UID: Some unique life stories of common citizens

The average Indian has much more serious problems to attend to, like making both ends meet, or how to procure high-priced essentials, or get decent health care, and the hugely expensive UID programme isn’t going to make any difference about this

Thanks to a pliant media (and through the Radia tapes we now know who controls the mainstream media) and the UIDAI's media campaign (tax payers' money spent to brainwash people) one almost begins to feel that lack of identity is a real problem in India. In urban India, however, one need only look at a few examples to bust the myth being propagated by the UID campaign. Here are some examples from lower middle-class Bangalore.

Joy is a car mechanic who has his own mechanic shop. He works deligently, gets a few customers, and does a very good job for a very reasonable price. He is not a dealer or an approved mechanic for any of the big car brands; he doesn't even have an air-conditioned showroom that might attract upmarket customers. He operates in a low-class locality in Bangalore called Viveknagar.

Joy basically lives a hand-to-mouth existence, and to his credit has created a few jobs too. Joy's mother, 75, was ill some time back. She was taken to the government-owned Bowring Hospital. She was diabetic and also suffered from a heart disease. The doctors told her that one of her kidneys was not functioning and that the heart was functioning only about 10%, and that was only a matter of time before she would leave for her heavenly abode. They asked that she be taken back home.

No tests like echocardiogram, or a treadmill test, let alone an angiogram. It puzzles me how the doctors came to the conclusion simply on the basis of an ECG. I won't be surprised if they looked at Joy's ability, or rather inability, to pay for the sophisticated tests and surgical procedures and concluded that Joy and his mother were not worth wasting time on. Joy had a resigned look on his face-he told me it is all a matter of fate. A few weeks after his mother was brought home, she passed away.

Harry is a painter who works for a big paints manufacturing company in Bangalore. He earns Rs10,000 a month. Harry is a Bangalorean, owns a small house in the HAL locality. He has rented out a part of his house, and that gets him an income of Rs2,000 a month.

Harry's problem is that two years ago, his son who was about 12 years old had an accident. His leg was damaged; the bones near his thighs were damaged. The hospital screwed up or some such thing happened, and his son will forever be on crutches. Harry spent Rs2 lakh on medical treatment. Not knowing the intricacies of the medical condition, or how the hospitals and doctors operate, Harry sees no solution for his son's health condition. All Harry does is plead with me, "Pray for my son".

I could describe a hundred stories like these, deaths that should not have happened, or of permanent disabilities due to a lack of knowledge of patients, about private health-care costs that are very high, and dismal health care in public hospitals.

Among the several people in the low-class localities of Bangalore that I know, the story is more or less the same. Many die by the time they are 50, bad food habits, drinking and ignorance of modern health care leading to heart attack in most cases. When the sole bread-earner dies, the cycle repeats. Children don't have the money to study and take up a higher professional degree, as a result of which their earning capacity is dismal. The loop will continue to the next generation. This to me is urban lower middle-class India's story.

Unless I am drastically wrong somewhere, I believe what urban India needs is cheap government subsidised education, affordable health care, and good education that can give people higher-paying jobs. For instance, today the IT sector has high-paying jobs but not enough talented and skilled people. There are too many low-skilled or unskilled people around, and most job vacancies require higher skills. Thus, there
is a mismatch.

I cannot understand how UID (unique identity number), or deploying a sophisticated biometric scanner is going to help these people. Sure, they will enroll in the UID programme; for that matter, show them any carrot and they will enroll in anything. They are too naive to see through the complex, sophisticated business models of the fat-cat corporates.

Portable identity is touted as a feature of this UID programme. Eliminating fake ration cards is touted as another feature. In a recent talk by the IT secretary of Karnataka on a panel discussion on UID, he mentioned how computerisation of traffic records and subsequent linking of records had helped increase revenues from traffic fines in the state. This may be true, but how high a priority should this be? Even with a few fake ration cards, a poor family could make say Rs5,000 a month more by pilfering grains and kerosene. Compare this with the hundreds of thousands of crores taken away by sophisticated scamsters in the Commonwealth Games, the Adarsh army building case and the 2G spectrum allocation matter. Who should the government be going after? Big crooks or petty thieves?

Coming to catching traffic violators, it is interesting that most traffic cops prefer to catch two-wheeler riders over those going around in say luxury cars. The concept of a hierarchical society is ingrained in our psyche so much, more so in the psyche of even our cops. That all citizens should be equal before the law is hardly practiced in our country.

