by Tathagata Satpathy
By giving legislative backing to the Aadhaar card, it seems that the central government of Narendra Damodardas Modi is stubbornly adamant in making it mandatory. Despite repeated reprimands from the Supreme Court, and protests from opposition parties, the government is in no way willing to looking behind. In this arena, one of the steps of the government has been completed. On recent March 11, the Aadhaar Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha. After achieving the approval of the Rajya Sabha, it will become a law. Under this law, Aadhaar card will be essential. Especially in cases, like collecting government subsidies, benefits etc., Aadhaar possession will be pretty much necessary.
An important point is that the Supreme Court has more than once opined that Aadhaar card should not be mandatory, but the centre has plugged its ears to it. The government seems to believe that after getting legislative backing, the Supreme Court won’t open its mouth on Aadhaar. In case the bills fails to pass in the Rajya Sabha, the government has slyly presented it as a money bill in the parliament. In Lok Sabha, BJP has a majority. So like some other bills, Aadhaar bill was easily passed. But, they don’t have the majority numbers in Rajya Sabha. Since this has been presented as a money bill, even if there is a debate in Rajya Sabha, there won’t be any hindrance to its passing. The opposition parties were wanting that the bill should first go to a parliamentary advisory committee. The government disagreed to it.
Actually if you look at it, the Aadhaar project is not the brainchild of the Modi government. The previous UPA government had started this project. Back then, it was protested against by stating that the biometric data being used in the Aadhaar card will destroy privacy. The protests are still ongoing. Despite all this, the government argues that it will reduce the chances of government funds from being wasted. And that the government aid earmarked for the poor will reach them directly and funds will not be lost on the way. But, the bill clearly states that Aadhaar card is not a proof of citizenship.
Now the question arises that, if the government is not interested in making Aadhaar a proof of citizenship, on what basis is it wasting the tax payers’ money on it? There is a voter id card in possession with every citizen of the nation. Other than that poor people also possess BPL cards, ration cards, voter id cards and a whole stack of other id cards. If from among them one id card is selected, say BPL card, and it is distributed correctly, then it can easily fulfil this objective of the government. At this point we must remember that, we will never stop giving out Aadhaar cards. There is no cap on this amazing project’s expenditure, because everyday several babies are born in India and to keep providing them Aadhaar cards this project will continue forever.
The Aadhaar card has also raised concerns regarding personal privacy and these cannot be ignored. Because the presented Aadhaar Bill contains no provisions addressing privacy and anonymity protection. To possess an Aadhaar card a person must surrender his biometric data, like finger and hand prints, and scans of the iris. By using this data, any person can be brought under surveillance. There is the possibility that non-government and foreign agencies may attempt to steal and use this data for their monetary profit and unethical purposes. In India, no data actually remains secure. Especially in the Aadhaar project, non-government companies have been assigned to the task of collecting the biometric data from the populace, this may turned out to be a fatal mistake. These indigenous firms probably will not hesitate to sell even the most personal data of the citizens for profit. In a nation, where government websites are regularly hacked and defence secrets are falling into enemies’ hands, one can probably guess how securely personal data can be stored. From a particular perspective, we can even say that by making Aadhaar legally mandatory, government is robbing us of personal privacy. To save us from this robbery, a need for a public movement has arisen. Because not only the voice of the Supreme Court is being stifled, the voice of the parliament is also being stifled.
This is a rough translation of an Odia language editorial. The editorial originally appeared in the Odia daily “Dharitri” on 14 March 2016.