It’s good that the Supreme Court has delayed the linking of Aadhaar with other documents until March end while it examines the issue further. Let me not be misunderstood. I have always been in favour of an identification system. When I was asked to chair a group on training and reform of the higher civil services, I wondered how the police could isolate a criminal. Without an identification system, it must be like finding a needle in a haystack. Senior police officers tried convince me that the thana and the post office are good sources of information. But their argument was thin. So when Nandan Nilekani was asked to develop the UIDAI, I was all for an unique identification system.
As a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, I was persuaded by one of my teachers who had an Indian connection to collect a Masters degree while I was pursuing my doctoral work. I was not very keen since I already had an MA in India but went along. I didn’t want to spend money on convocation robes so the degree in Latin was sent to my home in Jaipur. But I was offered credit cards for free, which is given to all degree winners in Ivy League Schools because in the developed world they really believe that knowledge is wealth. I also had to teach to make some money to finish my doctorate. That meant I had to have a Social Security card to draw my salary. My card was the marker of my identity for the next few years in the US for everything.
So, I value my Aadhaar card. So do many others, including very poor people. I was asked to read a research report on the things the poor really value. After some fieldwork, a study showed that very poor people keep their ration card under lock and key. They also keep their voter identity card in safe custody. They value their rations and the ration card gives them identity. The voter identity card gives them a sense of power because once every five years, the high and mighty come asking for votes.
In the US and several other countries, different offices link up to a person’s Social Security card and financial agencies are aware of your credit card records. All this was happening much before modern information and communication systems, so I presume that these systems have made things easier. We, in contrast, have been given a different identification dispensation by our government. Hey you, come with your Aadhaar card and link it with your Pan card. Hey you, come and link our Aadhaar card with your mobile, landline, bank accounts and other documents.
No office is willing to link all this information with the Centralised Data and Information System. That destroys their power. I live on a pension and will drive down and complete the procedures required to link my Aadhaar card with other documents. But many Aadhaar owners are poor. For them, it means a half day of wages gone down the drain — much like it was when they had to exchange old notes during demonetisation. I know it may not influence their votes. But are votes the only thing? What about efficiency? What about an information and communication revolution? What about “Maximum Governance and Minimum Government”?
Vijay Kelkar had designed tax reforms which could account for double entry when it came to market transactions — if I sell someone has to buy. But with multiple rates we gave up on that reform. It’s like airport security in India. Too many checks and so you are probably unsafe because the responsibility is diffused. In most other countries, you have one thorough check and if need be, you are body searched. Simplify and live long.