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Has Nilekani followed Pakistan’s NADRA in creating, enforcing Aadhaar? #UID

Has Nilekani followed Pakistan’s NADRA in creating, enforcing Aadhaar? –Part XXXIV


Nandan Nilekani

Nandan Nilekani (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


GOPAL KRISHNA | 22/04/2014 02:41 PM


Is it just a coincidence that Tariq Malik of NADRA and Nandan Nilekani received awards at Milan ID World Congress for their similar work? Is Nilekani simply following the footprints of Malik in creating, enforcing biometric-based ID?

Electronics has become a fundamental political problem.
Dr Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1962

tujhe zibah karne kee khushi, mujhe marne ka shauk,
(You are happy to kill, I am fond of dying)
meri bhee marzi wahi hai, jo mere saiyaad ki hai
(My desire is the same as that of my hunter)
 -Jail Note Book of Shahid-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, 1929

jin ko tha zaban pe naaz (Those proud of their eloquence)
chup hain wo zaban daraaz (Their tongues are completely silent)
chain hai samaaj me (There is tranquility in society)
bemisaal fark hai (This is an unexampled difference)
kal me aur aaj me (Between yesterday and today)
apne kharch par hain qaid (imprisoned at their own expense)
log kaid tere raaj me (people under your rule)

 –Habib Jalib, a revolutionary poet from Pakistan

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has exposed the reluctance of Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to share its correspondence including the letter of resignation of Nandan Nilekani from the post of chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) under the Planning Commission. Nilekani is reported to have submitted his resignation to the Prime Minister on 13 March 2014. After the Right to Information (RTI) application in this regard was transferred by the PMO, the Commission in a letter dated 15 April 2014 responded saying that the RTI application “has been inadvertently transferred” to it and marked a copy of its reply to the Planning Commission.

It is apparent that PMO does not wish the resignation letter and the correspondence to be available in the public domain prior to the elections. It deliberately transferred the RTI application to the Election Commission as part of its delaying tactics and perhaps to save the Indian National Congress-led government from possible embarrassment.

For instance, how is engagement with Pakistani Ministry of Interior’s National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) and Election Commission of Pakistan with French corporate conglomerate, Safran Group in India’s national interest? Notably, UIDAI’s awarding of contract to Safran Group links it to Home Ministry’s Registrar General of Citizen Registration, Census and the Election Commission.

The core issue here is the sensitivity of the exchange of letters between key authorities in the sensitive matter of electronic and biometric identification of Indians through Aadhaar, National Population Register (NPR), electoral database and Census database.

In effect, all these databases will be governed by Information Technology (IT) Act.
Notably, in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, the Parliament passed eight Bills in 17 minutes without any debate on 23 December 2008. These Bills included the IT (Amendment) Act, 2008. Its absurdity came to light when the misuse of section 66 (A) and section 79 got widely reported. Subsequent amendments and rules have made the IT Act worse, which the new government will have to look into.

If one looks for parallels in regard to emergence of biometric voter ID cards on India’s horizon, one finds that the Indian government is following the path paved by Government of Ghana, which conducted an election using biometric voter verification and registration systems in 2012. The Electoral Commission of Ghana had made a functional biometric verification machine a pre-condition for voting at all the polling stations. With this Ghana joined those countries, which use a biometric voters’ register for its election. These countries include Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Soloman Islands, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Biometric profiling is likely to be introduced in Bhutan too in the next parliamentary elections. It has been reported that biometric finger print scanners were used during the National Council Election in Bhutan’s two polling stations at Dewachen and Samtse High School in 2013.

Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commission (NEC) conducted the polls in November 2012 using biometric voter registration with the support of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Not surprisingly, Bangladesh Election Commission upgraded its biometric identification and voter registration system and consolidated over hundreds of different databases into a single database running on Oracle Exadata Database Machine X2-2. Was there a domestic demand for centralisation of the database?

