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Don’t tamper with personal freedom via Aadhar and UID

 Dailyexcelsior, Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala
The has proposed to increase the scope of present scheme of providing pension to widows and helpless. The present qualifying age of 40 years age will be reduced to 18 years. Disabled will get pension at more than 40 percent disability against 80 percent at present. In a separate move it is proposed to distribute subsidies on fertilizer and LPG in cash to the beneficiaries. The plans to use the Aadhar platform for distributing these benefits. Biometric information-finger prints and pictures of the iris and the face-of each citizen will be collected and stored in a centralized computer. This will enable verification of the beneficiary when he approaches a ration shop for his monthly quota. These are indeed laudable objectives and the Government should be congratulated for moving from subsidies in kind to cash.
Problem with is invasion of privacy of the individual. Say, one is taking part in anti-corruption movement. Booking of rail tickets is linked to as well as withdrawal of cash from ATMs. It thus becomes possible for the Government to pinpoint and track movements of political opponents. Gopal Krishna of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties tells that such UID proposals have been abandoned in the US, Australia and UK. The reason has predominantly been privacy. In the UK, the Home Secretary explained that they were abandoning the project because it would otherwise be `intrusive bullying’ by the state, and that the government intended to be the `servant’ of the people, and not their `master’.
It appears the Government is trying to smuggle in a surveillance system over all its citizens under the guise of cash transfers. Krishna tells of how such a system was misused by Hitler. Germany had the lists of Jewish names even prior to the arrival of the Nazis. Nazis got these lists with the help of IBM. This company  was in the ‘census’ business that included racial census that entailed not only counting the Jews but also identifying them. At the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, there is an exhibit of an Hollerith D-11 card sorting machine that was responsible for organizing the census of 1933 that first identified the . Such religious-, racial-, caste- or even political profiling could be introduced in the system in due course by the Government of .
Another area of concern is that data management has been outsourced to US companies like Accenture which are deeply interconnected with the US Department of Homeland Security. ’s profile includes developing prevention tactics and streamlining intelligence gathering.      Another US company involved in the India’s UID project is L-1 Identity Solutions. L-1 is a US defence contractor whose name was associated with the CIA and other US defence organizations. Former CIA director George Tenet and former Homeland Security deputy secretary Admiral James Loy were on the board of L-1 till 2010.
China had also embarked upon a UID type scheme but it abandoned it mid-way on concerns expressed by the Communist Party. The Chinese project was being done by a French company Safran. Recently L-1 has bought Safran. In this way, the technology of profiling people developed by Safran in China will now come to India via L-1.
There are two aspects of the Aadhar scheme. The distribution of pensions and cash subsidies through strict biometric monitoring is to be wholly welcomed. But the method adopted for doing this is wholly unacceptable. It seems the Government is surreptitiously smuggling in a powerful vigilance mechanism under the guise of cash distribution of subsidies. It is like a security personnel handing over secrets of the country to foreign powers so that he can build a school in his village. Collection of biometric data and possible handing over of the same to foreign powers cannot be justified on grounds of cash distribution of subsidies.
We should examine other alternatives. The justification of Aadhar arises from the fact that large number of subsidies is to be distributed to beneficiaries. We should think of removing this entire cobweb of subsidies and distributing a consolidated amount to each citizen as his right to life. All complicated systems of food, fertilizer, LPG, kerosene and even health and education subsidies should be scrapped. People should be given money to buy all these services from the market according to their choice.
The opposition should wake up. The 2004 elections were lost by NDA because there was nothing on the ground which would provide relief to the common man. Last general elections were again lost by the NDA because UPA had implemented MNREGA and loan waiver. The UPA hopes to win the coming elections in 2014 on the back of pensions and cash transfers. The opposition should demand universal consolidated cash transfer through an organization like the Employees Provident Fund as a counter to this dangerous move by the UPA.
The main difficulty in implementation of this suggestion is the stranglehold of the welfare bureaucracy. Over the last sixty years large numbers of government servants have been employed in the provision of welfare schemes to the people. These include education, health, subsidized food grains and a host of schemes such as house for the poor under Indira Awas Yojana and widow’s pension. These schemes provide huge benefits to the government servants. One beneficiary of the Indira Awas Yojana told me that he had to pay bribe of Rs 10,000 to get the benefits of Rs 25,000. Large amounts of bribes will now be obtained by the government servants in providing certificates of 40 percent disability.  The apparent objective of these schemes is to provide benefits to the poor. But the more important and real objective is to create a huge army of government servants that stands behind the government and is willing to crush any rebellion by the people against exploitation. All political parties are trying to appease this section of the society because these have a decisive role in the electoral process.
The solution is going to be difficult. One possibility is to stop new recruitments in the welfare departments. The money saved upon retirement of present servants may be diverted to cash payments. Cash payments will grow gradually. Another solution is to deploy these servants in productive works such as traffic control, police, judiciary, forest protection and pollution control.
The giving out of doles via Aadhar is unacceptable because it opens the gates for providing this information to foreign powers; and also because it does not solve the basic problem of a bloated welfare mafia.

 

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