Centre for Internet & Society

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh claimed that the Aadhaar system was becoming an instrument of social exclusion rather than one of identity.

The article by Komal Gupta was published in Livemint on April 11, 2017. Pranesh Prakash was quoted.

The Rajya Sabha on Monday witnessed a lively debate on Aadhaar, with the opposition questioning the government’s move to make the 12-digit unique identification number mandatory for a host of welfare benefits.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh claimed that the Aadhaar system was becoming an instrument of social exclusion rather than one of identity.

“My major concern is implementation, how Aadhaar is being used to exclude people to avail benefits of the schemes which have been designed for them…If you need to apply to avail benefits, it’s as good as mandatory,” said Ramesh.

The former cabinet minister argued that over 25% of the population will stand excluded.

“The Rs50,000 crore savings due to Aadhaar linkage as given by the government is highly questionable,” he said, adding that according to Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reports, 92% of the savings on domestic gas subsidies is not on account of Aadhaar implementation or direct benefit transfer. “Instead, it is because of the fall in international oil prices,” Ramesh argued.

Trinamool Congress member Derek O’Brien said that for manual labourers, biometric identification does not always match and that can deprive them of welfare.

He gave the example of Andhra Pradesh, where almost half the 85,000 ration card holders in 2014 were unable to get subsidized foodgrains due to faulty point of sale machines and biometrics not matching.

K.T.S Tulsi, member of Parliament and senior Supreme Court advocate, said, “Not in my whole career have I come across a greater mutilation of a statutory provision than what has taken place in the case of Aadhaar.” He said Section 29 of the Aadhaar Act doesn’t permit data stored with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to be shared with anyone but a provision was later made for voluntary agreement to allow the sharing of data.

IT and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “No religion, income, medical history, ethnicity or education is asked in Aadhaar. Even email ID and phone number is optional.”

“The right of privacy of individuals must be respected. The privacy of the data cannot be breached by us except in the case of national security,” Prasad added.

He claimed that the government has been blacklisting operators that share data from the Aadhaar system. It has blacklisted 34,000 operators, and has taken action against 1,000 of them.

Prasad also said that UIDAI will be accountable to the Parliament.

Expressing concern on mandating the use of Aadhaar for different services, Pranesh Prakash, Policy director of the Centre for Internet and Society, said, “As an enabler, people would want to have Aadhaar. But when it is made mandatory, it becomes more of a disenabler instead of an enabler.”

“With the move towards a digital economy, setting up of a data protection authority as recommended by the Shah committee is important along with mass surveillance and greater accountability from the government,” he added.