Notably, NADRA developed and delivered Nigerian national identity card system for issuance of Smart ID cards to citizens.

In Nepal, the Election Commission introduced voter registration programme based biometric profiling and conducted its elections in November 2013. UNDP had provided strategic technical and operational assistance to the Election Commission in planning and conducting the election through its Electoral Support Project (ESP).  The European Union, UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Denmark and Norway provided financial support to this project.

Coincidentally, the Election Commission of Pakistan is introducing a biometric system for the elections. NADRA has implemented the Multi-Biometric National Identity Card & Multi-Biometric e-Passport solutions for Pakistan, Passport Issuing System for Kenya, Bangladesh High Security Driver’s License, and Civil Registration Management System for Sudan.

Notably, NADRA has won Sri Lanka ID Card project involving data collection of all eligible citizens’ biometric, biographic and digitization and creating a National Persons Registry. It has developed Biometric Refugee Registration System for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and World Bank’s Poverty Score Card/System.

Besides this “NADRA has taken proactive initiative by developing electronic voting machine (EVM) solution proposed to be placed on all polling stations across the country.”
Do Indian voters need learn to subject themselves to biometric identification by transnational intelligence companies like Pakistan’s 86 million registered voters?

It may recalled that 23 April 2010, the World Bank had launched its eTransform Initiative by signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with France and South Korea besides transnational companies like L-1 Identity Solutions, IBM, Gemalto, Pfizer and others. It was launched in the presence of Ministers of Finance and Communications from many developing countries. The World Bank is currently funding 14 projects related to e-government and e-ID around the world. These project are unfolding under the influence of international finance and not because there was a domestic need for it.  

Let us ponder over few questions:-

Is it a coincident that the task of Tariq Malik of NADRA, Pakistan and those of Nandan Nilekani, C Chandramouli and VS Sampath appear similar?

Is it also a coincidence that Tariq Malik of NADRA and Nilekani were awarded in Milan, Italy based ID World Congress for their similar work? Nilekani is simply following the footprints of Malik.

Isn’t there a design behind persuading and compelling developing countries to biometrically profile their citizens?  

Is it too early to infer that international bankers, UN agencies and western military alliances wish to create profiles in their biometric and electronic database for coercive use of social control measures?  

Is it not true that uninformed citizens, parliamentarians and gullible government agencies are too eager to be profiled and tracked through an online database?

Would freedom fighters and framer of constitution of India have approved of mass surveillance by any national or transnational agency?

In the US, the budget for intelligence gathering in 2013 was $52.6 billion. Out of which $10.8 billion went to the National Security Agency (NSA). It is about $167 per person. Do Indians know the budget allocation for their intelligence? Why have they been kept in dark about it?

Aren’t allocations for UIDAI, NPR and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) part of it?

Is it not clear that UN agencies, World Bank Group, transnational intelligence companies and military alliances are working in tandem to create the bio-electronic database of Indians as per their pre-determined design? Is this design structured to safeguard the interest of present and future generation of Indians?      

The next government in India has the task of examining these questions and making the budget allocation for intelligence agencies public and open to legislative scrutiny. If they don’t do it, how else would the new regime be deemed different from the old one and it must explain how national security of US, France and their allies is different from that India.

Even after 52 years while India continues to maintain secrecy about its acts of omission and commission in 1962 war with China. But by now it is clear that after the defeat it felt the need of a strong indigenous electronics base for security. The Department of Electronics was set on 26 June 1970 directly under the Prime Minister in the era in which New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) was still being sought to contest one way flow of information by western media that distorted realities facing the world. It is germane to recollect the historical context in which world’s biggest electronic and biometric database of Indians is being created. Having failed in getting NWICO so far, unless the advocates of NWICO politically challenge the creation of one imperial online database in a robust manner, 21st century will unleash a new great game for takeover of national assets.

