The real beneficiary

Aadhaar doesn’t empower people, only the state

Written by Reetika Khera | Published:June 2, 2017 2:15 am
Aadhaar Card, Aadhaar privacy, TRAI Why are governments resorting to such desperate measures to defend Aadhaar? Primarily because during UPA 2, they over-sold the benefits of Aadhaar

Ironically, in the week that the UIDAI revealed its draconian face, serving a legal notice to those who exposed flaws in the Aadhaar eco-system, Ajay Pandey (CEO, UIDAI), wrote, “The critics tend to forget that Aadhaar empowers the people, not the state” (‘Criticisms Without Aadhaar’, IE, May 13). However, government data reveals that Pandey is wrong to believe that “Aadhaar empowers the people”.

Peddling long-debunked assertions on savings as facts without any proof is an old UIDAI strategy. Pandey’s strongest claim, “an independent study by the World Bank”, reportedly estimates that “Aadhaar can potentially save Rs 72,000 crore every year by plugging leakages.” Actually, the study only states that “the value of these transfers is estimated to be Rs 70,000 crores ($11.3 billion) per annum”. There is no estimate of potential savings.

Pandey claims that Aadhaar has “cleansed delivery databases of fakes, duplicates and con men/intermediaries”. Job cards and ration cards cancelled in the course of routine updation (or “cleansing”) drives are attributed to Aadhaar. In fact, in many cases, the cancellation pre-dates integration with Aadhaar. For instance, the 20 lakh cards deleted in 2014-15 in West Bengal are credited to Aadhaar-integration though only 15,000 cards were Aadhaar-seeded on March 2015.

The case of LPG subsidies is well-documented. In July 2015, Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) Arvind Subramanian wrote in The New York Times that cash transfers resulted in “estimated savings of about $2 billion”. Yet, Cabinet Secretariat minutes from November 2015 report only Rs 91 crore savings due to Aadhaar. Later, the CEA himself clarified that it was potential (not actual) savings he had in mind, but the government still uses the earlier figures. The government’s claim on deleted ration cards is also interesting. Out of 1.2 crore deleted cards, 62 lakh were from West Bengal. Here’s the catch: All states (except West Bengal) report the number of cards in terms of families; West Bengal reports individuals. The ministry ignores the difference in units, adds them up, thus inflating the numbers.

Why are governments resorting to such desperate measures to defend Aadhaar? Primarily because during UPA 2, they over-sold the benefits of Aadhaar. For instance, Aadhaar cannot reduce quantity fraud. When a PDS dealer undersells, whether I am forced to put my thumbprint in a paper register or a POS machine makes no difference to quantity fraud.

Aadhaar cannot enhance inclusion. Possession of Aadhaar alone cannot guarantee benefits (say, pensions or scholarships), one still has to meet the eligibility criteria of those programmes. Exclusion from welfare was rarely due to the lack of ID documents (in a response to an RTI query, 99.97 per cent of those who enrolled in Aadhaar did it on the basis of existing ID documents). What Aadhaar can fix is identity fraud — for example, if I illegally get two ration cards or duplicates. But then, Aadhaar is one among several ways of de-duplication, and not the most efficient either — smart cards, or even painting the full list of beneficiaries on panchayat walls works well to identify ghosts and duplicates!

The key question with respect to identity fraud (and the Aadhaar project) is what Senior Advocate Arvind Datar asked the government in court (during the PAN-Aadhaar linkage case), “Did you do any study?” The fact is there is no reliable evidence on the scale of identity fraud in welfare programmes. We are told that people are getting their benefits “directly from the government without middlemen usurping them” due to Aadhaar. Three clarifications are in order: One, benefits under some of the schemes he lists have been credited into bank accounts for years, so middlemen were absent from the payment process to start with. For example, payment of MGNREGA wages into bank and post office accounts became mandatory in 2009. Two, where middlemen existed (pensions delivered by a postman who demanded money), one type of middleman has been replaced by another (banking correspondents have taken the place of postmen). Three, the Aadhaar eco-system is breeding an army of middlemen (enrolment, re-enrolment of biometrics, Aadhaar-seeding, correcting demographic details, etc).

Meanwhile, Aadhaar is also disempowering people. For example, names are being struck off pension lists without people’s knowledge (say, for not submitting their Aadhaar number) or MGNREGA wages get “lost” in the electronic payment system. In Rajasthan, more than 10 per cent of PDS beneficiaries are unable to get their ration after Aadhaar-based Biometric Authentication (ABBA) was introduced. Monthly authentication of any one member is pointless: If someone dies, I can continue to claim their ration. At the very least, the government should move to annual authentication of all members, put people out of their monthly misery. Since 2009, we were lulled into believing that privacy is the price we pay for better welfare programmes. In 2009, the present National Security Advisor A.K. Doval rightly said: “Now, it is being projected as more development-oriented, lest it ruffle any feathers. People would be unwilling to give up their right to privacy.” Welfare, efficiency, transparency, empowerment, etc., was the sugar-coating.

