Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique identification number issued to Indian citizens by the Central government. It is issued and managed by the UIDAI.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is a statutory authority established under the provisions of the Aadhaar Act 2016 on 12 July 2016 by the Government of India, under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. Under the Aadhaar Act 2016, UIDAI is responsible for Aadhaar enrolment and authentication, including operation and management of all stages of Aadhaar life cycle, developing the policy, procedure and system for issuing Aadhaar numbers to individuals and perform authentication and also required to ensure the security of identity information and authentication records of individuals.
23 May 2001 – A 1999 national security report submitted to PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee recommended identity cards for citizens living in border areas. Along similar lines, a 2001 ministerial group headed by LK Advani accepts the recommendation for an ID card. The report says a “multi-purpose National Identity Card” project would be started soon.
28 January 2009 – The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is established.
23 June 2009 – Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys, is appointed to head the Aadhaar project. He becomes the Chairman of UIDAI.
2010 – UIDAI’s logo is revealed; the enrollment drive begins across the nation.
29 September 2010 – The first UID number is issued to a resident of Nandurbar, Maharashtra.
20 November 2012 – Legislative and state concerns over Aadhaar reach the Supreme Court; the Court observes arguments against National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010. The concerns revolve around possible overreach of Article 73 of the Constitution.
23 September 2013 – The SC rules that the centre cannot deny government benefits to citizens over non-possession of the Aadhaar card. The apex court says “no person should suffer for not getting Aadhaar” as the government cannot deny a service to a resident if s/he does not possess Aadhaar. The Court confirms that Aadhaar is voluntary and not mandatory
1 July 2014 – The general election is over; the UPA is replaced by the NDA in the centre. Narendra Modi takes oath as Prime Minister. On 1 July, Nilekani meets PM Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to convince them of the benefits of UID. The BJP had erstwhile been stringently opposed to UIDAI and expressed desire to scrap the entire programme.
5 July 2014 – PM Modi announces that his government will retain the project and asks official to look into linking the project with passports.
11 March 2016 – The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Bill, 2016 is passed in the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha sends it back with some recommendations, particularly over privacy issues. However, the Bill being a Money Bill, the Upper House’s had little say; consequential, the Lok Sabha rejects the recommendations. The Aadhaar Act, 2016 comes into force.
15 September 2016 – Government announces that Aadhaar card will be made mandatory to avail government subsidies and benefits.
4 October 2016 – Possession of Aadhaar card made mandatory for availing cooking gas (LPG) subsidies; citizens given two months’ grace period to get the UID.
December 2016 – Aadhaar enrollment now includes nearly all Indians. The Economist reports that in the public sphere Aadhaar helps to distribute subsidies worth about $40 billion a year. Around 300 million biometric entries are linked to citizens’ bank accounts, so that money can be paid directly to them.
January 2017 – March 2017 – The government makes the possession of an Aadhaar card compulsory for availing over 30 central schemes, including free mid-day meals for schoolchildren and welfare programs for the differently-abled (extensive list can be read here).
7 February 2017 – The Supreme Court directs the center to link all mobile numbers to Aadhaar.
27 March 2017 – The Supreme Court reiterates that the government cannot make Aadhaar mandatory for welfare schemes; however, the SC remains numb on Aadhaar being made mandatory for other schemes.
Aadhaar has been lauded in the public policy sphere as being a game-changer for effective implementation of government schemes. Its most crucial role is that of plugging leakages via targeted public delivery and social support systems.
Thus, Aadhaar is permeating into almost all forms of public services and processes and is increasingly being made mandatory for a number of government procedures including filing income tax, applying for a PAN card and even availing jobs under MNREGA. So, Aadhaar card and number provide us with national identification and social benefits, and protect us from corruption and tax evasion.
When the Aadhaar was first implemented, most of the concerns related to it were regarding the infringement of right to privacy of Indian citizens, the security of the collected biometric data, and the legality of making Aadhaar mandatory. But these concerns have reached altogether a new level after the issuance of more than 1,130,308,464 Aadhaar cards.
The concerns now is this: is the implementation and execution of the Aadhaar Act error-free? Are government and extra-governmental agencies sticking to the various protective provisions of the Act? It turns out this is where some of the good intentions behind the act are being eroded.
Looking at the above facts, it is easy to surmise that incorrect implementation of the Aadhaar scheme can lead to security risks, identity theft, wrongful acquisition of Indian citizenship and personal and financial fraud. However, government entities continue to blindly implement practices which go against the spirit of the Aadhaar Act and act as mere appeasement tactics for universal acceptance of the Aadhaar. And while it is more than likely that UIDAI knows of these shortcomings, it has shorn off all responsibility. Instead of correcting the wrongful usage of the Aadhaar by various agencies, it has shielded itself from the implications of such wrongdoing by framing protective policies.
Then there are the security concerns. In fact, a Google search for “Aadhaar number name filetype:xls” reveals multiple excel sheets in the results. These contain thousands of people’s information including name, date of birth, address, and Aadhaar number.
So is Aadhaar a brilliant move or a quick-fix technocratic solution riddled with loopholes? Well, any law or scheme is only as good as its implementation. With great power comes great responsibility. The Aadhaar has covered the power aspect by gaining near universal coverage. But who is ready to take the responsibility?
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