Meanwhile, it appears to be too much to expect that the lame duck PMO will share its  correspondence with Nilekani who was mandated to create world biggest biometric database “as per approved strategy” along with Ministry of Home Affair (MHA)’s NPR before May 2016. PMO’s notoriety in misplacing sensitive files has given birth to understandable apprehensions in this regard. Hopefully, the new government will ensure that the PMO provides these relevant files.

The authoritarianism of electronic and biometric web is emerging as intrusive extensions of transnational powers due to complicity without any political scrutiny in the country.


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#Aadhaar: If you have tears, why shed them for the #UID ?

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200 px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)









USHA RAMANATHAN | 07/04/2014 1




When asked how Nilekani-led UIDAI could let foreign companies get their hands on the data, we are told that they had no means of knowing that they are foreign companies! Why, then, are there those who mourn the disintegrating and, hopefully, the demise of this project?

Here is a question for those who retain their faith in the unique identification (UID) project: what is it about the project that has them believe that it should, somehow, be salvaged?
In December 2011, the parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance (SCoF) returned the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010, and recommended that the UID project be sent back to the drawing board. On 23 September 2013 the Supreme Court directed that no one may be denied any service only because they do not have a UID number; and, when the order was deliberately disregarded, the Court ordered the government to withdraw the instructions that made the UID mandatory. That was on 24 March 2014. On 21 February 2014, the Petroleum Ministry delinked the UID from LPG subsidy. That is, all three organs of state – the Parliament, the judiciary and the executive – have been remarkably unenthusiastic about this project.
The project was marketed as an innocuous game changer. It would provide an identity to every person, especially the poor; and that would lead to plugging leakages and curbing corruption. The touching innocence of this claim has not managed to keep off questions about the consequences of databasing an entire citizenry, the implications of not having a law that covers the project, privacy and personal security, surveillance, data security, flawed processes, unrestrained outsourcing, the unseemly ambitions it provokes in police agencies to get the data into their hands ….. the list keeps growing.
By now it is plain that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has had little patience with either process or law. Here are some illustrations:
The UIDAI was not established to create a database of its own. It was “to limit its activities to creation of the initial database from the Electoral Roll/ EPIC data and verification and validation of the same through BPL and PDS data and updation of electoral rolls.” This was the decision of the EGoM, which met on 4 November 2008 to decide what would be in the notification dated 28 January 2009 that set up the UIDAI. There are multiple databases within the government that carry identity information, and the UIDAI was to work at building a cleaned up identity database from existing databases. The EGoM was categorical: that the “UIDAI may not directly undertake creation of any additional database….”
Yet, once Nandan Nilekani had been appointed Chairperson of the UIDAI in July 2009, a Cabinet Committee on the UID was formed with the Prime Minister as the Chairperson, which gave him the go ahead to create his own data base, independent of other governmental data bases. First, it was allowed 100 million enrolments; then 200 million. Then in an inexplicable, and still unexplained, twist after the Home Minister had found their process faulty and unreliable, it was extended to 600 million. In the first four years, any time that either Mr Nilakeni or RS Sharma, the UIDAI’s first Director General, was asked where they got the legal authority to take the personal data of people, they would point to the 2011 notification as the source of legality for this exercise. This was, of course, not true at all. They were in fact breaching the boundaries the notification had set for them. It is also interesting that Mr Nilekani had started proclaiming, very early in the exercise, even before he had been given the mandate, that the UIDAI would enroll 600 million people by 2014.
Mr Nilekani was a man in a hurry. What resulted was rampant outsourcing, untested processes (including the introducer system), brushing aside concerns about the possibilities and improbabilities of biometrics across a population and across time, and doing away with the imperative of legality. He says he has got his 600 million people. May be. And, again, maybe not. But should such callous discarding of the process and law not matter because it was Nandan Nilekani? Should corporate icons not be restricted by law or process? These are not just rhetorical questions, but arise from the extraordinary treatment given to a collateral entrant into government.
Nandan Nilakeni used three terms to describe the UID project – unique, universal, ubiquitous. Uniqueness was dependent on biometrics. The decision to use fingerprints and iris was made before the UIDAI had any means of knowing whether biometrics could work in India. This is what they said in the “notice inviting applications for hiring of biometrics consultant” in January/ February 2010 after they had decided on fingerprints and iris: “While the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) documents the fact that the accuracy of biometric matching is extremely dependent on demographics and environmental conditions, there is a lack of a sound study that documents the accuracy achievable on Indian demographics (i.e., larger percentage of rural population) and in Indian environmental conditions (i.e., extremely hot and humid climates and facilities without air-conditioning).” In fact, it went on, “we could not find any credible study assessing the achievable accuracy in any of the developing countries.”
Two years later, Mr Nilekani was to say, in his talk at the World Bank in April 2013: “nobody has done this before, so we are going to find out soon whether it will work or not”.
But Brutus is an honourable man. 
If the UID number will be on a range of databases, and it can act as a bridge between different silos of information, what does it do about intrusive curiosity? This is how Nandan Nilakeni thinks the UID number should be deployed. In a conversation with Vinod Khosla, and as reported on the NASSCOM website, he said: “There can be an entireAadhaar- based reputation system in the country”, adding that “besides a credit history, the UID number could also help build health or skills records of Indians”. And this is just the beginning.
The UIDAI says enrolment is `voluntary’ while working to make it mandatory – that will swell its data base, fast. It has gone to the Court in the cases that challenge the project and iterated and reiterated the claim that it is voluntary; but, when the Court said, okay, then we will just say that it is voluntary, the UIDAI pleaded with the Court that agencies be allowed to `insist’ on the UID.
The UIDAI sounds like it will be providing a service, but it is openly pursuing a revenue model which will profit from our data. There is talk of security of data; but the data is handed over to be managed by companies that are close to the CIA, Homeland Security and the French government. And, when asked how they could let foreign companies of such provenance get their hands on the data, we are told that they had no means of knowing that they are foreign companies!
Why, then, are there those who mourn the disintegrating and, hopefully, the demise of this project?


