Praveen Chakravarty, a former member of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), in Aadhaar and its implicit bargains (Mint, 26 August 2015) painted a touching picture of a poor rural woman reaching out in gratitude at the prospect of collecting her NREGA wages directly from a “business correspondent at her doorstep", and “not through an intermediary", using her Aadhaar number. That was in 2010. He bemoans the Supreme Court order, dated 11 August 2015, which restrains the use of the Aadhaar number for anything other than PDS and LPG distribution—and these exceptions do indeed pose a problem—but here too, it may be added, that the enrolment or use of the number cannot be mandated or be made a condition.

Let’s not worry, for the moment, about why he thinks the business correspondent is not an intermediary. Instead, let’s look at what the project has done over these years.

In the beginning, the project was marketed as being inclusive and voluntary. As time passed, it has become plain that the only kind of inclusion in the project is in enrolling people on the UIDAI database. Thus it is not about its inclusivity in relation to entitlements and benefits. In fact, the Aadhaar number has become a barrier to accessing entitlements and benefits.

By now, we have gone through two-and-a-half years when people without an Aadhaar number have been threatened with denial of kerosene, LPG subsidy, scholarships, pensions, salaries, provident fund, marriage registration, attendance, insurance, rations and even NREGA work. It may have been that the UIDAI was selling a dream to the NREGA worker in 2010. But in 2015, a group application was made to the Supreme Court because NREGA workers were refused work, and the explanation: “demand will be accepted for only those who have Aadhaar".

Figures submitted by UIDAI and the government to the Supreme Court reveal how many names had been struck off the list because they were dead, or had migrated, with a remarkably low number represented as “duplicates", and they were all called “bogus" or “ghosts". Not one person has however been identified as deserving to be added to the list. This is hardly a tale of inclusion or volition.

Even from its inception, the UID project has shown a remarkable disrespect for the law. Maybe the law is an inconvenience for the project, but that may be the only protection for the citizen—on what kind of information may be collected and databased, how the information may be used, shared and transferred, when the number may be demanded and by whom, when it may be asked to be removed from the database, what is to happen when there is identity fraud, what kind of agencies may be allowed to store and manage the data, and much more.

In December 2011, a parliamentary standing committee rejected the proposed bill and asked that the project be taken back to the drawing board. The report was simply ignored. In September 2013, March 2014 and March 2015, the Supreme Court ordered that the Aadhaar number cannot be a condition for services; these orders have been deliberately and pervasively flouted. Now, there is the order of the court of 11 August 2015 and that too is being breached with casual disregard. Through all this, the court has done nothing to call the UIDAI or the government to account, and so the exercise has carried on without a law, while blatantly violating the orders of the court.

Chakravarty also said that the Election Commission uploads all kinds of voter information on the Web. This indubitably illustrates the importance of respecting privacy.

Usha Ramanathan works on the jurisprudence of law and poverty.

Comments are welcome at otherviews@livemint.com

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