Is Aadhaar A Far Cry

Dear Editor,
Aadhaar was initially launched by the UPA government in 2009-10 to reduce subsidy and to remove duplicity of work from Nation Population Register. The rising concerns of identity theft and misuse of public services have finally led India to go for UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India). Now it is seen as a Gold Standard in catching identity fraud, benefit fraud, terrorism, entitlement and access to public services. When millions of people of India have without any ID, after Aadhaar now they have an ID. Government of India ordered all its citizens to get enrolled into UID or forego their benefits like social security services by this end of financial year. The final verdict from the Apex Bank is still waiting. Now the Supreme Court is to hear a clutch of petitions that challenge the 12 digits biometric identity number and the law that enables it. Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra heads the constitution bench.
Mr Nandan Nilekani, the co-founder of Infosys and the Chairman of UIDAI claims to create a billion-plus user platform and perform millions of authentication a day successfully. But there are issues of privacy, security of data and surveillance raised by critics. Also biometrics is not secured as several private firms are engaged for capturing data. Now it is mandatory PAN-UID linkage for ITR. In future, e-KYC would be an added application for caching of data. India eye UIDAI as for development, inclusion, saving government money and curbing corruption. But the broader question remains unanswered. Can govt assure about data protection and cyber security? Does it really not matter when name, address, gender, date of birth, parents’ names, possibly bank account number, mobile number, email address and photo have been exposed by anonymous sellers?
People of North East feel a sense of disquiet at the lack of interest shown by the central government. There are rumours about blocking transactions of bank accounts to stopping mobile connections and LPG unless they are linked to the Aadhaar number. The Naga Students’ Federation has expressed concern that imposition of Aadhaar could threaten Naga customary law and identity. People of Meghalaya have apprehension about getting voting rights of non-indigenous people in their state. Aadhaar saturation in other North Eastern states is above 75% except Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland. In 2016, a law has been enacted by parliament that empowers the government to force people to enrol for the Aadhaar to access public benefits and services. Is that violating individual’s fundamental right to privacy? Even children below five years are asked to issue card by PM Modi.
After NRC obstacle in Assam, now the process of Aadhaar enrolment has finally started. Is UIDAI flawed in Assam for the cause of poorly designed technology from Fingerprint Scanners to Iris Scanners? And the GPS connectivity is yet to be tested in rural areas. Finally it requires the availability of internet and high-quality machines capable of capturing biometric details. With no set up of permanent enrolment centre, a few banks go for capturing process that has been irking the applicants as there is wait for long hours in long queues. Aadhaar applicants go running out of patience due to slow pace of work. The faulty machines often end up with unsuccessful attempts and that is to be replaced immediately for fast processing. The only Permanent enrolment centre at UIDAI Regional Office Guwahati stopped enrolling for public recently. A few banks will not be able to suffice 3 crore people of Assam.
We all know, neither Google nor FaceBook are champions of privacy concerns and are known to collect information about user behaviour. With Aadhaar, Goverment and private firms might link enough data to allow profiling of person’s spending habits, friends and acquaintances, property and other such data. UK has recently revoked its national biometric database. The new mantra JAM – Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, Mobile now took over from the slogan bijli, sadak, paani. Despite all people began complaining about not receiving their subsidies. In the midst of controversy to privacy and data security, now Russia, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia have shown interest in developing Aadhar kind of identification system in their country. Shedding light on current situation, Aadhaar is a far cry to complete it by 31 March?
Kamal Baruah