The writer is an associate professor, Economics, at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi

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    Chander Pal
    Jun 3, 2017 at 7:00 am
    This seems to be a political article in support of those who taunt any restriction to undo ented deals. The fodder gulper type leaders are finding their takings taking big dips. Whenever disasters stuck, the corrupt politicians were able to calculate the loss by the next morning sitting in their cozy drawing rooms. As fas as security of personal information is concerned, we give to passport office, banks when requesting for loan or to the foreign embassy when visa is needed. Remember passport data is managed by a private en y.
    Reply
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      siksha
      Jun 3, 2017 at 5:07 am
      The view expressed here is extremely shortsighted. Based on how the Social Security and other identification schemes have worked in the US, the common man will gain very much in the long run through reduced corruption, crime, and the more recent menace of terrorism, not to say of illegal immigration from neighboring countries.
      Reply
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        Khushminder Sahasi
        Jun 2, 2017 at 11:45 pm
        An excellent Article. Where is Doval now? Why not responding to your clarifications? BJP being a Baniya Party knows to sell their rotten stuff. changes colors like chameleon. Earlier when UPA 2 introduced AADHAR they denounced it for violating privacy. Now BJP in 2017 even connecting it with PAN so baniyas can use to fudge their accounts. there is no cyber security apparatus in place in india.
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          moment_in_infinity
          Jun 3, 2017 at 1:22 am
          She didn';t give any arguments, but if you read our comments you will find many questions for yourself and for her, which will make you realize how dumb your ideas against aadhar are. She is just parroting what she did a couple of months back. Do you know which privacy AAdhar violates. Do you have any ID against which governement has information about you, like date-of-birth, address, ftaher-mother name etc. All banks, income tax department, passport office, have 10 times more information than AAdhar collects about you. -------------Only thing additional AAdhar does is biometric to ensure that you can laim to be only one person and not 10 or 100 different persons, so you cannot misuse systems by getting multiple ration cards or by doing other frauds or even crime using banks in different accounts. And you are afraid of this and call this privacy violation, If giving information to govt was privacy violation, then that is already done with income-tax, bank account... d-u-m-b-s
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            moment_in_infinity
            Jun 3, 2017 at 1:27 am
            If giving information to govt was privacy violation, then that is already done with income-tax, bank account information etc... in any case giving such information to government that government already has is privacy violation for d-u-m-b-e-s-t of d-u-m-b-s, ... all aadhar is doing is to ensure that no person can represent himself/herself as more than one person and once you represent yourself as xyz, you are that person, all systems will understand you to be that person, all banks... you cannot create fake bank accounts, nor fake ration cards in different names, nor fake SIM cards... basically iden y fraud will be stopped or miniized to those systems which haven't started AAdhar, in the long run all of them will use AAdhar and hence iden y fraud will be eliminated... only crooks, criminals and cheats will be afraid of such systems.. --------------------------------------what is it that government doesn't/cannot know about you and by not having Aadhar you are avoiding it??
        2. H
          Henderson Gray
          Jun 2, 2017 at 10:45 pm
          This is just an py article - everyone in Canada, USA and europe have similar cards and there is no issue - why only in India ? what is your qualification to spread such wrong information ?
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            Khushminder Sahasi
            Jun 2, 2017 at 11:47 pm
            In no body shows their SSN Card in USA. No body show their NI number. Drivers license is sufficient ID.
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              moment_in_infinity
              Jun 3, 2017 at 1:15 am
              That is because you do not know anything. If you have to enroll in any social security benefits, medicaid or anything else, they need your social security number, nothing else will work. And with SSN they are able to get all the information from banks, hospital, passport, or whatever else you have. Do you think India will check your Aadhar card on airport? or on train? You need AAdhar card for similar reason that US needs SSN. SSN stands for social security number, does that tell you something? Do you know what is social security?
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            Anything
            Jun 2, 2017 at 9:01 pm
            Aadhar is a hoax. There is practically no use of Aadhar.
            Reply
            1. H
              Henderson Gray
              Jun 2, 2017 at 10:47 pm
              It is clear you have no idea or your are lying because you are not putting your name - why are you hiding behind your wife's pallu and commenting - do constructive criticism - enough of this congressi behavior - India has suffered enough
              Reply
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              J.Upadhyay
              Jun 2, 2017 at 8:51 pm
              Only criminals fear the empowerment of the state! May be the author and her family are in the same category of criminals and black money ders and tax dodgers who fear the state might come after them if it is empowered! This author is the best Bull i have ever read!
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                Cool Henry
                Jun 3, 2017 at 3:40 am
                Amen
                Reply
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                Seshubabu Kilambi
                Jun 2, 2017 at 7:55 pm
                The implementation of aadhar is for state control and not empowerment of citizens
                Reply
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                  N.N.Moorthy
                  Jun 2, 2017 at 7:14 pm
                  It must hit the nail deep into the head of Mr Arun Jaitley, staunch proponent of the Aadhaar Scheme and derider of legislative & judicial scrutiny and public cr icism of the scheme.
                  Reply
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