Read mor ehere —


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Aadhaar Project a Sham, Open callenge to Nandan Nilekani #UID

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200 px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


By Express News Service – BANGALORE

Published: 07th April 2014 08:34 AM



As the battle for the Lok Sabha elections intensifies, the fight against the UPA government’s pet Aadhaar project found support on Sunday as a group of academicians and technocrats spoke against the unique identification project in the city.

The head of the project —  Nandan Nilekani — is a technocrat himself and also the Congress candidate from Bangalore South constituency.

In a discussion on the project, organised by the Citizens for Democracy forum, all panelists spoke against the project and termed it a “sham” and a “project to fool people”.

The discussion was focused on the protection of data collected from citizens and its effectiveness and necessity in providing them services.

Professor Gopinath, from the Computer Science and Automation Department of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), said most companies which handle large data have not been able to devise complete solutions for handling that data.

“The question is, do you store all the data in one centre or do you store copies across different locations. The problem of consistency also arises when there are several copies being stored. For a project of such a big scale, false negatives and positives will arise.” 

He criticised the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) of not having a “clear working model in place”.

“They do not have a plan to deal with such issues. If they do, I haven’t seen it. Aadhaar is not something as simple as searching for something on Google. There is a real time guarantee needed,” he said.

Noted filmmaker T S Nagabharana said with most Indians holding ration cards or driving licences, an Aadhaar card was not required. “It is a project by the Planning Commission and the Congress,” he said,  commenting on the fact that UIDAI was set up without being passed in Parliament.

Kiran Bettadpur, CEO of  Cylive Soft corporation, said the Aadhaar project was the result of an executive order and not an act.

“The bill proposed by the government states the objective as ‘a bill to confer rights on the residents of India’. What residents are they talking about? Legal residents or illegal migrants?” he said.

