UID: Will NAC come to the rescue of India’s democracy?

It is important that the UID project be halted and a committee be appointed to look into the various issues plaguing the project; further, a thorough feasibility and impact assessment study is needed before more taxpayer money is spent on this venture

Today's Hindustan Times carries an article titled 'Unique ID plan hits advisory panel roadblock'. The article states that some of the members of NAC (the National Advisory Council, an apex body appointed by the prime minister and headed by Sonia Gandhi, UPA chairperson), have raised serious concerns about the UID project.

"There is no real informed debate on the project which has enormous potential of segregating the population (based on few parameters). It is a matter concerning people at large - public money being spent to profile common public," a member told Hindustan Times, adding the opinion is shared by some more people in the council.

"There is a vast difference between the census and UID. Without explaining what it means, memorandums of understanding (MoUs) are being inked with private companies. They say UID would reform systems like the public distribution system (PDS), but no detail of how it will is available in the public domain," said activist Aruna Roy.

The NAC of India is an advisory body set up to monitor the implementation of the UPA government's manifesto, the Common Minimum Programme (CMP). It is a brainchild of Congress party president, Sonia Gandhi. It is also informally called as UPA's Planning Commission for social agenda.

The NAC is a mix of activists, retired bureaucrats, economists, politicians and an industrialist with unstinting passion for social change.

To give an instance of the stellar record of the members of the NAC, here is a brief from their Wikipedia profiles.

Aruna Roy is a political and social activist who founded and heads the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana ('Workers and Peasants Strength Union'). She is best known as a prominent leader of the Right to Information movement, which led to the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005. In 2000, she received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.

Anu Aga is an Indian businesswoman and social worker, who led Thermax Ltd, the Rs 830-crore energy and environment engineering major, as its chairperson from 1996-2004. She had figured among the eighth richest Indian women, and in 2007 was part of the 40 Richest Indians by net worth according to Forbes magazine.

After retiring from Thermax, she took to social work, and in 2010 was awarded the Padma Shri (Social Work) by the Indian government.

Jean Drèze is a development economist who has been influential in Indian economic policymaking. He is a naturalised Indian of Belgian origin. His work in India includes issues like hunger, famine, gender inequality, child health and education, and the NREGA. He had conceptualised and drafted the first version of the NREGA.

His co-authors include Nobel laureate in economics Amartya Sen, with whom he has written on famine, and Nicholas Stern, with whom he has written on policy reform when market prices are distorted. He is currently an honorary Professor at the Delhi School of Economics, and Senior Professor at the GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.

Deep Joshi is an Indian social worker and NGO activist and the recipient of the 2009 Magsaysay award. He was recognised for his vision and leadership in bringing professionalism to the NGO movement in India. He co-founded a non-profit organisation, Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN) of which he is the executive director. He was awarded the 2009 Magsaysay award for Community Leadership for his work for 'development of rural communities'.

Some of the members of the NAC want answers to questions about UID. Nandan Nilekani, UIDAI chairperson, was supposed to address the NAC on Monday, but apparently the discussion has been postponed to late September.

As has been stated by various articles, these concerns are not just valid but are of a very serious nature. To put it bluntly, the UID is building an infrastructure for future authoritarianism in the country. It is most important to thrash these concerns out completely. In fact, it is important that the UID project be halted and a committee be appointed to look into these issues deeply; further a thorough feasibility and impact assessment study is needed before more of taxpayer's money is spent on this project. What is at stake is not just possibly hundreds of thousands of crores of  taxpayer's money, but democracy itself.

Let us hope that the esteemed NAC members will have a thorough discussion with UIDAI regarding this issue, and resolve these issues.

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

1 decade ago
I absolutely agree with arihant, there is no head or tail to this article. It’s just meaningless. Not a thing is mentioned about how uid is wrong. Its such journalism which is plaguing India today
The other interesting thing is there is so much wrong in India today, instead of writing about that these kind of journalist write about non issues
1 decade ago
Let all the concerns be listed serially in the article rather than trying to garner respect on the basis of the profiles of people.

This article appears to be more of an attempt to scare and brainwash than inform. I am expecting that ML will ensure sufficient factual and relevant detailing of any such articles in future.
K B Patil
1 decade ago
You have the NAC and then you have the cabinet. Of the cabinet members, the HM is easily the most effective and dynamic person, a go getter. The flip side is that he is very obstinate. As Digvijay Singh put it aptly, he suffers from "INTELLECTUAL ARROGANCE".
So, all citizens who rightly prize their privacy, are worried about the government's overdrive regarding access to emails, our mobile conversations etc. Imagine how vulnerable we will be in a corrupt setup. Apart from the daily routine corruption that we all face, babus can now have a great new way of making money on the side. Just access a person's bank records and you might have a whole lot of identity theft and similar problems. Isn't it our Home Minister's duty to build in adequate safeguards. I dont see any and that's my worry.
Ram Krishnaswamy
1 decade ago
Let us hope that the National Advisory Council can apply the breaks on this runaway train called Aadhaar before a catastrophic crash
1 decade ago
The manner in which UID is being pushed through despite some serious objections is a matter of concern. I agree with the author that the UID project has to be halted until all aspects of UID, including those relating to privacy, are reviewed in a transparent manner. Going by the composition of NAC, it appears to be the right forum where a beginning can be made. . Given the importance of the issue, I hope that NAC would be able to take it up in the next meeting.
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