uid

When I opposed Aadhaar in 2010 , I was called a BJP stooge. In 2016 I am still opposing Aadhaar for the same reasons and I am told I am a Congress die hard. No one wants to see why I oppose Aadhaar as it is too difficult. Plus Aadhaar is FREE so why not get one ? Ram Krishnaswamy

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. -Mahatma Gandhi

In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place. Mahatma Gandhi

“The invasion of privacy is of no consequence because privacy is not a fundamental right and has no meaning under Article 21. The right to privacy is not a guaranteed under the constitution, because privacy is not a fundamental right.” Article 21 of the Indian constitution refers to the right to life and liberty -Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi

“There is merit in the complaints. You are unwittingly allowing snooping, harassment and commercial exploitation. The information about an individual obtained by the UIDAI while issuing an Aadhaar card shall not be used for any other purpose, save as above, except as may be directed by a court for the purpose of criminal investigation.” -A three judge bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar said in an interim order.

Legal scholar Usha Ramanathan describes UID as an inverse of sunshine laws like the Right to Information. While the RTI makes the state transparent to the citizen, the UID does the inverse: it makes the citizen transparent to the state, she says.

Good idea gone bad
I have written earlier that UID/Aadhaar was a poorly designed, unreliable and expensive solution to the really good idea of providing national identification for over a billion Indians. My petition contends that UID in its current form violates the right to privacy of a citizen, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. This is because sensitive biometric and demographic information of citizens are with enrolment agencies, registrars and sub-registrars who have no legal liability for any misuse of this data. This petition has opened up the larger discussion on privacy rights for Indians. The current Article 21 interpretation by the Supreme Court was done decades ago, before the advent of internet and today’s technology and all the new privacy challenges that have arisen as a consequence.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, MP Rajya Sabha

“What is Aadhaar? There is enormous confusion. That Aadhaar will identify people who are entitled for subsidy. No. Aadhaar doesn’t determine who is eligible and who isn’t,” Jairam Ramesh

But Aadhaar has been mythologised during the previous government by its creators into some technology super force that will transform governance in a miraculous manner. I even read an article recently that compared Aadhaar to some revolution and quoted a 1930s historian, Will Durant. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Rajya Sabha MP

“I know you will say that it is not mandatory. But, it is compulsorily mandatorily voluntary,” Jairam Ramesh, Rajya Saba April 2017.

August 24, 2017: The nine-judge Constitution Bench rules that right to privacy is “intrinsic to life and liberty” and is inherently protected under the various fundamental freedoms enshrined under Part III of the Indian Constitution

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the World; indeed it's the only thing that ever has"

“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” - Edward Snowden

Special

Here is what the Parliament Standing Committee on Finance, which examined the draft N I A Bill said.

1. There is no feasibility study of the project]

2. The project was approved in haste

3. The system has far-reaching consequences for national security

4. The project is directionless with no clarity of purpose

5. It is built on unreliable and untested technology

6. The exercise becomes futile in case the project does not continue beyond the present number of 200 million enrolments

7. There is lack of coordination and difference of views between various departments and ministries of government on the project

Quotes

What was said before the elections:

NPR & UID aiding Aliens – Narendra Modi

"I don't agree to Nandan Nilekeni and his madcap (UID) scheme which he is trying to promote," Senior BJP Leader Yashwant Sinha, Sept 2012

"All we have to show for the hundreds of thousands of crore spent on Aadhar is a Congress ticket for Nilekani" Yashwant Sinha.(27/02/2014)

TV Mohandas Pai, former chief financial officer and head of human resources, tweeted: "selling his soul for power; made his money in the company wedded to meritocracy." Money Life Article

Nilekani’s reporting structure is unprecedented in history; he reports directly to the Prime Minister, thus bypassing all checks and balances in government - Home Minister Chidambaram

To refer to Aadhaar as an anti corruption tool despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary is mystifying. That it is now officially a Rs.50,000 Crores solution searching for an explanation is also without any doubt. -- Statement by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, MP & Member, Standing Committee on Finance

Finance minister P Chidambaram’s statement, in an exit interview to this newspaper, that Aadhaar needs to be re-thought completely is probably the last nail in its coffin. :-) Financial Express

The Rural Development Ministry headed by Jairam Ramesh created a road Block and refused to make Aadhaar mandatory for making wage payment to people enrolled under the world’s largest social security scheme NRGA unless all residents are covered.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

9248 - A case for expanding DBT

A case for expanding DBT
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, by design and thanks to some legacy benefits from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s term, is increasingly finding itself in a sweet spot where social security aid and subsidies can finally be rid of the long-standing issues plaguing such systems in India. The two major issues with subsidies in India — targeting and leakages — can both be tackled by the government’s ongoing Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) push. The time is now ripe to have DBT for all subsidy programmes.