He said that there were no legal provisions for action against card holders who introduce illegal migrants to make them eligible for getting a card. “It is a sham to make illegal residents legal,” he said.

Other speakers at the event were Shamasundar of research corporation ProSIM R&D Centre.

An Open Challenge to Nilekani

During the discussion, one of the speakers threw an open challenge to Nandan Nilekani to hold a public debate on the Aadhaar project. The speaker, V K Somashekar, and retired colonel Mathews




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Magician Nandan Nilekani and the Magic Number #UID #Aadhaar

Nandan Nilekani! (Cartoon –  courtesy Outlook).

Kamayani Bali Mahabal aka Kractivist

Do you remember the fable ‘ The Emperor’s clothes ‘ ? There is an Emperor who likes wearing new clothes so much that he changes his clothes every hour. Some rogues try to cheat the Emperor by saying that they can weave a special material the property of which is invisible to an idiot or an incompetent person. The clothes do not really exist, yet the emperor does not admit he cannot see them, because he does not want to seem stupid. Everyone else pretends to see the clothes too, until a child shouts, “The Emperor has no clothes on!”

The same story applies to the Unique Identity (UID). Proposed by Nandan Nilekani, it was the Magic Number our Prime Minister was looking for. In our modern fable , the PM made Nandan Nilekani (tailor) a Cabinet Minister, and gave him a lot of taxpayer’s money (gold), to weave UID (the magic number), that can be only be seen by Govt Authorities (wise people) in India. The purported benefits of UID do not exist, yet every one pretends to see them, as in the fable. This magic number, UID got rebranded as ‘Aadhaar’, meaning foundation, to drive home the importance of the idea of benefits that will flow to the common man in India.
The much talked about and hyped UID still remains a mystery to many who do not know the exact purpose. See the video below

The main aim of UID is to collect relevant personal details together with unique biometric information from people and use this information as the basis for issuing unique identification numbers to them. The unique numbers are to be used as the basis of authentication of the identity of Indian residents seeking to avail certain services, either from the State or private parties.
Despite all assurances about protection of sensitive information on mass scale, it must be acknowledged that any database that stocks up such personal information brings with it the risk of misuse by various agencies be it public or private, impinging on an individual’s privacy. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) does not rule out the possibility of hacking of its data centre and suggested that security should be put in place. Hacking of data is not a theoritical fear , but a practical reality .
Collection of data by outsourcing enrolment for UID has huge implications on privacy . Convergence and collation of personal information in a digital form and unrestricted access to such information by the National Intelligence Grid, without any legislated and constitutional safe guards is a grave breach of the right to privacy as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution. The non-mandatory nature of implementation of UID , through excessive delegation of powers to sub-registrars under the scheme has both gone beyond the voluntary nature of the scheme, and created greater potential for leakage and misuse of sensitive personal information; without any legislative safeguards.
Even UIDAI chief Nandan Nilekani has conceded, on record, that the country needed well-defined privacy laws to prevent any malicious use of data. Regarding the possibility of data being misused, he said that the only service provided by the UIDAI was that of authentication.So, given the lack of privacy laws in India, “convergence” of the UID database with other systems could spell a lot of trouble. As there is no Right to Privacy, this will clearly be an intrusion into the rights of citizens guaranteed under the Constitution.
So coming back to our Fable, Mr Nandan Nilekani has so far spent Rs 13,000 crore of Tax Payers money , on this “Magic UID Number” . It is time we stood up like the child in the Fable and tell the Emperor, Our PM, the truth – that UID is neither unique nor beneficial to the citizens of India and that the Government needs to Scrap the UID project, without further delay.
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#India – Are we being made Guinea pigs ? #UID #Aadhaar

-Kamayani Bali Mahabal
Adhaar infographic (1)

