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At paragraph 118 of his Budget Speech, Arun Jaitely, Finance Minister, said, “Aadhaar has provided an identity to every Indian. Aadhar has eased delivery of so many public services to our people. Every enterprise, major or small, also needs a unique ID. The Government will evolve a Scheme to assign every individual enterprise in India a unique ID.” There are three claims made in these four sentences. They do not present a factual picture.
Claim No.1: Aadhaar has provided an identity to every Indian
Fact: In Budget Speech of 2016-17, the Finance Minister had said, “The Aadhar number or authentication shall not, however, confer any right of citizenship or domicile.” In his Budget Speech of 2017-18, he said, “For senior citizens, Aadhar based Smart Cards containing their health details will be introduced.” In his Budget Speech of 2015-16, he said that we have embarked on game changing reforms through “the JAM Trinity – Jan Dhan, Aadhar and Mobile – to implement direct transfer of benefits.”
In the Budget Speech of 2014-15, the then Finance Minister said, “Who needs Aadhaar? It is those who are at the bottom of the pyramid, the poor, the migrant workers, the homeless, and the oppressed who need Aadhaar, and we will ensure that they get Aadhaar. I have no doubt that in course of time even critics of Aadhaar will realise that Aadhaar is a tool of empowerment.”
The question is if Aadhaar is not meant to “confer any right of citizenship or domicile”, why has Aadhar based Smart Cards been introduced for senior citizens and why has citizens’ entitlements and benefits been linked to Aadhaar? There is incontrovertible evidence about how this measure has brought colossal grief and suffering to “those who are at the bottom of the pyramid, the poor, the migrant workers, the homeless, and the oppressed” by making Aadhaar a pre-condition to access their rights as citizens. This caused unprecedented deprivation.
Government’s claim about providing identity to identity-less through Aadhaar is an exercise in sophistry. This claim is a act of manifest falsehood. Every Indian except 0.03 % of the population admittedly already had an identity. This has been disclosed in a RTI reply dated 28 April 2015 that only 2.19 lakh residents (0.03 per cent) were given Aadhaar numbers based on the introduction by the introducer system because they did not have a pre-existing identity.
Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) issued the first Aadhaar number to Ms. Ranjna Sadashiv Sonwane, a tribal woman from Tembhali village in Nandurbar, Maharashtra on 29 September, 2010. The Press Note of UIDAI claimed, “Today there are a large number of residents, especially the poorest and the most marginalized, who face challenges in accessing various public benefit programs due to the lack of possessing a clear identity proof. The Aadhaar number will ease these difficulties in identification, by providing a nationally valid and verifiable single source of identity proof.”
The RTI reply reveals that the claim made by government in its Press Note of September 2010 and in the Budget speech of 2018-19 remains misleading and glaringly untrue. At launch of the initiative of Aadhaar numbers to the residents, it was announced that it was “the beginning of an ambitious operation to issue 600 million Aadhaar numbers in the next four years to Indians across the country.”
While presenting the Union Budget 2009-10, the then Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee had announced the setting up of the UIDAI to “establish an online data base with identity and biometric details of Indian residence and provide enrolment and verification services across the country.” Unlike what is being claimed now the fact is that there was no claim made about providing identity to Indians because Indians already had pre-existing identity.
In the Union Budget speech of 2010-11 it is admitted that “CIDR will be handed over to the Managed Service Provider (MSP) on a long term contract basis.” CIDR refers to Central Identities Data Repository of biometric UID/Aadhaar numbers. British firm Ernst & Young was given the contract for setting up the CIDR and selection of Managed Service Provider (MSP). Economic Survey 2011-12 observed, “The Aadhaar project is set to become the largest biometric capture and identification project in the world” even as UIDAI was “discharging its functions without any legal basis” as per the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance. This has been brought to the notice of the Supreme Court’s 5-Judge Constitution Bench which is hearing some 30 petitions challenging the constitutionality of Aadhaar since 17th January.
Claim No.2: Aadhar has eased delivery of so many public services to our people.
Fact: The RTI reply has proves that that ‘an inability to prove identity” was not a major barrier to access benefits and subsidies. The death of several citizens including Aadhaar holders due to denial of public services shows that it has made life difficult for citizens who are facing the cruel denial of their citizens’ entitlements due to aadhaar, a proof of having resided in India for at least 182 days. This is despite the fact that it is admittedly not a proof of citizenship. If this trend continues very soon citizens will be denied the right to vote to elect or reject a government if they do not enroll for aadhaar by getting themselves biometrically profiled.
Claim No.3: Every enterprise, major or small, also needs a unique ID. The Government will evolve a Scheme to assign every individual enterprise in India a unique ID.
