Vol. XLII No. 02 January 14, 2018

End Mandatory Aadhar

THE Tribune newspaper published an investigative report on January 4 about how its reporter could get access to details of more than one billion Aadhar numbers.  The reporter paid Rs 500 through Paytm to a vendor after which a gateway was created with a login ID and password which enabled her to get any name, address, photo, phone number and email-id of a person registered with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

Though biometric data was not made available, this explosive revelation has debunked the stand of UIDAI and the central government that its database cannot be breached. 

The Aadhar project was begun by the UPA government. At that time itself, the CPI(M) had raised a number of objections to the scheme.  One of these was the involvement of two American companies in preparing the software design for the UID system. As per the contract signed with these firms, they would have access to all the database collected. Thus, already the database of Aadhar card holders has been available to these American companies which are linked to US security agencies.

That the massive database compiled would be used for private commercial interest was another serious objection. Already there have been numerous instances of Aadhar details appearing in government websites. The Tribune investigation shows how easy it is to breach the Aadhar security set-up. 

Another shocking instance of misuse of the Aadhar biometric data has come to light last month. The Airtel phone network, which has been authorised by the government to link its customers’ mobile phones with their Aadhar numbers, has been found to misuse this procedure by opening a bank account for the customer with the Airtel  Payments Bank.  This has been done in a large number of cases without the customer’s consent.  Under the direct benefits payment, subsidies for the people are to be paid into their bank accounts directly. As per the current rules, subsidies like for LPG cylinders are paid to the last bank account opened in the name of the customer. 

In this way, the Airtel Payments Bank collected Rs 190 crore through such subsidies being deposited in the bank accounts of its customers.  It is only when many customers could not get their subsidies in their regular bank accounts that this misuse was exposed.  The UIDAI has now suspended the Airtel Payments Bank and fined them Rs 2.5 crore. But the scale of the fraud has been minimised by the UIDAI.

The CPI(M) has been strongly opposing making Aadhar mandatory for receiving PDS rations and social security benefits.  PDS rations are being given only after biometric authentication.  In states like Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Telangana, where the Aadhar based biometric identification has been put in place, lakhs of families have been deprived of getting rations.  This is because the fingerprint identification is not working in the machines installed at the ration shops.  In many cases, the ration cards have not been seeded with Aadhar. 

The result has been tragic deaths like those of 11-year old Santoshi Kumari in Jharkhand who died of starvation.  There have been other such deaths reported from Uttar Pradesh and other places. Aadhar identification for PDS is thus inimical to food security for the poorer citizens of the country. 

The government is now insisting on the Aadhar identification for all spheres of life, including registration of birth and deaths.  Things have gone to such an extent that some government hospitals are demanding an Aadhar card identification before admitting a patient.  Without Aadhar identification, one will cease to be a citizen and will become a non-person. 

The Aadhar will become another instrument of oppression in the hands of an authoritarian government and will facilitate State surveillance on citizens violating their privacy and fundamental rights. 

The attitude of the government and the UIDAI is evident from the fact that a case has been registered against The Tribune newspaper and its reporter for breach of security of Aadhar.  Instead of acknowledging that the Aadhar is a faulty and imperfect system, the government is seeking to shoot the messenger and attack the freedom of the press. 

The only way out of the impasse is to stop making Aadhar mandatory for all basic services. The government must reverse its order to link all bank accounts and mobile telephones to Aadhar.

For the past five years, petitions against Aadhar have been pending before the Supreme Court.  The Court has been lackadaisical in addressing this vital issue in time.  During this period, the government has gone ahead with making Aadhar a totalitarian and compulsory system. A five-member constitution bench of the Supreme Court, set-up in November 2017, is now hearing the petitions.  The court should give its verdict at the earliest in this matter as it is of vital concern for the people and democratic liberties in the country. 

(January 10, 2017)