 UID   is a 12 digit number in addition to PAN Card, Passport,Ration Card,Driving License,BPL Cards, NREGA Card and similar cards issued by both State and Central Government .However,unlike these need  based identities issued to citizens of India, the UID number is issued to every resident in India. The identity of resident will be stored in a central database with individuals’ biometric and demographic data linked to a randomly generated unique number.The identity would be  authenticated by querying the database.  So, a person  possessing the UID cannot authenticate his or her identity, but only those in charge of the database have the means and authority  to authenticate person’s identity. The biometric and demographic information of 1.3+ billion residents of India mean  6,000,000 gigabytes. It will be the world’s largest database. The technological challenges are enormous and involve system performance, reliability, speed and resolution of accuracy and errors.

The the linkage of  UID  with various governmental benefits and services such as food security under the newly enacted Food Security Act, LPG subsidy, the Employees’ Provident Fund, and other DBT benefits,  falsifies the government’s claim of it being voluntary. The Supreme Court  has rapped the government on it, and ordered  not to demand the UID in order to provide a service,delinking it to all public services.
UID claims to revolutionize the  public service delivery and  will control corruption, be inclusive and portable . But that has been achieved  in several states in major welfare schemes , by creatively using simpler technology compared  to UID.
Regarding Corruption  in the PDS , Tamil Nadu has been running a clean system without UID. Intelligent applications of simpler technology  of  computerisation, SMS alerts , along with other reforms, have contributed to the turnaround of the PDS in Chhattisgarh and Odisha. In these states estimated leakages of PDS grain have come down from around 50% in both states, to 10% and 20% respectively (between 2004-2005 and 2010-2011).The National Food Security Act (NFSA) increases the coverage under the PDS (from about half of the population to two-thirds). Independent of the NFSA, there has been a trend towards greater  ‘inclusivity as state governments, one after another, have rejected the central caps on coverage. Starting with Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, which run universal or quasi-universal PDS, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan and even Jharkhand have expanded their PDS by committing state funds.In fact, MNREGA has contributed much to financial inclusion even before UID existed
In the case of LPG,  a system is in place already, Oil Companies have devised scientific methods and stern measures including IVRS booking system that is  fool proof, further the LPG Cylinders are delivered to the doorstep of the Customer and hence clearly identifiable. UID in no way  helps improve or make the scheme any better.
Col Mathew who has filed PIL against UID, shares with us his view on the issue below.

LPG cash subsidy could be transferred to non-eligible people, if eligibility criteria are stipulated, or people with fake IDs.PAN details and proof of residence have been frequently misused to procure SIM cards, Iris images & biometric data are identification forms. They can be used to create fake identities. UIDAI has not only multiplied this danger, but unknowingly introduced massive vulnerabilities in the processes of creating and establishing identity . J.T. D’Souza, managing director of SPARC Systems Limited  in a demo  below exposes that a finger print could be faked in less than a dollar

National IDs have been abandoned in the US, Australia and the United Kingdom  government, due to costs and privacy.  If It was too  expensive for the US with a population of 308 million, and the UK with 61 million people, and Australia with 21 million people,  so how come not for India, with a population fo  181 billion plus  ?
How Can India  allow its citizens to be used  as  guinea pigs by biometric technology companies ?.



READ ABOUT – Magician Nandan Nilekani and his Magic Number

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Aadhar bank of India #UID

So far banks have not been able to leverage UIDAI. Indeed, if anything, they have found ways of scuttling it
Aadhar bank of India

