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


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


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.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

10405 - Dark clouds over the PDS - The Hindu

September 10, 2016

The National Food Security Act (NFSA), enacted three years ago, was — and still is — a chance to complete the process of PDS reform and ensure a modicum of food security for everyone.

The imposition of Aadhaar-based biometric authentication in the Public Distribution System threatens to disrupt recent progress with PDS reforms. It also deprives millions of people of essential food entitlements.

India’s Public Distribution System (PDS) has improved steadily during the last 10 years. The system used to be most ineffective and corruption-ridden, with leakages of around 50 per cent at the national level, going up to 80 or 90 per cent in some States. Around 2007, Chhattisgarh took the lead in reforming the PDS — making it more inclusive, methodical and transparent. Within a few years, the system was overhauled. Today, most rural households in Chhattisgarh have a ration card, and are able to secure their entitlements (typically 7 kg of rice per person per month) on time every month.

The ‘Chhattisgarh model’

Later on, it turned out that the Chhattisgarh model (so to speak) was replicable. Odisha was among the first States to emulate Chhattisgarh’s experience, with similar results. Many other States also initiated Chhattisgarh-style PDS reforms: broad coverage, clear entitlements, de-privatisation of PDS shops, separation of transport agencies from distribution agencies, computerisation, fixed distribution schedules, tight monitoring, active grievance redressal, and more.

Jean Drèze

In the last few years, I have been involved in several surveys of the PDS initiated by independent researchers with student volunteers. In 2011, we studied the PDS in nine States: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. We found that the system was working reasonably well for “below poverty line” (BPL) households: on average, they were receiving 84 per cent of their foodgrain entitlements from the PDS. A similar picture emerged from a follow-up survey in 2013. However, high leakages continued in the “above poverty line” (APL) quota, which tended to be used by the Central government at that time as a dumping ground for excess food stocks.
The National Food Security Act (NFSA), enacted three years ago, was — and still is — a chance to complete the process of PDS reform and ensure a modicum of food security for everyone. Under the NFSA, the APL category is abolished and eligible households come under two well-defined categories: priority households, entitled to 5 kg of foodgrains per person per month at nominal prices, and Antyodaya households (the poorest), entitled to 35 kg per household per month. The PDS is to cover at least 75 per cent of rural households at the national level, rising to 80-90 per cent in the poorest States.

Impending setback

In June this year, we went back to six of India’s poorest States (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal) for an update. We found that four out of six had a fairly good PDS, with most NFSA cardholders receiving the bulk of their entitlements every month and relatively low exclusion errors. The last two, Jharkhand and especially Bihar, still have a long way to go. Even there, however, the situation is much better than it was a few years ago. In Jharkhand, for instance, the transparency of the system has vastly improved, and the official NFSA website is among the best in the country. However, recent progress is in danger of being undone soon due to the Central government’s counter-productive push for Aadhaar-based biometric authentication in the PDS. This involves installing “Point of Sale” (PoS) machines at PDS shops, and verifying the identity of cardholders by matching their fingerprints against the Aadhaar database over the Internet.
This system requires multiple fragile technologies to work at the same time: the PoS machine, the biometrics, the Internet connection, remote servers, and often other elements such as the local mobile network. Further, it requires at least some household members to have an Aadhaar number, correctly seeded in the PDS database.

This is a wholly inappropriate technology for rural India, especially in the poorest States. Even in State capitals, network failures and other glitches routinely disable this sort of technology. In villages with poor connectivity, it is a recipe for chaos. Note that Internet dependence is inherent to Aadhaar since there is no question of downloading the biometrics.
Recent developments in Rajasthan illustrate the dangers of forcing biometric authentication on the PDS. During the last few months, the Government of Rajasthan has tried hard to enforce the system. The use of PoS machines is compulsory and every PDS shop has one. Yet, according to official data compiled by Nikhil Dey, only 61 per cent of Rajasthan’s foodgrain allocation found its way through the PoS system in July 2016, with a similar figure (63 per cent) for August. The rest is either siphoned off or delivered using the old “register” system — which of the two is hard to say since utter confusion prevails about the permissibility of using registers as a fallback option.

Further evidence comes from Ranchi district in Jharkhand where the PoS system is also mandatory. In July 2016, NFSA cardholders in Ranchi district received less than half of their foodgrain entitlements through that system, according to the model website mentioned earlier. The situation was much the same in August.

As in Rajasthan, it is not clear whether those for whom the PoS system does not work in Ranchi are getting any grain through the old “register” system. Officially, that is not allowed, according to local PDS dealers and officials (indeed, some dealers have been suspended for using this fallback option). Even if it happens unofficially, this dual system, where PDS grain goes partly through the PoS system and partly through the fallback register system, is the worst. The reason is that only PDS dealers know whether and when the register system is permissible, and they have no incentive to share that information with the cardholders. Quite likely, the new system is reviving PDS corruption in Jharkhand, reversing a healthy trend towards lower leakages in recent years.

A short visit to a PDS shop just outside Ranchi quickly brings out the multiple vulnerabilities of the new system. Within minutes we met many people who had been deprived of their food rations for months because they had no Aadhaar number; or because their Aadhaar number had not been correctly seeded; or because their biometrics did not work, or simply because the PoS machine returned various error messages.
Even those for whom the system works face huge inconvenience. Often they have to make repeated trips to the PDS shop, or send different members in turn, until the machine cooperates. Sometimes schoolchildren are asked to skip classes and try their luck at the PDS shop. This unreliable system causes a colossal waste of time for everyone.

By the way, all this is one year after I was told by the Food Department’s upbeat consultants that “the PoS system is functional throughout Ranchi district”.

The Aadhaar juggernaut

In spite of ample warnings, the Central government continues to push for compulsory Aadhaar-based biometric authentication in the PDS. Incidentally, this is a violation of Supreme Court orders. The court did allow the use of Aadhaar in the PDS, but not making it compulsory for PDS users. Nor can the government invoke the Aadhaar Act to justify this move: the relevant sections of the Act are yet to be notified.

PoS machines seem to be expected to ensure a corruption-free PDS. This expectation, however, builds on a misunderstanding of PDS leakages. The main vulnerability today, at least in the States I am familiar with, is not identity fraud (e.g. bogus cards), but quantity fraud: PDS dealers often give people less than what they are entitled to, and pocket the rest. PoS machines are ineffective in preventing quantity fraud. They may help in reducing identity fraud, such as it is, but that does not justify depriving people of their food entitlements when the technology fails.

As with many other applications of Aadhaar, this one is proceeding like a juggernaut, without paying serious attention to the collateral damage. Instead, the Central government peddles bogus figures of Aadhaar-enabled financial savings (often relayed by unsuspecting columnists or economists) to justify further imposition of the technology. It is only when concerned journalists, activists or researchers make enquiries from the victims that we learn about the adverse effects of Aadhaar on the PDS.

The Central government and its advisers pride themselves on their commitment to “evidence-based policy”, but this is a case where evidence is being systematically ignored to press on with technological solutions based on blind faith (handsomely nurtured by commercial interests). The drive to impose biometric authentication on the PDS must stop immediately to avoid further damage. There are better ways of plugging last-mile leakages, including the use of simpler technologies not dependent on the Internet. Imposing a technology that does not work on people who depend on it for their survival is a grave injustice.

Jean Drèze is Visiting Professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University.