Under the pretext of eliminating ‘bogus’ voters, the Narendra Modi government passed the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill to link voter ID—issued by the Election Commission—with Aadhaar, issued by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). This raises two worrying issues. First, UIDAI has provided an Aadhaar number to anyone who is a resident of India, but it has no idea about the genuineness of documents submitted by them to obtain the number. As Moneylife has repeatedly pointed out
, UIDAI does not verify the documents. Second, only citizens of India have the right to cast their vote. So the election commission will have to be clear that only those who have both, an independently verified voter ID, linked to an Aadhaar number will be allowed to vote.
But this brings us to other problems—first, the lack of standardisation of data at UIDAI (in addition to the fact that it is not verified by UIDAI
). The last-mile data-entry in India is so poor that it leads to glaring errors in the spelling of names across different certificates, mistakes in date of birth and other demographic details of people. This has been true for voter IDs, insurance policies, ration cards, permanent account numbers (PAN), public sector bank passbooks and it is also true of the Aadhaar database.
Around 80% of the citizens have faced an issue with wrong spelling or mismatched information on at least one of their identity cards. These include name variation due to translation from regional language to English such as Ramwati, Ramvati or Ram Wati Devi or date of birth variation due to no availability of birth certificate (where a gap of 10 years is fairly common).
While the mistakes were not a major issue in a physical environment, automated, tech-based systems reject the smallest mismatch leading to serious problems. This is especially true of financial transactions, where any mismatch in the bank account-holder’s name, date of birth and mobile number leads to transaction failure.
A reply received under the Right to Information (RTI) Act reveals that there are almost 80mn (million) to 90mn ‘successful’ updates carried out by UIDAI every year. Or, that many people have had to correct their Aadhaar details to match other identity proofs. It also covers the frequent need to update addresses, by those who migrate to other cities for work—they include migrant labour, high-flying techies and families of those in transferrable service like government, bank, defence service employees. Since an Aadhaar is a mandatory requirement for many government services, even club memberships and is widely used as an address proof, people have no option but to keep updating their data.
Aadhaar, the 12-digit individual identification number issued by the UIDAI, and its rapid push came with a certain promise of standardisation of identity and ensure ease of living. Despite standardisation of documents being an issue, a leap of faith was taken to use Aadhaar for social security and to avail a variety of government services including registration of property documents.
Such leaps appear successful initially, but expose serious problems later. These will only exacerbate with the Aadhaar-voter card linkage because it will lead to denial of citizen’s rights enshrined by the Constitution of India.
Aadhaar, when linked to a Jan Dhan bank account, opened solely with the ID leads to other problems. As pointed out by the late Justice PB Sawant, at least 580mn Aadhaar numbers have been issued without any valid primary identification or address documents. Many of these Aadhaar numbers have then been used to obtain valid, but 'fake' primary identification documents. This has played havoc with the electoral rolls. It takes little imagination to recognise why politicians opposed to Aadhaar, while they were in the opposition, have been forcing its linkage to almost everything, particularly banking, PAN and voter IDs. (Read: 4 Ways in Which a Free & Fair Election Is Compromised
Here is what is further revealed in response to RTI applications.
a. Only 65% or 845 mn out of 1,320 mn (1,321,777,780) Aadhaar numbers are seeded with a mobile number.
b. Annual updates carried out by UIDAI are between between 80 mn-90 mn Aadhaar numbers. The figure does not reveal how many are related to mobile, address, or date of birth updates. The RTI reply states ‘successful Aadhaar updates’.
c. UIDAI does not reveal how many have 1st January as date-month in date of birth. For a population of 1,310 mn, it is safe to assume an average of 35 lakh people being born per day. However, 1st January and 1st July have 200 mn birthdays each. UIDAI decided to prefix the same for those who did not have any proof of date of birth. While it may have been helpful to get on with the job of issuing an Aadhaar number, the consequences of that action remain hidden.
d. The department of financial services (DFS) will not reveal the number of active/ in-force policies issued under the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY) and Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY).
e. DFS will not explore reasons behind low claims—only 5.5 lakh out of 120mn PMJJBY policies—as it maintains claim settlement ratio is high at 94%.
f. Aadhaar Pay Bridge (APB) System, for all its simplicity, has at the most 22% efficacy as seen with Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (MNREGA) payment and e-shram dashboard statistics (this particular stat has been removed since last month, https://register.eshram.gov.in/#/web-dashboard
Some time ago, the government embarked on a one-stop address change, whereby updating addresses in Aadhaar would be reflected in other documents. Since May 2021, the change has become effective with mutual funds.
(Aakash Goel is a Public Policy Enthusiast, Entrepreneur, CFA, PGDM (IIMK), BE (DCE))