By now, almost all RRBs have been technologically upgraded and have migrated to a core banking solution platform. Photo: Mint
The Nachiket Mor Committee on Comprehensive Financial Services for Small Business and Low Income Households lays down a new approach to banking. The report could well be the starting point for a new financial architecture in line with India’s emerging, new economy.
This is the first time that an attempt has been made to redesign the banking sector and align it with changes in the country’s macroeconomic structure, its policy environment and, in particular, technology.
Twenty five years ago, the economic policy regime was changed rather dramatically. Since then, the structure of the economy has undergone a significant change. Yet the institutional framework of banking has remained unchanged.
While banking regulations changed significantly as the policy regime moved from a controlled to a regulated environment, a robust and comprehensive institutional reform did not take place in the banking sector.
The design of banking sector reforms, independent of the financial sector reform, has to be such that it meets the requirements of growth that have emerged from failures as well as the exclusionary tendencies of market-led growth.
At the same time, technology has been a game changer, even in banking. Yet it has not been leveraged to redress issues of market failure and financial inclusion.
The significant conceptual advance the report has made is one of organically and explicitly linking financial inclusion of households with that of small enterprises.
Four years ago this column suggested: “If personal financial inclusion has to graduate from being a personal finance product to a self-sustaining process, it will have to be accompanied by financial inclusion for small- and medium-enterprises.”
The Mor committee by listing out 10 banking designs has conceptualized the basic building blocks required to create a new financial architecture.
In doing so it has moved the focus away from products to processes and from initiatives to institutions. What the panel has succeeded in doing is to combine banking innovation with institutional innovation in the sector.
It will be expected that in giving new bank licences, the Bimal Jalan led screening panel take cognizance of the recommendations of this report. This is because the prime driver for new bank licences is supposed to be financial inclusion.
It should be obvious to anyone with a nodding acquaintance of banking that no matter how many new permits are given, and who gets them, it is not going to have any serious impact on the process of financial inclusion.
Indeed, the licences given in the first flush of liberalization haven’t changed the level of financial intermediation in the economy.
In this context, the most significant aspect of the Mor report is that it has unambiguously put the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) at the centre of the process of financial inclusion as it should have been right from the start.
So far banks have not been able to leverage the UIDAI. Indeed, if anything, they have found ways of scuttling it.
It would have been far more useful and relevant for all marginalized sections of society, of which women are the most marginalized, if the government of India had set up an Aadhaar Bank instead of a Mahila Bank which it did in 2013.
To make amends, it will be worthwhile for the screening panel to recommend a banking licence to one of the applicants for setting up an Aadhaar Bank with a much lower capital requirement of Rs.50 crore as suggested by the Mor committee. Perhaps, the ideal applicant for this is India Post with its incredible reach and network. This will give the electronic bank a brick and mortar presence required in the transitional phase.
Alternatively, as suggested in the original discussion paper, one option is to let an applicant take over Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) as an intermediate step.
The 84 RRBs with more than 20,000 branches across 600 districts in almost all states can become the real change agents and provide the base for the Aadhaar bank.
In one shot, this bank will have one third of the branch strength of all the scheduled commercial banks.
In the RRBs, the process of consolidation through amalgamation as well as recapitalization of Rs.1,800 crore is now almost complete. By now, almost all RRBs have been technologically upgraded and have migrated to a core banking solution platform. Additionally, they are operating in a fairly deregulated environment and hence in an ideal position for structural change.
Given this state of affairs—a vast network, greater operational flexibility, an improved balance sheet, a uniform technological platform, the “acquitted and redesigned RRBs” might just be the right institutions for well-grounded financial inclusion of household and small and medium enterprises.
Haseeb A. Drabu is an economist, and writes on monetary and macroeconomic matters from the perspective of policy and practice
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Complaint to Nandan Nilekani – Harassment of workers in UIDAI, RO, Lucknow

The following email I got in my inbox

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Dear Sir

This is about how harassment of private-sector workforce is rampant in
UIDAI/Aadhaar-the “game-changer” initiative of the Congress-led UPA
Government at the center . Even Mr Nandan Nilekani seems least
bothered about this, as probably he is focusing more on his political
aspirations ahead of the Lok Sabha polls 2014, where he is reportedly
contesting the elections on a Congress ticket.