Leakages occur when the subsidy does not reach the recipient due to corruption, pilferage or other causes. Mis-targeting benefits higher income groups that don’t really deserve the subsidies, thereby needlessly increasing the government’s expenditure.

The government’s DBT plan, which simply involves transferring the subsidy amount directly to the beneficiaries’ bank accounts instead of having to fiddle around with differential pricing for the underprivileged, can effectively address the issue of leakages and go a long way in solving the mis-targeting problem.

Efficient targeting, using Aadhaar-linked data, ensures that the intended beneficiary receives the money in his account, thus helping him as well as reducing the government’s subsidy burden. This has resulted in effectively solving the leakage and mis-targeting problems in some schemes, but other schemes have shown that they need more work to be efficient.

The case of MGNREGA wages is an example where DBT effectively addressed both issues at once. In the beginning, there were reports across the country of MGNREGA wages — at the time given in cash — being misappropriated by middlemen in such large-scale systems. In 2013, the government initiated the DBT scheme in MGNREGA after several successful pilot projects and eliminated these middlemen to a large extent. So far, in this financial year, under this scheme, Rs.20,500 crore has been credited to the accounts of almost 5 crore people. All the beneficiaries — only the beneficiaries — stood to reap benefits from MGNREGA wages.
More fine-tuning
However, other schemes, though successful, need more fine-tuning. While the original DBT scheme for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) subsidies, named PAHAL [Pratyaksh Hanstantrit Labh], was launched in June 2013, the NDA government modified and re-launched the scheme in 54 districts in November 2014; for the rest of the country it was January 2015. The idea was that consumers link their Aadhaar number to a bank account and receive the subsidy amount for 12 cylinders in a year. Those without an Aadhaar number could furnish any other bank account to receive the subsidy.

Now, while this ensured that all LPG consumers could, in theory, avail of the subsidy, it also meant that a large proportion of the subsidies were going to people who could afford LPG cylinders at the un-subsidised rate. Towards this, and to the credit of the government, it was recently decided that people earning more than Rs.10 lakh a year would not be eligible for the LPG subsidy.

So, DBT addresses the leakages issue while the income cap addresses the mis-targeting problem. Back-of-the-envelope calculations (since there are no accurate figures of how many LPG users earn more than Rs.10 lakh) peg the government’s savings from such a move at around Rs.5,000 crore a year.


There are also subsidy schemes where DBT, in its efficient implementation, could actually result in adverse outcomes. Take the example of DBT in the kerosene scheme the Centre is incentivising States to adopt. The benefits here are immense. Experts estimate that around half the kerosene sold in the country is being misused. Instead of being used as lighting fuel — its most common use — kerosene is being used to adulterate diesel among other things. This means that the benefit of kerosene being sold at subsidised rates is also unintentionally going to those involved in such activities.

Under the DBT in kerosene scheme, the consumer buys kerosene at full price and then receives the subsidy amount in his bank account if eligible. Here, too, mis-targeting and leakages are addressed. But, as economist Pronab Sen has pointed out, this could lead to unintended outcomes unless the scheme is managed carefully.

If the subsidy amount each household is due is calculated on the basis of the total amount of kerosene sold divided by the number of eligible households, then this will result in each household receiving about double the subsidy amount it should be getting because total usage also takes into account pilferage. In other words, the total sales figures overestimate actual household-level usage because they also take into account usage by theft.

Over-subsidising kerosene to such an extent will mean that it will remain the lighting fuel of choice for poor households, with no chance of a switch being made to cleaner energy sources like solar power. So, in improving the targeting of kerosene subsidies, the government could be cementing the use of the dirty fuel in future. The possibility that the government will subsequently reduce the subsidy amount, viewed as a political no-no, seems remote.

Currently, the government has introduced DBT in food subsidies in only a few Union Territories and is looking to introduce it in fertilizer subsidies as well — a fervent demand made by farmers’ associations when they met the Finance Minister for a pre-Budget meeting recently.

The sweet spot created by universalising banking via the Jan-Dhan Yojana, efficient targeting via Aadhaar, and the increasing ubiquity of smartphones is so attractive that the government should make full use of it to extend DBT to all subsidy schemes. It’s a win-win.
sharad.raghavan@thehindu.co.in

Targeting and leakages can both be tackled by the government’s ongoing Direct Benefits Transfer push. The time is now ripe to have it for all subsidy programmes