It was always clear that the unique identification scheme (UID) was going to gather opposition as it progressed. Those voices are crystallizing.
The resistance comes from three domains. First, from civil society activists who feel that unique biometric identities will turn India into an Orwellian nightmare. Two, from bureaucratic infighting: senior civil servants resent the fact that an outsider has been brought in for a project that ought to have been “their” baby. Finally, from low-level politicians and officials who see UID as a dangerous idea that will only lead to one destination: direct cash transfers, cutting them out of the loot.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
In this version of the world, UID is a project that is there, but now needs to be cut to size, or better, defanged, so that it is business as usual. Hence demands such as specifying all the “uses” that UID will be put to; making enrolment in the programme optional; ensuring that benefits (for all, the poor and the thieves) are not dependent on having a UID number and last, but not the least, the one thing that non-governmental organizations love: consultations with civil society and stakeholders.
All this stands in stark opposition to facts on the ground. Most of our social welfare projects are ineffective because a thick layer of bureaucrats and small-time politicians stands between the huge outlays on these programmes and their “targeted” recipients. Today there are well off persons who are part of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. State governments, that actually implement most such schemes, simply have no wherewithal to monitor them. Various departments and agencies of these governments are handed money and it then disappears. The truth only surfaces years, if not decades, later in the reports of the public accounts committees or those of the state auditor generals. The poor remain what they always have been—poor. When the late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi said the poor don’t even get 15 paise of every rupee spent on them, this is what he meant.
This state of affairs is completely ignored by the opponents of UID. And why should it not be? After all, defalcation of public money is fair game in India. One can raise all manner of doubts, from targeting of minorities by security agencies to the cost of UID; in the end it all boils down to saving those who have so much to gain from the status quo. The truth is that given India’s grating inequalities direct cash transfers are the only way out. The successful execution of UID is key to that end.
Opposition to UID: an effort to preserve status quo or some genuine concerns? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org