Excluded by Aadhaar

Thousands of crores are supposed to have been saved in this massive anti-corruption drive, but not a single criminal case has been filed. It is delusional to celebrate the Aadhaar tidal wave, and criminal to turn a blind eye to hard facts about exclusion.

Written by Nikhil Dey , Aruna Roy | Updated: June 5, 2017 8:09 am
Aadhaar number, Aadhar card, UID, Unique Identity Number, corruption, India , indian express editorial If policymakers can’t guarantee inclusion, they must halt this digital nightmare. Representational Image.

Sita of Karkala village, Lassadiya Panchayat, was one of many who spoke at the annual MKSS Mazdoor Mela in Bhim on May 1. “I have no Aadhaar card, I don’t know why they say my fingerprints don’t show. Without Aadhaar, I am denied work under the MGNREGA, and get no rations. I am a single woman, and have no other source of income. What will I eat, and how will I survive?” she said. Her anaemic condition is apparent, and she should be classified as a gross administrative failure, triggering emergency corrective action. But for the ruling elite in Delhi and Jaipur, she is just a digit — one more, or one less in a policy framework they are determined to impose for their own ends.

There are many women who share Sita’s anguish. Though already enrolled in Aadhaar, “voluntarily” as the government would have it, the biometric eco-system, for one reason or another, has failed to authenticate them, denying them access to rations, pensions, work. They speak with the pain and frustration of having repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to get the rations due to them. Their words carry the clarity of experience and analysis that comes from being the object of a mass experiment where exceptions and exclusions are diabolically counted as proof of success. It doesn’t seem to matter to policymakers that rations, or pensions, so basic and vital to survival, are denied. Their numbers have reached Jaipur and Delhi, to be grandly proclaimed as the “frauds”, the “dead”, the “bogus”, and the “duplicate people”, successfully eliminated by the government, resulting in saving large sums of money.

This is Aadhaar in welfare: A vast mechanism that is turning the government’s dismal failure to deliver into a means of erasing a large number of people. It is part of a new war on poverty, where, instead of eliminating hunger, it is an elimination of the poor and the destitute. The ringmasters in Delhi have found a digital whip that can do no wrong.

Unfortunately, many people still do not understand that the “Aadhaar card” is no card. The government rests all the tall claims of Aadhaar on positive biometric authentication, which even the UIDAI admits is their only reliable service. The challenge of capturing and authenticating on a central server millions of biometric transactions daily gives rise to a host of failures because of biometric mismatch, poor internet connectivity, and machine malfunction. The ration dealer holds the trump card as he knows just how to (mis)represent even a positive answer. The beneficiary is left to carry the blame for all these lacunae, and suffer the karma of exclusion.

The numbers being excluded are staggering. Rajasthan is an enthusiastic and pioneering state for Aadhaar-based “reform”. Seven months of mandatory UID-based foodgrain distribution under the National Food Security Act, and the implementation of JAM — Jan Dhan bank accounts, Aadhaar authentication, and Mobile-based delivery of social security entitlements — have caused chaos and disaster. Since September last year, when UID authentication was made mandatory in the state, the food department website shows that over 25 per cent of ration card holders with Aadhaar seeding have been unable to draw their rations. That amounts to 25 lakh families, or more than a crore of the most vulnerable people. An already shaky and tenuous manual override mechanism, has been even more uncaringly removed two months ago resulting in an additional 5 lakh families being excluded in April and May 2017.

Under the pension “reform”, 10 lakh social security pensioners disappeared from the lists and their pensions were stopped. Under pressure from senior officials to explain why they had not been enrolled, they were classified as “dead”, “duplicates”, or simply “other reasons”. When the MKSS accessed the list, eight out of the 12 people in our village in Rajsamand district classified as “dead” were found to be alive. But their pensions had been stopped. One of the “living dead” was 80-year-old Dakhu Devi, who had not got pensions or rations for eight months. Under great pressure, she got her arrears but was so frail and starved by then that she died soon after. One thousand, three hundred and ten persons out of the 2,900 classified as “dead” or “duplicates” in Bhim Block were found to be alive. Many others had died after their pensions were cut off.

Almost a year later, the government is yet to complete a state-wide re-verification exercise. Many acknowledged by the government to have been wronged are still waiting to receive their full arrears. No action has been taken against the officials who wrongly classified them as dead or duplicates. When a “senior” or vulnerable citizen dies from hunger and destitution due to their lifeline being cut off, should it not be classified as involuntary manslaughter? Should there not be a provision for criminal liability? The Aadhaar act is called the The Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits, and Services Act. Welfare beneficiaries are only the first targets. As Aadhaar enters all other areas of governance, there are going to be many other “targets”, with additional dangers of comprehensive surveillance and commercial exploitation. The vast figures of exclusion of vulnerable people in welfare delivery should have brought the mandatory nature of the programme to a halt long ago. The huge digital machine, however, is heartless, and its spin doctors have learnt to classify all numbers as achievements.

Those calling UIDAI an exercise in “empowering” the poor have obviously not spent even a day in a ration shop in a remote village, or at an MGNREGA work site, or at a bank with a pensioner trying to access her Rs 500 monthly pension. They have not bothered to address the concerns of the 30 lakh excluded families and restore rations to those entitled. If policymakers can’t guarantee inclusion, they must halt this digital nightmare.

The claim that Aadhaar has ended corruption is another misrepresentation of facts. The dealer’s pilferage continues unchallenged by technology. People are bewildered and angry. The administration turns a deaf ear to complaints of exclusion. Thousands of crores are supposed to have been saved in this massive anti-corruption drive, but not a single criminal case has been filed.

