- Arguments in favour of Aadhaar
- Arguments Against Aadhaar
- Arguments in favour of Making Aadhaar mandatory
- Arguments against Making Aadhaar mandatory
- Way ahead
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Aadhaar is a 12 digit number that serves as a unique identifier for Indian citizens and residents. It was introduced by the UPA government in 2010, with the intentions of making subsidy and benefit deliverance more effective and eliminate leakages in the process. Aadhaar has been ever prevalent in the news ever since.
In February 2017, various ministries of the federal government announced that for people to avail government benefits and subsidies, they would be required to hold an Aadhaar card (and Unique ID). Later on, new areas are added in the mandatory list by the government.
While most Indians want to embrace and adapt to the change, experts have questioned the process of evolution of Aadhaar from an ‘unverified’ biometric database to an authentic and robust national identification.
Let’s discuss the pros and cons of the very idea of Aadhar and also of making Aadhar mandatory.
Arguments in favour of Aadhaar
- Aadhaar would qualitatively restructure the role of the state in the social sector.
- Aadhaar is the most widely held identity document in the country with around 92 crore people under it. Restricting Aadhar’s voluntary use would mean a majority of the population will not be able to use it to access various social schemes.
- Aadhaar can help eliminate duplication and impersonation in muster rolls and beneficiary lists, plugging the leaks that currently characterise most social welfare initiatives.
- It will impact nearly 1 crore workers under MGNREGA, who use Aadhaar to withdraw their wages every month, and nearly 30,00,000 pensioners.
- Countering the privacy argument, UIDAI says the data captured is secure and encrypted right at the source and all biometrics are stored in the Government of India’s servers with “world class security standards”
- Aadhaar number shall also help to eliminate the duplicate cards and fake cards for non-existent beneficiaries in the schemes.
- “Aadhaar” shall be able to reduce the involvement of middlemen who siphon off part of the subsidy.
- So far, the government subsidies contained products like food grains, fertilizers, water, electricity and services education, healthcare by providing them at a lower than market price to the beneficiaries. This has led to operational inefficiencies. An Aadhaar enabled DCT (Direct Cash Transfer) system will improve the situation and would ensure timely payment directly to intended beneficiaries, reduce transaction costs and leakages.
Arguments Against Aadhaar
- The opposition to Aadhaar mostly centres on the issues of surveillance and privacy.
- The wealth of personal information collected by the Aadhaar database could be misused are unwarranted.
- The biometrics database collected by UIDAI was not secure since private agencies were involved in collecting the personal information of individuals without any supervision by the government or its pertinent wings.
- By collecting personal information and biometric data, the project violated the individual’s right to privacy.
- Instead of ensuring inclusion, it had become an instrument of exclusion by denying services to people who didn’t enrol for it or chose not to.
- There have been instances of errors in authentication. Such errors could make Aadhaar exclusionary.
- The Lok Sabha Standing Committee on Finance report on the Bill had given the United Kingdom’s example to raise concerns over Aadhaar’s security. (Incidentally, the UK had abandoned its ID project due to “high cost, unsafe, untested technology and the changing relationship between the state and the citizen.”)
- There’s the larger (and philosophical) debate on whether India and Indians need one number to bind them all.
- Initially, Aadhar had no legislative backing as conflicting power centres in the government. Then, when a law eventually came, the present government that passed it decided to take the so-called money bill route, to obviate clearance by the upper house of Parliament where it was (and is) in minority. That’s not the best way to get things done in a parliamentary democracy.
- Aadhaar, the technological design, is different from Aadhaar Act, the legislation, which is responsible for implementing the technology. While they are intertwined inextricably, much of the privacy and surveillance concerns stem from the Act.
- As per the UIDAI website, there is no provision to opt out of Aadhaar nor is it possible to purge the citizen’s information from the database.
Arguments in favour of Making Aadhaar mandatory
- There is a real possibility that India could save thousands of Crores of rupees in leakage, just by making sure that subsidies are delivered to the deserving citizen.
