Although the stated line of the present government is that no intended beneficiary will suffer due to a lack of an Aadhar card-issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India(UIDAI)-the facts on the ground seem to suggest otherwise. “In leveraging Aadhaar to weed out fakes and duplicates, it has to be ensured that no eligible person suffers, or is denied any benefit or service, merely for the lack of an Aadhaar card,” Planning Minister Rao Inderjit Singh said in a written reply submitted before the Rajya Sabha. Much of the hype and hoopla surrounding the Aadhar card has to do with its intended benefits. According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy(NIPFP), ‘substantial benefits would accrue to the government by integrating Aadhaar with schemes such as PDS, MNREGS, fertiliser and LPG subsidies, as well as housing, education and health programmes.
The benefits arise from the reduction in leakages that occur due to identification and authentication issues’. While this is entirely plausible; the NIPFP study was criticised by noted economist Reetika Khera as having a conflict of interest: the research group conducting the study received funds from the UIDAI, at least if Khera is to be believed. Moreover according to her Aadhaar-integration can resolve only certain types of leakages, for which reliable data is unavailable. The NIPFP authors do not deny this, claiming that they have been “elaborately careful in pointing out its limitations”, which includes not having adequate data. It must also be noted that like many over-hyped government projects there was no feasibility study and no cost-benefit analysis that preceded the launch of the UID project. Whatever shade of economic opinion you may chose to believe-the left or the right of the centre-it can be safely said that the Aadhar card remains a troubled project.
For one it has been consistently plagued by fake ID’s being issued and repeated forgeries being commonplace. In September 2014 it was reported that a fake ID was issued to the Hindu god ‘Hanuman’. On the card it was mentioned that he was the ‘Son of Pawan’; the card even had a thumbprint and a mobile number. The postman was reportedly unable to deliver this aforementioned card to Lord Hanuman. So enthused are politicians about the UIDAI project that they have come up with whimsical ways of using it. It was recently reported that the UIDAI format will soon be extended to cows in Haryana as the state government has decided to introduce ‘Special Identification Tags’ with unique identification numbers for them. Even more troubling is that the Aadhar card project is being rolled out without any pre-set legal framework. While Aadhaar is being effectively being made compulsory due to the government’s enthusiasm in championing it, no legal framework defines or protects the rights of those who choose to voluntarily enrol in the scheme.
This situation becomes even more worrisome given that there has been no safeguard devised against the possible abuse of the biometric data of those enrolled. The government also seems to have ignored the underlying enrolment issues which might well make the Aadhar card ending up being exclusionary in nature. As a recent World Bank report mentions, identification systems can quickly into a source of social exclusion; one only need look at the abuse of BPL cards in India. This current reality exists despite a Supreme Court order mandating that the Aadhar card is not compulsory for availing social security benefits. Also lying unaddressed is the issue that the technology involved in making the card is an imperfect matrimony of four complex technologies: biometrics, mobile phones, personal computers and the internet. Only one link in this system needs to fail for the entire enrolment process becoming abruptly distressing for users.