Coming back to the UID programme, why spend Rs50,000 crore of tax payers' money to catch a petty thief? And to whom are we going to give the contracts for biometric scanners and such other contracts to? It would have helped if the contracts for biometric scanners were given to Indian companies who could have done research on biometrics, manufactured the scanners in India and as a result would have created good technology and good jobs in India. Indeed, India could have become leaders in biometric research and manufacturing, and these companies could have then tried to get into foreign markets. However, these contracts have been given to the likes of Microsoft and L-1 identity solutions. L-1 has had or continues to have a number of former US government intelligence personnel as its top executives or employees.

Indeed, it takes a few conversations with a man on the street, and not moving about the malls alone, to see the state of the nation and the aam aadmi's problems.

Even the so-called conveniences attributed to come from UID-instant mobile connection for instance-would be useful really for the upmarket crowd who are busy making money and cannot afford to make even two visits to a mobile providers' office, or do not have the time to arrange for address proof and identity proof documents. The aam aadmi on the other hand has time at his disposal; he wouldn't give much importance to this convenience. But he has much more serious problems to deal with-like how to make both ends meet; how to deal with the huge price rise of essential commodities; how to get health care; problems that are much more serious than helping you shop for the right item at the click of a mouse.

(The author has a BTech from IIT Mumbai, and a PhD from Columbia University, New York. He runs a start-up, Teknotrends Software Pvt Ltd, that does cutting-edge work in the area of network security.)

1 decade ago
dont agree at all. UID was never marketed as a solution to all problems of a comman man. the 5000 that he talks of small fish can become as big when we take the whole system into account. It has the potential to improve our delivery mechanism which is the biggest leakage point as there are schemes galore. politicians are always criticised even retrospectively for things. i think they should be given credit too where its due. after running a small family and trying to keep it together , im sure one would realise that how big a task it must have been for our nation builders to keep such a diverse country with such strong beliefs and divergent views together . nation building is the tougher part. economic growth will come easily when the structure is in place. and we are still evolving. just because media is filled with scam news doesnt mean all of a sudden we have become more corrupt. rather, it seems to me the system is finally being put to work. given to our politicians, these things which are a part of daily private discussions would have never made it to tv channels in the first place. as if we didnt know that the telecom sector was manipulated by every previous govt to suit the then lobbysts. just because the media is not talking about other scams in defence or aviation or mining doesnt mean there is no corruption there. basically where ever there is discretionary power alloted to the state, someone will try to manipulate the system and take advantage. be it SEZ or mining lease allotments or telecom spectrum or licences or aviation etc etc. if sonia manages to remove even half the disctretionary powers of the state, she would have cut corruption in equal proportion. but she will have to be corageous enough to do it as her party is in a coaliton and these things are tough even for majority govts! imagine, if there is state funded election and our ministers have no discretionary or less discreationary powers, why would majority of our parlamentarians want to be in politics! the counrty has to be at peace with itself and give our leaders enough leeway to take on deep entrenched vested interests . The RTI was amongst the most significant gifts to the people of this country. I have no doubt in my mind that whats happened over the last year will only embolden our PM to go after the corrupt without being bogged down by coalition politics and let the judiciary do the rest . And it is our duty to reward the govt if it does act boldly without fearing the consequences of coalition politics.
1 decade ago
the whining against the UID doesnt seem to stop on moneylife.

what's happening guys?
1 decade ago
Dear Author,
You cant relate the problems Aam aadmi facing like you mentioned Healthcare problems with UID programme. The two things are totally different.UID will help Indian peoples in many ways which is incomparable.
1 decade ago
Its easy to criticize any thing that govt. does. On this matter, it is not the point that UID would help the characters mentioned in the article directly, rather it aims at a bigger picture. Mr. Basu, this article from you is disappointing. Instead give some constructive suggestions to improve the scheme.
1 decade ago
To be honest, it presents only one side of the things and hence it is a half baked analysis.
* We need Good healthcare in Govt. Hospital - Government hospitals do get funds - but majority of funds are siphoned off - UID will help on this to soem extent - patients can get subsidies or financial assistance directly on the basis of UID numbers.

