I have been hearing about problems of identifying a person through the Aadhaar number system. However, my touching faith in the integrity and capability of India's information technology (IT) professionals made me believe that the technological solution must be very sound and the errors if any would be negligible.
My friends Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey had told me that workers who work with their hands have their thumbs getting worn out and hence being deprived of their legitimate rations, pensions and other entitlements. I had again believed that these might be rare occurrences, which were being anecdotally described. I have been aware that Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu at Moneylife have also been highlighting serious concerns on Aadhaar. I trust and have great faith in all these friends but felt that they were perhaps picking holes in one of the greatest technological feat of India for small discrepancies.
However, a few days ago, my personal experience altered my perception, and I think there may be serious flaws, which are being wished away. I have taken my Aadhaar number in the last three years, and have only shown it or quoted the number sometimes. I do not wash clothes or do manual work, which could lead to my fingerprints changing.
My bank,-HDFC Bank- said I must get my know-your-customer (KYC) documentation re-done. They said my Aadhaar number would serve the purpose. I gave them my Aadhaar number and they asked me to put my thumb on a small device. I could see my thumb impression on a screen. However, the system refused to validate me!
The bank employee asked me to try again and we did this over six times with the same result. The bank employee told me that this happens very frequently with many customers. Most of these customers would not be working with their hands, and yet the system of Aadhaar verification was not working.
I could do my KYC by giving other documents, but the horror of this hit me. If the system cannot recognise people from its database with the thumb impression, what would happen to those whose foodgrains, pension or employment guarantee scheme (EGS) wages depend on it?
I think there is an urgent need to check over a large sample of maybe 10,000 people in different places to validate whether the system does what is claimed. Otherwise, we will only have a pretension of having a system to identify every individual in the country. It is necessary that the truth be revealed by actual verification of a large sample across different parts of the nation.
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