Everyone must have heard of the Aadhar card. Those of you who already own it will probably have memories of extremely ugly pictures associated with it. That aside, the Aadhar card has come a long way.
To being just another identity card during the UPA regime (although the government then tried unsuccessfully to do what the present government has done) to passing of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, during the NDA’s rule, the Aadhar card has more often than not been the subject of most controversies.
Let’s start from the basics.
The Aadhar card will be a 12 digit unique code for every individual who owns it. To be issued an Aadhar card, one will need to submit demographic information (Name, date of birth, address) and biometric data (finger print scan, iris scan et al). Every resident of the country can apply for an Aadhar card, implying that Aadhar will not be a proof of citizenship. The only requirement will be that one would have to be residing in India for a period of 182 days before applying for the card.
On the surface, the bill seems normal, just something which governs the issuing et al of the card and creates a governmental body to oversee the same. However, the reason why the bill is drawing so much flak is because it has some fundamental issues associated with it which should have been resolved before passing of the same and that has not been done.
What is even more alarming is the Government’s haste to pass the bill in parliament by trying to circumvent all proper democratic methods. The government, very slyly introduced Aadhar as a money bill in the Lok Sabha. Now, a money bill is a bill which exclusively contains provisions for imposition and abolition of taxes, for appropriation of money out of the Consolidated Fund of India and other finance related issues.
Is an identity card like Aadhar developed only to be used for financial purposes of the State? If you asked this question to yourself, you are just one of the hundred others who have been demanding this answer from the government.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that identification of targeted beneficiaries for delivery of various government subsidies and services has become a challenge for the government, and Aadhar will help in identification of residents of the country and thus the bill mainly deals with the delivery of subsidies to the masses. And that is how it is a money bill. Confused? So were we.
Moreover, according to the Object of the Bill, the Aadhar card is supposed to be used by the Government strictly for the delivery of its subsidies. However, there are clauses in the Bill which allow private players to use information related to a person’s Aadhar card. This is clearly contradictory to the said Object of the Bill.
What advantage does the government get to introduce it as a Money bill then? Tremendous. A money bill has one special feature which is massively useful for the NDA government- the limited power Rajya Sabha has to legislate over it. And we all know that the NDA is in minority in the Rajya Sabha.
A money bill can only be introduced in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha can only lay out its recommendations, which the Lok Sabha is free to accept or reject. Even if the Lok Sabha rejects the recommendations of the Rajya Sabha, a bill is deemed to have been passed by both Houses of the Parliament. And this is precisely what happened in the present case. The Rajya Sabha laid down several recommendations to the bill, all of which were rejected by the Lok Sabha. Thus, the present government successfully used its disadvantage – minority status in the Rajya Sabha- to its advantage and passed the bill.
And what is worse, whatever has ensued after the passing of the bill clearly shows that the bill is intended to be used for much more than just delivery of subsidies –
The Use of Aadhar related Information by Private Players
Clause 57 of the Bill: Any public or private person may use the Aadhaar number for establishing the identity of any individual for any purpose.
This clause in the bill enables any private or public authority to send in a request to the Unique Identification Authority of India to seek details of a person using his Aadhar number, in order to identify the identity of the residents.
Private players have already started capitalizing on the idea of identifying people on the basis of their Aadhar number.
A company called Swabhimaan Distribution Services has already created an application called TrustID which is offering “India’s 1st Aadhaar based mobile app to verify your maid, driver, electrician, tutor, tenant and everyone else instantly.” The application proudly announces it can do this in “less than a minute.” Its punch line boasts: “Shakal pe mat jaao, TrustID pe jaao.”
Let’s understand this by an example. Suppose if I want to hire a driver and person called A walks up to me as a potential employee. If he possesses an Aadhar card, I can send his name/data/Aadhar number to the type of application described above. The application will in turn send a request to the Unique Identification Authority of India and confirm the identity of the potential employee. In short, I will know if my driver to be is actually saying the truth and is not a mysterious person who could have or could have not been a threat to me. This sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? But it comes with its cons.
Companies like these then aim to create a database or profiles of individuals based on the information they get. Also, they want to introduce a rating system for these employees, which will be available on the public domain so that we can ‘view’ and ‘rate’ people just like we view restaurants on Zomato.
“Our plan is to create a rating mechanism,” says Monika Chowdhary, head of the marketing division of Swabhimaan Distribution Services, the company that created TrustID. Referring to the option for maid, plumbers and other service providers on the app, she added: “People like you and me, we have Linkedin and Naukri. What do these people have?”
However, there is an inherent flaw in this line of argument. Having an account on Linkedin and Naukri is by choice, where people voluntarily give their consent and open their own accounts. Such creation of databases by private companies leads to establishment of profiles which the person did not consent to.
So, now a profile of my driver A is available, where his basic information is available. If after one month I fire him, I can write a review for him on that database, which is open for others to see. All this would have been fine, had the driver A himself created this profile out of his own choice. Now, if companies link this information with A’s other information relating to telecom sector, bank sector, social media sphere et al, I have an information platter about a person’s identity and life, without his consent.
Now, if these apps have already been created, then the Unique Identification Authority of India is also involved. Thus, the government is clearly intending to use Aadhar for many more reasons that just ‘delivery of subsidies.’
The deliberate attempt of the government to circumvent the democratic procedures by passing the bill as a money bill and leaving the above loopholes is the reason why the Bill has a growing number of sceptics against it.
(Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)