Fact: The minister did not inform the Parliament and the citizens about the conceptual, structural and functional link between UIDAI and goods and services tax network (GSTN) from the very outset. Notably, chief executive officer of UIDAI, A.B. Pandey is also the chairman of the GSTN since September 8, 2017. Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 came into force in toto from 12 September 2016 and Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017 came into effect on 1st July 2017. The fact is that Unique Identity Number, the Unique ID to which the minister is referring to is already finds mention in Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017. It has effectively been mentioned nine times in the Act.
Section 25 of the Act deals with the procedure for registration wherein under Section 25 (9) (b) it is stated that “any other person or class of persons, as may be notified by the Commissioner, shall be granted a Unique Identity Number in such manner and for such purposes, including refund of taxes on the notified supplies of goods or services or both received by them, as may be prescribed. Section 150 (1) (o) states that any person under the Act “refers to a person to whom a Unique Identity Number has been granted under sub-section (9) of section 25” as well.
Such a person “is responsible for maintaining record of registration or statement of accounts or any periodic return or document containing details of payment of tax and other details of transaction of goods or services or both or transactions related to a bank account or consumption of electricity or transaction of purchase, sale or exchange of goods or property or right or interest in a property under any law for the time being in force, shall furnish an information return of the same in respect of such periods, within such time, in such form and manner and to such authority or agency as may be prescribed.”
Notably, the Central Consumer Protection Authority under the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 is empowered to mandate the use of unique and universal goods identifiers. The Bill is pending in the Lok Sabha since on January 5, 2018 after its introduction by Ram Vilas Paswan, the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. This law in conjunction with aadhaar will provide 360 degree surveillance of citizens.
A presentation of J Satyanarayana, the chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on People Hub: …the Core of DBT dated 22nd, July 2016 wherein he revealed the purpose of People’s Hub is to have “Getting a 360 degree view of Citizens” that alters the relationships between citizens, government and the business enterprises.
As per IBM, a “Single View of a Citizen” is required because it “Provides authorized access to citizen master data as a service.” It “supports security and privacy requirements for the access and control of data”. It “provides data quality management to establish an “enterprise” record for a party.” It “Performs as a synchronization point to control the distribution of citizen master data in a standardized way.” It “Increases service and accuracy, and decreases the cost of serving the public.”It provides “flexible platform capable of supporting multiple data formats and allowing for new sources to be readily added as requirements change. It also “provides analysis and discovery services to resolve identities and discover relationships.”
It may be recalled that Edwin Black’s book IBM and the Holocaust revealed IBM's strategic alliance with Nazi Germany. IBM and its subsidiaries helped create enabling technologies, “step-by-step, from the identification and cataloging programs of the 1930s to the selections of the 1940s.” Notably, IBM was in the census business. The book reveals that IBM technology was used to organize nearly everything in Germany and then Nazi Europe, from the identification of the Jews in censuses, registrations, and ancestral tracing programs to the running of railroads and organizing of concentration camp slave labor. Coincidentally, IBM is involved in UID/Aadhaar project as well.
Coincidentally, Pramod Varma who is currently a 'Volunteer' Chief Architect at Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has been with a company which is now part of IBM. He joined UIDAI in July 2009 and leads the overall technology and application architecture and application development within UIDAI Technology Unit and is based in Bangalore. His role “has been pivotal in ensuring an open, scalable, and secure architecture is built to meet the needs of aadhaar project.” If Varma is only a volunteer as per UIDAI Volunteers Guidelines, 2011 then it implies that he is likely to have continued as the Chief Technology Architect and Vice President of Research at Sterling Commerce, which is now part of IBM because as per this Guideline a “Volunteer” is a person who wants to give services to the Authority, either on a part-time basis or on a full-time basis, without any remuneration from the Authority.
The related UIDAI’s Guidelines for recruitment of personnel on Sabbatical/Secondment refers to “Conflict of interest from private sector members moving from one category of employment to another”. This Guideline defines “Applicant on Sabbatical/ secondment or Applicant” as “a person who wants to give services to and work with the Authority, on a full-time or part time basis while on sabbatical from a Parent Organisation, without seeking any remuneration from the Authority.” Given the fact that the presentation of UIDAI’s Chairman makes it clear that he wants a “360 degree view of Citizens” for a single view as per the attached presentation which was available on the website of Cabinet Secretariat till 14 January 2018 (now it has been removed) and IBM also wants to have “Single View of a Citizen”. The conflict of interest of UIDAI’s Chief Architect is conclusively established.
