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India – Why we Oppose Aadhaar , UID and Biometrics



Guest Post by –  Viswanath

  1. Threat of exclusion

The biometric verification of Aadhaar is not a one-time affair that happens only at enrolment. A citizen may be required to cross-verify himself against the Aadhaar biometric database any no. of times during his lifetime, for such basic things as collecting PDS rations, or operating a bank account, or withdrawing money from EPF, or getting a mobile connection.

Biometrics collected under the Aadhaar programme are known to change over a person’s lifetime. Also, people engaged in manual labour are likely to have very poor quality finger prints, making the margin of error pretty wide. If Aadhaar is to serve as the sole and mandatory ID for any scheme, the threat of exclusion will forever hang over a person’s head. This is exactly what has happened in Andhra Pradesh [1], where Aadhaar was linked to PDS rations.

In many places over 50% people could not collect their rations, because the Aadhaar match failed them. How can any citizen sleep peacefully, if any morning he might wake up to find that he is denied access to his most basic necessities? Every scheme that implements Aadhaar will also have to accept an alternative means of verification, should the Aadhaar match fail. But if such is the case, the very concept of “unique ID” falls flat. In a way Aadhaar defeats itself.

There is no feasibility study that establishes the suitability of using biometrics as an everyday authentication tool. Aadhaar is born out of a technologist’s simplistic world view, where he finds it convenient to treat each individual as a uniquely addressable robot. It is ironical that a scheme touted as a “technological platform” has been rolled out without any technical feasibility study backing it.

The threat of exclusion also goes against the principles of natural justice, which states that the guilty going unpunished is not as bad as an innocent getting wrongly punished. Even if we were to accept the purported benefits of Aadhaar at face value, the prospect of genuine citizens being denied what is rightfully theirs is reason enough to discredit the scheme.

Also, biometric verification at every transaction will mean that the concerned individual has to present himself in person at every such occasion. From the example quoted in [1], this means that a citizen will be denied simple luxuries, like asking his friends or relatives to collect rations on his behalf, should he be ill or out of town. Far from helping any cause, Aadhaar is likely complicate people’s lives in absolutely unnecessary ways.

  1. Large no. of enrolments

The govt. is arguing in court that since over 90 crore people have already enrolled themselves into Aadhaar, these people should not be denied the “benefits” of the scheme, in deference to the apprehensions of a few. The truth is that most people have enrolled themselves, not with the expectation of any benefit, but due to the executive orders issued by various government bodies, making Aadhaar mandatory for various essential programmes, like LPG distribution, or PDS, or even school admissions. Such coercive attempts have been continuously made over the past several years, a few recent instances being [2][3][4][5][6].

Both the central and the state governments have been repeatedly violating the Supreme Court ruling of 2013 against making Aadhaar cards mandatory. It is wrong for the government to count the 90 crore people, who have been coerced into enrolment, on its side.

  1. Fait accompli argument

The fait accompli argument holds only if something has been done in good faith. Aadhaar has been mired in controversy right from inception. Despite this, and despite the Supreme Court ruling of 2013, the govt. went ahead with enrolments and deployment, clearly with the intent of presenting a fait accompli argument at a later date. Opinions stated in [7] give away the fact that most institutions are only waiting for Aadhaar enrolment to reach a critical mass, before presenting a case to make it mandatory. If the court allows this argument, it will open the door for the govt. of the day to push through any scheme, without allowing for any debate (whether legislative or otherwise). Aadhaar is a scheme that proposes to touch the life of every citizen. It involves expenditure running into thousands of crores. If a scheme of this magnitude is allowed a fait accompli escape route, the entire idea of executive accountability to legislature is rendered dysfunctional.

In the case of Aadhaar, the fait accompli is intentional, manufactured and mala fide. In fact it is borne out of clear contempt of the Supreme Court ruling of 2013. The govt. should be censured and taken to task for acting in such a reckless manner. Giving in to the govt.’s obstinacy will potentially damage the fundamentals of our democracy forever.

Contempt of court

The example cited by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, in his submission to the Supreme Court on 14th October, 2015 [8], gives away contempt of court on the part of institutions that have integrated Aadhaar. He cites the case of a poor widow who has to travel 20 miles every month to her bank to draw her pension. “If she voluntarily enrols for Aadhaar, there is a scheme that a bank employee comes with the money to her house. If she does not opt for Aadhaar, she continues to go to the bank like how she did before”.

The Supreme Court has clearly stated in its 2013 ruling that “No citizen should suffer for the want of Aadhar cards”. In the above example, the bank has clearly put a citizen at disadvantage for not possessing Aadhaar card.

It has made no provision for a citizen not possessing Aadhaar card to avail of the same services, violating both the letter and the spirit of the Supreme Court ruling.

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