public undertaking Bharat Electronics (BEL) couldn't supply all the machines that were needed. It took lot of time to meet the demand. Now, there are doubts about these machines and their reliability and use in elections have been questioned in courts.


We haven’t even thought about the efficacy or the machine that can handle this efficiently because we are just collecting only the data that too not yet confirmed or duly verified (de-duplicated).


Why will the state government implement a scheme that entails political mileage to the central government? Has there been any consultation with the state chief ministers before introducing this concept. No. Hence this is going to fail at as several indicators to this effect are already out in the open.


So what is the budget? Where has this been reckoned? Sans answers.


All searching questions but sans proper answers


Yet another gas balloon without merit and floated on wrong assumptions...


“The UPA government’s ambitious unique identification number project Aadhaar, would result in savings of about Rs1.1 lakh crore by 2020, around 58% of the expenditure of major public welfare schemes, a Planning Commission study released on Saturday said. The Prime Minister's Office had given April 2014 as a deadline for disbursing cash transfer through UIDAI platform for all major government schemes.


A cost-benefit analysis done by National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) says the savings for the government would be by plugging the leakage in implementation of government welfare schemes.”


First of all the law is yet to be enacted and the UIDAI is operating with an executive sanction that has been questioned by the Parliamentary Standing committee as untenable and therefore cannot be continued.


Even as it is the mandate of the UIDAI is only for 600 million until 2014 and cannot be extended to 2020.


Therefore when the entire population is not covered how the study can consider such a proposition is itself awed. The UIDAI meeting the target set for 2014 is doubtful since there are several confusions within the government and the ministries as to who would be responsible for collecting the data. Whereas the home ministry has claimed that the National Population Register (NPR) would do this on its own. Hence the process has hit several roadblocks and may not completely achieve the desired target.


In the case of the health insurance scheme—Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY)—the central government has it seems decided to go for Smart Card. This is one of the schemes that the UIDAI has included in its objective. Financial services secretary DK Mittal has asked his officials to work out a convergence plan between financial inclusion initiatives and the RSBY smart cards. The RSBY needs an embedded smart chip with 32kb of memory which can be upgraded further. Banks just need around 20kb space for different services and it is very practical and feasible for them to adapt to the UID.


Some states have already adopted smart cards for various welfare schemes and the UIDAI is also aware about it.


Government recently introduced a slew of changes in LPG schemes and put a cap on the subsidy. This is a welfare scheme that UIDAI claimed from the initial stage as an objective to check pilferage. So this is drastically reduced without the UIDAI. Though checks and balances are already in place with accurate data by the oil companies that is already in place and working well.


Similarly, PDS is a state subject and several states have already introduced stern measures even without the UID and they seemed to be under control. Hence this too goes out of the ambit.


All that is left would be the MNREGS, which is also strongly contested by those working in the field as far from claims of UIDAI.


So the government is misleading the citizens by giving such false cures just to further its dubious design and nothing else.


“A full edged cost benefit analysis of the UID is hampered by two problems. First, many of the gains from it are difficult to quantify as they are intangible. A main benefit of the UID is that it can make many of the existing government programmes more demand-led, empowering the beneficiaries to hold programmes accountable for their entitlement,” said the study released by Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia and UIDAI chairperson Nandan Nilekani.


Half truths and improbability are glaring in this statement. The huge cost on infrastructure and training which are necessary are not reckoned with the UIDAI. This is not only preposterous but cleverly packaged to hoodwink the masses. This is also clearly an escape route and a “red herring” to say later that they did caution in the beginning. Unless a comprehensive statement that includes all costs are clearly explained, these are mere “kite flying” and fictitious, imaginary claims that cannot be substantiated as benefits at all.


Eleven major government schemes—Public Distribution System (PDS), LPG and Fertilizer subsidy, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREG) Scheme, pensions and scholarships cost the government around Rs2 lakh crore annually.


In PDS, once beneficiaries are enrolled within the system, it becomes easier for them to claim their benefits because they can authenticate their presence as beneficiaries. It also reduces leakages due to better matching of supply with demand, the Planning Commission study said.


PDS is administered by the state government. In a federal structure like India, when there is already a hue and cry of infringement into the domains of the state by the Centre, this scheme will have to be fully accepted by the ruling party.


State governments are already aware about the pilferage and also the concerns of the people and are already taking steps to address them. Huge amounts of money are also being spent by the state towards this hence it cannot be shelved or duplicated. The UID programme doesn't integrate but is a standalone programme that too thrust by the Centre, the states would prefer to go by their proprietary data and plans rather than accept some other that is untested and incomplete.


Till now state governments have never complained of ‘identity’ or the lack of it as a problem but determining the beneficiaries and targeted groups.


UID can never substitute the inspection, physical verification of applicants for issuing the ration cards to targeted groups such as AAY-BPL sections. Further the Centre has already devised the programme of Vigilance Committees and also Model Citizens Charter that go a long way to check corruption as it involves some guidelines and methods. Therefore UID is totally redundant to the scheme.


Most important is the fixing of the criteria and monitoring rather than identity. The Planning Commission is yet to arrive at a benchmark on poverty and they have already stirred a hornet's nest by floating some funny ideas that has still not seen the light of the day. Therefore on what basis can the figures be touted?


In the case of LPG, oil companies have devised scientific methods and stern measures including IVRS booking system that is fool-proof, further the LPG cylinders are delivered to the doorstep of the customer and hence clearly identifiable. UID in no way helps improve or make the scheme any better. Probably it will only complicate and confuse the mechanism as too many parameters may delay the process.


In Gujarat they are supplying gas through pipelines and no LPG cylinders are required hence on what basis can you say that there would be pilferage?


Other schemes are already working well and there is no need for another UID number to improve that too after spending huge amount of money.


“UID will make the migration experience in search of jobs easier by giving an identity to migrants in their destination locations. Similarly, rights and entitlements can be decoupled from the location of the resident,” the study said.


The study also said that Aadhaar-enabled system will reduce transaction costs involved in enrolling for a ration card in a new towns and villages, especially for migratory labour. “Such costs are expected to be driven down with a national identification mechanism and Aadhaar can play this role effectively,” it said.


This is clearly propaganda as no scheme or subsidy can be free and open-ended. The facts hidden are that there would be some fees levied for each transaction that would be a burden on the citizens without the option of retracing as it is already introduced. This is also indicated though in whispers otherwise administrative costs may go up to intangible heights defeating the very purpose of saving somewhere and loosing elsewhere.


Will the UIDAI give a guarantee that no such thing will be done in the future? Just like banks that allowed ATMs to be freely used and later on introduced a cap of five transactions not specifying what a ‘transaction’ means and now customers are bearing the brunt when they use debit cards for transactions! This is how they complicate the schemes on the gullible public.


(VK Somasekhar is active in civil society movements having distinguished in fighting for causes on environment, consumer movement and also civic issues. He is a triple graduate with post-graduation in Law as well as Diploma in Journalism, Diploma in Foreign Trade Management. He was also the president (vertical head) of a media entertainment company. He is also the managing trustee of Grahak Shakti, a voluntary Consumer Organisation of standing for over three decades now. A prolific freelance writer with accreditation by the state government and also appears on current issues on various news channels regularly both in vernacular and English media.)

Is UID anti-people?-Part 4: Does the implementation smack of corruption and negligence?
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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