- This way state’s ability to focus and provide services to the deserving population group/s increases as it gets to put the money (which is a limited resource) where the mouth is. For example, in some places the state governments have identified Crores of duplicate ration cards.
- The government inserted a provision making it mandatory to quote Aadhaar number while applying for PAN card as well as when filing Income Tax returns. The main objective of this exercise is to link the PAN with Aadhaar and thereby, also identify tax evaders.
- The Central government reportedly argued that they had found that people were providing details of PAN cards which were procured on fake documents. There were several instances when a person owned many PAN cards which were eventually used to divert funds to shell companies. By making it mandatory to quote Aadhaar number while applying for PAN card will curb these wrongdoings.
- Nandan Nilekani, the brain behind Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), recently has said that the government is right in making Aadhar mandatory. He said that the move will streamline the system and identify fraudulent practices in the country.
- Identity of a citizen in the wake of infiltrations from neighbouring countries may be described as the “missing link” in India’s efforts to rise as a superpower. Aadhaar may be termed as the technology linked identity drive in right direction.’’
Arguments against Making Aadhaar mandatory
- For making Aadhar mandatory, critics have accused government of not initiating a discussion on whether Aadhaar should be made mandatory in India.
- Some experts have also claimed that there is no discussion on the legal accountability of the database nor is there any debate inside or outside the Parliament.
- The apex court had itself asserted in 2013 that Aadhaar should be voluntary, not mandatory.
- Critics questioned the use of Aadhaar as a wider identification instrument, while in itself it is an unverified database. They argued that until 2016, 100 crore entries were formed with almost no verification.
- As of now no audit has been conducted to showcase the steps taken by the UIDAI to ensure the verification of all entries.
- The biggest impact of making Aadhar mandatory will be on people who rely on food subsidies. An estimated 67 per cent of India’s population relies on the food subsidies and benefits available for cereals due to the National Food Security Act of 2013.
- Since the Aadhar law could have been struck down on violation of fundamental rights and privacy invasion, there is a danger that several government schemes might find themselves stuck, in the future.
- Experts argue that the government’s move to make Aadhaar mandatory is a violation of the SC order. It “unfairly expands the scope of Aadhaar beyond welfare services” and “leaves citizens with no choice” but to not enrol.
- They also argued that with Aadhaar being made mandatory, different databases are getting linked by a common ID, making personal information vulnerable to hacking and government surveillance. Effectively, this makes every citizen vulnerable.
- UID doesn’t collect information on where or why Aadhaar is being used to verify identity of an Aadhaar-card holder. The UID database has no information on the reason or location of authentication. As per the UIDAI, apart from the moment of authentication, no other information is recorded.
- Aadhaar Act, 2016 states that information will not be disclosed except “in interest of national security in pursuance of a direction of an officer not below the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India specially authorised in this behalf by an order of the Central Government.” But there is no specific definition of ‘national security’ in the Act.
- Linking Aadhaar to all government and private services gives the government access to large amount of data which it can use in the name of ‘national security’.
- The government refused to define the scope of “national security”, which means it has all the power to access someone’s data without any judicial oversight.
- Labourers and poor people, the primary targets of the Aadhar process, often do not have clearly defined fingerprints because of excessive manual labour. Even old people with “dry hands” have faced difficulties. Weak iris scans of people with cataract have also posed problems. In many cases, agencies have refused to register them, defeating the very aim of inclusion of poor and marginalized people.
- The Aadhaar was marketed as a “transformational” scheme but concerns remained on its privacy, security, data integrity and design.
- While there are many positives that a system like the Aadhaar system will have for India, the limitations and flaws should also be kept in mind rather than a forced push for it.
- Aadhaar does make managing benefits easier for India but making it mandatory to avail benefit makes the Aadhaar database a prime target for exploitation, increasing the security risk behind it.
- Furthermore, forcing Aadhaar to be mandatory to file taxes opens up an argument on privacy rights. And the government’s argument of privacy not being fundamental does not help assuage any of them.