April 13, 2017, 5:26 am
There is no doubt in my mind that most people still do not understand what is Aadhaar. One reason is that there has been little real debate around what Aadhaar is because of a lot of slick PR by those who built it. There is a need to understand it before we criticise it or attempt to repair its failings.
1) Aadhaar Escaped Initial Scrutiny
The UPA government spent thousands of crore on Aadhaar with no debate in or outside Parliament, no legislative backing for it and most importantly, not one word on legal accountability for the authenticity of this biometric database.
As a result, thousands of crore were spent on creating a biometric database, which conducted very poor verification of identities and did not and does not have any details of who was a citizen.
The only time Aaadhar was scrutinised was by the Standing Committee on Finance which concluded very correctly that having poor verification and without having citizenship identification, Aadhaar was simply a collection of fingerprints of people whose identity was unverified. The Standing Committee recommended that Aadhar be merged with the National Population Register.
2) Aadhaar Bill
This government brought the Aadhaar Bill, repositioned it as a subsidy delivery platform and encouraged parliamentary debate.
It has developed a strategy to use Aadhaar and other tools to launch a sharp attack on the vexed and cursed problem of leakages, ghost and fraudulent claimants to public subsidies. It has addressed the issue of lack of verification and fake entries by making UIDAI statutorily responsible for verifying the entries.
3) 100 Crore Unverified Aadhaar Cards
The issue of use of Aadhaar as an ID for purposes goes beyond subsidies, ie to ensuring access to airports, as an ID to open bank accounts, for air tickets. Obviously, this goes beyond the remit of what the Aadhaar bill was supposed to be for.
When there is clear evidence all over of fake Aadhaars, what safeguards has UIDAI taken before Aadhaar is being permitted to be used as an identification card or tool? This needs to be answered.
The issue of rampant fake Aadhaar entries is a real one and it’s a direct consequence of the sloppy way this database was built.
While the Aadhaar Act passed in 2016 makes it the responsibility of the UIDAI to issue Aadhaar numbers only after verification – the government must know that between 2010 and 2014 there were over 60 crore and then 2014 and 2016 over additional 40 crore – totally 100 crore Aadhaar numbers with little or no verification.
4) Using Aadhaar as an ID Card
While using Aadhaar to deliver subsidies is an acceptable cost of fakes, to use it as an ID is creating a situation of systemic risk. If this is not resolved and fixed at this stage, you will create a cascading crisis of fake and ghost bank accounts, voters and passport holders that you will find very difficult to unravel later.
There are solutions to this, but to develop that solution, we need to first accept that there are some shortcomings with Aadhaar.
5) Audit of Database
The problems of ghost and fake entries in Aadhaar will need to be addressed through an audit or cleanup or re-verification of the database. This is unavoidable. Ignoring it is unacceptable in the interests of the country.
6) Linking Aadhaar with Subsidy Delivery
There is another question for the Minister to ponder upon. Is it your case that non-citizens are entitled to government subsidies? There is a legal proposition that as a citizen and taxpayer, I can object to or insist that subsidies not be provided to any non-citizen till the needs of all our citizens are met.
If that proposition holds, then doesn’t it imply that citizenship information is essential for any subsidy delivery? This shortcoming of Aadhaar too can be fixed, provided that the government first accepts that this is required.
7) Plugging Leakages in Schemes
Secondly, moving to the main focus of Aadhaar – to better delivery of public subsidies. The issue of mandatory or non-mandatory needs to be discussed. I am also a petitioner in the PIL in the Supreme Court. The Act that Parliament passed is very clear: Aadhaar can be used as well as other IDs to avail benefits and subsidies.
I am of the view that there should be a roadmap to ensure that eventually Aadhaar will be the sole gateway for needy Indians to avail government subsidies and benefits. It is but natural for the government to ensure that money for the poor and needy reach only the poor and needy.
Corruption and leakages harm the poor and needy the most. So, the biggest beneficiary of ensuring that money for poor reach only the poor are the poor.
The government and minister must realise that many government departments are issuing rules making Aadhaar mandatory both for subsidies and most dangerously as primary IDs. More recently, to my question to the HRD ministry, they responded in contradiction to their own notification on this issue. So, confusion exists in many ministries and departments.
(Infographic: Rahul Gupta/ The Quint)