It is delusional to celebrate the Aadhaar tidal wave, and criminal to turn a blind eye to hard facts about exclusion. But where is the forum to complain? Parliament has been craftily managed. The Supreme Court’s orders are successfully ignored. The executive has become the law and the executioner.

The writers work with the MKSS and the NCPRI

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  1. #
    Jul 2, 2017 at 10:28 am
    25 lakh families in Rajasthan are unable to withdraw ration even after seeding #AADHAARFAIL with their ration card. 2. #AADHAAR authentication does not work for half billion Indians. 3. AADHAAR authentication does not work even after updating bio-metrics and waiting for 90 days 4. AADHAAR bio-metrics can be stolen, printed and used for #AADHAAR pay 5. #AADHAAR does not work for NRIs, people outside India 6. AADHAR can not be generated if a person's fingerprint matches with someone else's with 60 percentage probability. 7. Rogue government can deactivate your #AADHAAR blocking your gas, electricity, mobile, bank account 8. AADHAAR works for millions of illegals staying in India 9. AADHAAR is blocking subsidies for millions of legitimate people 10. Take 10 lakh insurance for each #AADHAAR failure case or delete aadhaar bio-metrics from aadhaar database, archive and deactivate #AADHAAR. Jai Hind
    1. S
      Sunil Chandra
      Jun 6, 2017 at 1:50 pm
      The article is more about government bashing rather than highlighting the problem. The problem is real and needs to be highlighted without cal names. India has faced a chronic problem where the authorities consider themselves as lords and they wish the things will work rather than ensuring that things will work. They create rules without figuring out the ground realities and without ensuring there are no exceptions. I am sure, Aadhar enforcement will also have similar issues. I am also sure that there will be people who are on the wrong side of this euphoria. Rather than focusing on this problem, the authors seem to be more interested in kil the concept of Aadhar. And I disagree with that line of thinking. All programs (as I said earlier) in India have been fraught with problems and exclusion. Why single out Aadhar in that case. Can we say, as a concept Aadhar is good, but there are implementation problems? let us try to fix those problems.
      1. P
        Jun 6, 2017 at 11:37 am
        Criminal liability? for what? In India where lower level officials are anyway corrupt, if you add criminal liability for exclusion of anyone, they will not exclude even those who get benefits 1000 times? Are you dumb that just because the system is not yet properly integrated you are suggesting either do not use it or makes its use superficial. Government will force correction but in reality the state governments should see that proper checks are in place so that people are not denied things till this integration is complete. In less than a year things will be fixed but when has India ever fixed such things at large scale? If you leave it to activists they will ensure that all roads are eaten and all people are equally poor and hungry and the nation become anarchy. Because their way of solving things is to remove any solution and let the problem persist forever.
        1. P
          Jun 6, 2017 at 11:45 am
          Not a single criminal case is filed??? so you think government will start fi criminal cases for each Bangladeshi who has ration card? or against each official who was keeping PDS benefits and sel it in market? You think government has evidence for hundreds of millions of such people. Virtually every Bangladeshi has ration card. Virtually every PDS distributor is corrupt and would not like to have AAdhar implemented in the long run. You thin courts have time. Can you go and file case against the first distributor you know and also find duplicate or cheat beneficiaries, should be trivial to do so. Fight one case and then suggest government if they should proceed with this exercise.
        2. G
          Jun 6, 2017 at 5:31 am
          It is ridiculous to expect corruption to be eliminated through criminal cases. Our notoriously incompetent and insular judiciary will see to it that the cases will er on for decades. Indeed, for reduction in corruption the way we do things must change. This is exactly what Adhaar accomplishes. The writer reminds one of the Railway reservation system where the “commissars” of that time fought against computerization. Today the corruption in railway reservation is a fraction of what it is today. At that time not a single seat was available without a gratuitous payment. Once again today’s “commissars” fight against progress and efficiency and do all they can in their power to reduce corruption.
          1. E
            Employ Ment
            Jun 5, 2017 at 11:41 pm
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            1. V
              Vinu Krish
              Jun 5, 2017 at 9:46 pm
              Aadhaar should be made mandatory for everything. If the Left Libs are opposing it, it should be good for the people of this country...
              1. A
                A left lib
                Jun 14, 2017 at 12:08 pm
                Perhaps you should start by clarifying things with this left lib -> s: twitter /narendramodi/status/453543852175925248?lang en
              2. R
                Rameswar Pattanayak
                Jun 5, 2017 at 9:21 pm
                What about the exploitation do the system be a set of persons using multiple idEn y holding and impersonation with criminal intent? Does your efforts strengthens them? Give an inner thought to this aspect.
                1. S
                  Jun 5, 2017 at 9:05 pm
                  Thanks GOVERNMENT. Your attempt to prevent 'Welfare Harvesting' of the tax payer's money seems to be succeeding every time one sees a hired article of this sort comes up. Sorry Aruna Roy - you have to persuade your jholawallah army to try and do an honest day's work for a living instead of depending on Govt Prg leakages. Just by the way all 10 finger prints not getting recorded is a statistically negligible possibility and the scheme allows you to know the best of the 10 prints and to use it for identification. Those who oppose AVM's and AADHAR just want to perpetuate their illegal hegemony on India's Society. 'Social Activism' to protect one's property interests is nothing new in India after independence. Suhasini Ali is Professor Emiritus in this 'discipline' and Aruna Roy the HoD. It is not impossible that 'activism' so terrorised small local officials that she could welfare harvest with impunity and pay the labour required to manage her huge estate which she is unable to do now
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