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Tuesday 10 January 2012

PIL seeks to scrap Aadhar project

PIL seeks to scrap Aadhar project

Mulnivasi News Agency

Describing the process of preparing all-purpose Aadhar identity cards as illegal, a PIL filed in the Madras High Court has sought to scrap the project, saying personal and biometric details of citizens are being collected without the permission of Parliament. When the petition filed by S Raju of Vriddhachalam in Cuddalore district came up for admission today, the first bench comprising Chief Justice M Y Eqbal and Justice K B K Vasuki declined to stay functioning of the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) but issued notice to the Centre, Tamil Nadu government and UIDAI. When the petition was taken up, Raju's counsel N G R Prasad submitted that the UIDAI, constituted through an executive order, had no powers to compile personal details of people for Aadhar cards. Headed by co-chairman of Infosys Nandan Nilekani, UIDAI has so far spent Rs 673 crore between January 2009 and Nov 2011, while estimated cost for 2011-2012 would be Rs 1,500 crore. The counsel pointed out that when an attempt was recently made to introduce a Bill in Parliament, the Standing Committee on Finance discussed and rejected it on various grounds. "One of the main grounds raised by the committee is that the Aadhar project is a threat to national security and misuse of data of residents," he claimed. Without any statutory source for its existence, UIDAI has been entering into MoUs state governments, central government organisations and private entities to execute the project, it said, adding people are being asked to provide details like name, age, address, apart from scanned images of fingerprints and iris. "It is significant to state that in the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003, there is no mention of collecting biometric data from the residents." Prasad noted that collection of such details without any permission from any statutory authority or Parliament is unconstitutional and that it amounted to serious infringement of the constitutional rights of citizens.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance has refused to endore the proposed UIDAI bill siting several security related and other issues.
The UIDAI project or Aadhar, as it has been named by the marketing people, is an extraordinary effort being undertaken in the name of the Government of India. The project plans to capture the identity, address details and biometric data of all residents of India and assign them a Unique Identity Number. Such a project, one believes, would be undertaken under a proper law of the land and shall involve sufficient safeguards regarding the authenticity of the information being collected and also the security and privacy of the large database being built. But almost unbelievably the project has no legal backing at all; the bill that the Parliamentary Committee has rejected is meant to provide a retrospective veneer of legality to the effort. But the Committee has found the proposed bill to be completely inadequate.

The Aadhar effort is a new type of exercise being carried out almost entirely by private parties and interests in the name of the GOI. A visit to any Aadhar registration Centre would show how casually and carelessly this work is being undertaken. The Aadhar centres are often manned by raw young men and women with the barest of education and training. The Aadhar form seeks hardly any information beyond the name of the person, his or her date of birth and place of residence. The applicant is supposed to provide some document to prove his identity and address. But the young persons manning the Aadhar Centre hardly look at the copies of the documents being provided, they never ask for the originals. And, the procedures do not insist upon even a self-attestation of the copies of documents. You are registered for the UI number on the bases of just this much. Persons manning the Aadhar Centre do not seem to be properly trained in capturing the biometric data either; often when the machine fails to capture the finger-prints details of some old person, they simply place their own fingers on the machine and keep the process moving.

It seems almost unbelievable that what purports to be a complete register of Indian citizens is being prepared in such a manner. But it is happening. The UIDAI has already captured the data for about half a crore people and spent 600 crores. All this with mere executive fiat and no legal backing at all.

This is the new India, where private interests are able to hijack such crucial government activities and carry these out in a haphazard manner with government money. It is not surprising that the same interests then go about selling the data collected in the name of the GOI to other private parties. In the recent past the UIDAI has been obliged to take action against several of its vendors for parting with the data collected; but the authority has no procedures in place to seriously control this pilferage.

The project was not supposed to be carried out in this manner. The UIDAI was only meant to provide technological support to the Census Department, who have already collected data for the National Population Register in the course of the houselisting operations undertaken for the 2011 Census. But suddenly the UIDAI, instead of being a support agency, became the primary agency and completely ignored and sidelined the appropriate agency of the Home Ministry legitimately engaged in the task.

The UIDAI way of creating a database of all Indians is completely wrong and inscrupulous. But there are serious issues of security and legality involved in the NPR exercise also. These issues were discussed in the Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs and also in the Lok Sabha last year. Somehow the effort to create the NPR database along with the Census was carried out and completed without going into the issues that were raised in the Committee and in the Parliament. This happened mainly because of the inability of the main opposition party to make the Government come to grips with especially the security issues. The Parliament shall have to certainly revisit and create an appropriate legal framework with sufficient safeguards to ensure that non-Citizens do not get entered into the National Register and that the NPR data remains secure. But the private and uncontrollable exercise the UIDAI has started has got to be stopped immediately.

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