Secondly, the issues here are different. The biggest problem in India is corruption and UID will solve this problem. only about 30% people who are eligible for BPL ration cards actually have one. Rest of the people cannot give bribes to procure one. That is why so many people die of hunger inspite of schemes. When UID comes, all these people can easily establish the identity and lay claim on the money or subsidies earmarked for them.

Also, just make UID compulsory for bank accounts and see how quickly crores of money spread across multiple accounts crops up quickly. With time as House/Land registrations are becoming computerized and as and when UId become compulsory, it will be very difficult to siphon off black money.
Replied to Harsh comment 1 decade ago
Even after seeing the number of scams which have nothing to do with identity (Identity of the people involved is public knowledge), do you still believe Aadhaar, whose claim is to provide identity , would help in eliminating corruption? That is a big farce. Secondly, most of the siphoning of money happens thro' benami people's bank accounts and properties. Just making Aadhar compulsory for such transactions will not make these transactions any more transparent. Aadhaar wil not help in catching the big fish, as the article rightly points out.
K B Patil
Replied to Harsh comment 1 decade ago
Merely getting an UID number is not going to change the common man's life. The best proof is the UP PDS scheme wherein everyone from the top to the village level functionary seem to be involved. To add to this please go through the details of the recently convicted ex UP Chief Secretary, Neera Yadav's career. She was voted the second most corrupt officer by her colleagues. Yet Mulayam Singh found her indispensable and made her Chief Secretary. It was the Supreme Court which stepped in and threw her out. But that was not the end of this resourceful lady. She had a good rapport with leaders of all ladies and campaigned for Rajnath Singh in the last general election.

My point is that, with almost all parties seeped in corruption, UID is not going to change the lives of the poor one bit. The only way forward is for the Supreme Court to be proactive and to cut down these leaders to size.
Avinash Murkute
1 decade ago
The days are not far, there will posters on the road, get income tax refunds from us (at a fee) like for the PAN card we see at every nook and corner. Mark my words. And credit will go to ..... Guess!
Amrut Patil
1 decade ago
Nice write up. but every one will realise UID benifits in coming years. SSN in US was established in 40-50s which they got benefited later when all other systems are build around it. Even though you can bypass the system still now but it has certainly helped long way to US economy/people.
Avinash Murkute
1 decade ago
Nice write up. Let me add some feathers and perhaps an obituary to e-Governance. CPC Bangalore is the agency which maintains e-filing of tax returns. The job which was done by income tax officers has been outsourced to IT company. Financial arrangement is not known to me. But what I have experienced is as under.

1) You will get your refund shortly. How do you define shortly remained unanswered over telephone. They don't have email id. CVC and Chairman of CBDT has.

2) We get huge returns so database management is the issue. I asked a BBA and MCA students and say - they can manage any size database. So these students can do better job of database management than the IT company to which this job is outsourced.

3) What is my waiting number? Do you process returns in sequential manner or randomly, tell me my status. Sorry was the figure. Even railway reservation system RAC status but CPC Bangalore doesn't follow that.

4) I was on leave - so couldn't handle the query raised by you. So what is the innovation when returns were filed offline?

5) Our servers are damaged and hence shortly you will get the refund. Ooops! will the client of said ID company hears this he will say Bloody Indians to us.

6) You will have to wait couple of weeks? How many couples of weeks, only God knows.

7) We are CPC Bangalore - what NSDL has given in writing, what SBI Govt Payment Department has given in writing, what Aaaykar Kendra New Delhi has given in writting, we are not bothered. And charter of citizens is applicable to citizens and not to CPC Bangalore's IT company.

8) Give me you email id. Sorry we don't have.

9) On Have you received my speed post. It was delivered to you. Speed post (GOI) department is showing status as delivered. Oh. then it must be delivered and we will take at least 6 months to read it.

10) Last but not the least - When Mr. Narayan Murthy books his train / flight ticket and enquires for his reservation status, the answer must come..very shortly, very shortly, couple of weeks, and he should be provided halfway ticket although he must have paid full fare.

Hope - UID is not going to be waste of taxpayer's money for someone's education of about database management skills.
George Birbilis
Replied to Avinash Murkute comment 1 decade ago
When people aren't "counted" they're also usually not accounted for, yet another citizen where no-one cares about their whereabouts and state of living
Avinash Murkute
Replied to George Birbilis comment 1 decade ago
Issue is those who preach corruption are part of it. Perhaps they preach for the very same purpose.

Anyway, all these systems and IDs are going to cost nation and help some private players.
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