This article is not about the massive propaganda campaign mounted about the pros and cons of the UIDAI – read Aadhaar by the ruling government and opposition parties. It is not about the cries that BJP was against it when sitting in Opposition – akin to demonetization and GST. It is not about Edward Snowden saying Aadhaar is an improper gate to service, asking that demands to link it with various services ‘must be criminalized’, while sharing an article by KC Verma, former Director R&AW, that quoted Verma in saying that “Aadhaar is being abused by banks, telcos, and transport not to police entitlements, but as a proxy for identity-an improper gate to service. Such demands must be criminalized.” This is not about Nandan Nilekani’s eloquent clip on benefits of Aadhaar.
This is not about the news report titled “RS Prasad on Aadhaar: Privacy argument shouldn’t be used to shield corrupt, terrorists” published in Hindustan Times of December 4, 2017 (https://www.hindustantimes.com/htls/ravi-shankar-prasad-on-aadhaar-privacy-argument-shouldn-t-be-used-to-shield-the-corrupt-terrorists/story-MRzEbDxe5IZMN5HGh0fChO.html), nor is it about the article ‘SHOCKING! Aadhaar gives OUR personal info to foreign firms’ by Dr Gopal Krishna published in rediff.com on January 8, 2018 (http://www.rediff.com/news/column/shocking-aadhaar-gives-our-personal-info-to-foreign-firms/20180208.htm) revealing that based on replies received under RTI some 119 cr Indians (out of nearly 130 cr) have become vulnerable to non-state actors, foreign states and their domestic collaborators because their most personal sensitive data has been parked with foreign data firms and governments through contract agreements between UIDAI and ‘ungovernable technology companies like Accenture, Safran Group and Ernst & Young. Significantly, replies under the RTI Act has revealed the more than 99.9% Indians already had identity poof prior to the Aadhaar proposal. This is not even about leakage of MS Dhoni’s personal details by a sanctioned Aadhaar enrolment agency exposing deeper flaw in the identification project’s data collection and storage systems, with experts saying no citizens’ private information is safe (https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/if-ms-dhoni-s-personal-aadhaar-data-can-be-leaked-how-safe-is-yours/story-T7S2MIy0pU8P7MWN5kg9OL.html).
Joseph Goebbels had said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the state can shield the people from the political, economic and / or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the state to use all its powers to repress dissent”. The arguments against or in favour of Aadhaar is not the subject here because if personal details of some 119 cr Indians are already in foreign hands, including some ungovernable bodies, one can continue arguing till cows come home. But this article is about the atrocious mismanagement in the implementation of the Aadhaar project, which doesn’t appear to be smoothening out despite all the Chankyas teamed up in cozy offices. It is a different issue that the total estimated budget of the project has not been disclosed even after nine years of UIDAI existence. But the manner in which the public is being made to run from pillar to post, can only be termed in two words – ‘balls up’ by the powers that be.
When the Aadhaar was announced it was the UIDAI authority that outsourced private entities like Karvy to make Aadhaar cards for the citizens. They went around colonies, obtaining all details as per standard format (obviously given by UIDAI) and made the Aadhaar Cards for individuals. Then came the government requirement of linking the mobile with the Aadhaar, which had to be done in designated places like Airtel offices. This was huge discomfort to the very aged and disabled. The necessity of this was still being discussed in the court of law, but the mobile companies threatened to cut off the services, so what could the disabled and bedridden elders do other than somehow get to the designated place and get the linking done. Same was the case for linking of bank account and other services. It is only after months that UIDAI issued instructions that it could be done online and even through mobile SMS. So why was the UIDAI authorities sleeping that many months?
But that was not all. When it came to authentication, thousands (may be even lakhs) in possession of Aadhar Card were shocked to discover that though they possessed Aadhaar Cards made by government outsourced agencies like Karvy, authentication was not possible because details like date of birth were not printed on their cards, which in turn had not been fed on in the UIDAI data base. Similarly, the mobile numbers obtained by individuals at the time of making of the Aadhaar Card had not been fed in the UIDAI master data base. Needless to mention that the entire process of running around to designate offices has commenced again in order to obtain new cards, even though the Aadhaar number remains unchanged. That the very aged, bedridden and disabled have to repeat the rigmarole once again is of little consequences to the UIDAI. It is obvious that when any government contract is given chai-pani is part of the deal. But here when the officially outsourced entities have done such major balls up, will the government prosecute them and retrieve what is paid to them, even if it was on ‘shared’ basis?
On January 15, 2018 news reports brought out that UDAI is to allow facial recognition for Aadhaar authentication. Why after so many months – had a pill for dimaag ki batti jala de? For that matter, even in the central arrangement for visa applications in New Delhi, we are yet to introduce the iris of the human eye instead of fingerprints for identification despite all the talk about technology, while this is the norm in many foreign countries. Now another googly has been fired by the UDAI on February 6, 2018 cautioning the public against going for plastic or laminated Aadhaar smart cards saying unauthorized printing could render the QR code dysfunctional or even expose personal data without an individual’s informed consent. Isn’t this a ridiculously crude attempt to cover one’s backside after the exposure in public domain that sensitive personal data of some 119 cr Indians has already been compromised in perpetuity? Why else this caution now after bulk of the public has already gone for plastic laminated Aadhaar cards for ease of carriage and maintenance, if not smart cards? Besides, who is providing these plastic laminated or smart cards, if not government outsourced entities?
Wonder if it pricks the conscience of the UIDAI authorities that thousands of pensioners in remote areas were denied pensions for months on end for lack of Aadhhar Card. As per a report of December 2017, thousands of disabled, elderly and widows in Uttrakhand had been stopped as they had not submitted Aadhaar details; of 59,081 people who draw the disability pension in Uttarakhand, 5,424 have not got a single penny “since October 2016”. Same is the case for 36,060 of the state’s 4.2 lakh old-age pension beneficiaries, and 12,047 of the 1.48 lakh widows eligible for pension (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/53000-lose-pension-for-lack-of-aadhaar/articleshow/62101189.cms). Mind you these are figures only from one state because of investigative journalism. Same is the case in Uttar Pradesh, where scores of senior citizens abandoned by their families are denied pension because their Aadhaar cards cannot be made; according to the rules, Aadhaar cards cannot be made on the address of an old age home or any other organization. Besides, some of the senior citizens have not been able to register their biometric details because the lines on their fingers have faded (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/wealth/personal-finance-news/no-aadhaar-card-no-pension-for-those-in-ups-old-age-homes/articleshow/62832147.cms). Horrifically criminal have been the deaths of Premani Kunwar (64-year-old widow) on December 1, 2017, Etwariya Devi (67 year old widow) on December 25, 2017 and 30-year old Lukhi Mumu, all from Jharkhand who died of hunger having been denied rations for four months or more under the public distribution system (PDS) due to the failure of Aadhaar-based biometric authentication, according to the Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand (https://thewire.in/220393/aadhaar-glitch-another-woman-dies-hunger-jharkhand-denied-ration-say-activists/).
One day back, the news reports say, government is making it manadatory for Aadhaar to be linked to the driving licenses. The query on social media is whether next it would be mandatory for the ignition or the exhaust or the handle of the flush in the toilet to the Aadhhar. Why can’t UIDAI apply their brains once for all and decide what all is to be linked to Aadhaar and stop making the public run in circles. It is time the authorities get off their high horse and out of slumber. Thomas Paine, philosopher and scholar (1737-1809) wrote “The trade of governing has always been monopolized by the most ignorant and the most rascally individuals of mankind”. UIDAI need not go out of the way to prove Paine was right.
Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post-retirement has published over 2100 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.