The initiative of “Single View of a Citizen” is being pursued through “Organic Seeding of Aadhaar” and “Inorganic Seeding of Aadhaar”. In the former method, “the Unique People IDs of the beneficiaries are collected through a door-to -door survey or at point-of-sale. Alternative methods are collection of Unique People ID through IVRS, SMS or drop boxes. Departments with large databases can also engage 3rd party service provider”.
In the method of inorganic seeding of aadhaar, “the demographic data of the departmental database is matched with that of SRDH through a computer algorithm, and wherever the degree of matching exceeds a threshold level defined, the Unique People ID of the resident as in SRDH database is included in the departmental database.” This is provided in a proposal submitted by Wipro Limited. The “People Hub” and “ePragati Requirements Specifications” which the Chairman of UIDAI refers to is derived from Wipro’s proposal created in December 2015.
Wipro’s proposal is significant because UIDAI and UID/Aadhaar is a product of a 14-page long document titled ‘Strategic Vision: Unique Identification of Residents’ prepared by Wipro Ltd and submitted to the Processes Committee of the Planning Commission which was set up in July 2006. The vision statement of the document reads: ‘Creating a unique identification system of all residents in the country for efficient, transparent, reliable and effective delivery of various welfare and private services to the common person.’ The cover page of the document mentions the National Institute for Smart Government (NISG), Department of Information Technology (now named MeitY-Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology), and Wipro Consulting. Admittedly, Wipro was the consultant for the design phase and programme management phase of the pilot UIDAI project. The Hyderabad-based NISG is a not-for-profit company incorporated in 2002 by the Government of India and Nasscom. NISG aims to ‘establish itself as an institution of excellence in e-governance and to leverage private sector resources through a public-private-partnership mode in establishing eIndia.’
Another 15-page long Wipro document, titled ‘Does India need a Unique Identity Number?’ cited the example of the United Kingdom’s Identity Cards Act, 2006, on page no. 6 to advance the argument for a biometric UID/Aadhaar number in India. Wipro cited UK’s identification project to make a case for UID/Aadhaar for Indians because it aptly inferred that both UID/Aadhaar and UK’s ID card are comparable. But when the UK government stopped its biometric National Identity Cards Scheme neither Wipro nor its donors and promoters in the government examined as to why the UK did so and why this decision too is relevant to India. The decision was announced in the British parliament, the same legislature which passed the India Independence Act, 1947. This Act and the fate of UK’s ID card Act are relevant for the fate of Aadhaar Act, 2016.
It may be recalled that UIDAI extended “undue favour” to Wipro Ltd as well. As a consequence UIDAI incurred an avoidable expenditure of Rs.4.92 crore on an annual maintenance contract, according to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India presented to the Parliament. UIDAI also incurred a loss of Rs.1.41 crore by not routing advertisements through the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity. Unmindful of manifest conflict of interest UIDAI had entered into a contract with Wipro in May 2011 for supply, installation and commissioning of servers, storage systems, security systems and accessories with incidental services in the data centres of the authority in Bengaluru and Delhi/NCR at a cost of Rs.134.28 crore.
The conflict of interest ridden entrepreneurial involvement of IBM and Wipro in UID/Aadhaar initiatives is aimed at ensuring that every person is being “profiled to the nth extent for all and sundry to know” in the words of Supreme Court’s verdict on right to privacy using both demographic and biometric information. It emerges that Unique ID for Indians and their enterprises is being pursued to ensure guaranteed revenue flow to these transnational business enterprises through monetization of citizen’s personal data.
The marriage between biometric surveillance and financial surveillance of citizens is breaching the social contract between the State and the citizens wherein the former is making the latter subordinate to commercial interests of all ilk amidst blitzkrieg of advertisements and misinformation campaigns. It is evident that State in collaboration with non-state actors is unleashing structural violence by feigning ignorance of history to dispossess people of their inherent natural rights and make itself immune from accountability towards its injustice against citizens with impunity.
State’s institutional memory has an active and a passive side. The former includes active forgetting of intentional acts of deprivation and exclusion. The latter includes canonization of the remote past as well as recent by which interpretation of the memory is fixed in a way that it uses a moment in history as a point of reference to the exclusion of other moments and interpretations. But no amount of State sponsored propaganda and engineering of embedded media by commercial czars can obliterate the fact that citizens of the country already had identity and identity proof prior to the illegitimate and immoral bulldozing of biometric identification exercise. It is clear that as a consequence of some Faustian bargain Finance Minister is speaking with a forked tongue.
*Gopal Krishna, the author, had appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance that examined the Aadhaar Bill, 2010 and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution that examined the Consumer Protection Bill, 2015. He is editor of www.toxicswatch.org