And Sir, this is no ordinary story of workplace harassment. This is
UIDAI/Aadhaar, the showcase financial inclusion initiative and one of
the poll planks of the Congress.  This is exposes the underbelly of
Aadhaar and why it pains more than it cures the society. It is
probably because of this pathetic work culture that such a fantastic
initiative is facing an identity crisis and is yet to get public
acceptance. This is about how badly this organization needs a LEADER
and how badly it needs to get rid of the sarkari BOSSES.

There is much more to this story.

And I say all of this out my experience in this organization as an
officer who is also a former journalist. I have been harassed and
cornered, so much so that I preferred being jobless to working in this
organization. Despite being in a vulnerable position as a
professional, I brought all of this to the notice of my superiors, but
to no avail. In fact the assaults on me grew all the more sharper.

I finally got out of this organization after completing my three-year
term with it on December 23, 2013.

I then wrote to Mr Nandan Nilekani, explaining him all of this. In the
light of grassroots realities, I also requested him to take necessary
measures to make this organization a better place to work at, in
larger public interest. But to no avail.

With the Chairman of this organization not bothered about the
appalling realities, I now request you please go through my email
(trailing) to Mr Nilekani to understand the state of affairs and let
the people know what ails “Aadhaar-Aam Aadmi ka Adhikaar (Aadhaar-the
Right of a common man)”

I now end my submission in anticipation of story in larger public interest.

Warmest Regards



———- Forwarded message ———-
From: It’s Nishant <[email protected]>
Date: Thu, Jan 2, 2014 at 9:55 AM
Subject: Re: Harassment of workers in UIDAI, RO, Lucknow
To: [email protected], Nandan Nilekani <[email protected]>

Dear Sir
Perhaps, owing to your busy schedule, you may have missed out on
reading my origiñal email, hence sending it again and anticipating a
Warm Regards
From: “It’s Nishant” <[email protected]>
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2013 17:01:08 +0530
To: <[email protected]>; <[email protected]>

Dear Sir

Until recently I was a part of your team but I never got to interact
with you. Probably it was the undemocratic setup and my vulnerability
as a private-sector employee that prevented me from getting myself
heard before you.

When I got the interview call for UIDAI, I did not know what Aadhaar
was and it was only when I was told about your association with it, I
immediately agreed to it. I joined as an enthusiastic professional,
brimming with optimism and intent to be part of the nation building
process. With the job profile of Manager IEC Campaign Implementation,
and a PG degree in Science Communication and another in HR Management
under my belt, I obviously assumed that this assignment would give a
major push to my career.

As part of the Project Management Unit (PMU) I was made to believe
that I would be managing the project implementation with the help of
administrative machinery. I assumed that as the organization is being
led by a professional like you, my presence too would be acknowledged
and my role, no matter how small, would be appreciated.

But all of these thoughts came crashing down soon after joining this
“job”. Yes, it turned out to be a job and not a good phase of my
career.  Within a couple of months I had two major realizations:

I was jobless
I was from the private sector

Even after spending three years in this organization, I practically
had no work to do as my boss just did not seem interested in getting
any IEC activity done in the two States that come under the Lucknow
office. You can very well get this confirmed from your office. The
amount of IEC activities done in this region, as compared to other
regions, is almost zilch. Several reasons were cited and
administrative justifications were given to prove that India’s most
populous State can do without IEC. But till today, I stand firm with
my professional observation that the demand-supply gap for
Aadhaar-related awareness is only growing in this region.

I also realized that the biggest fault of mine was the fact that I was
from the private sector. This “private-waalah” tag virtually made a
pariah in this office. It started with me being served tea in a
disposable cup while the purely government employees being served the
same tea in proper and decent ceramic cups. Being a rational and
secular individual, I immediately expressed my displeasure over this
discriminatory mindset and thankfully it was rectified immediately in
order to avoid any further embarrassment. And from then, almost each
and every day it was a struggle to ensure that I was treated equally.
I did not want any special perks and privileges; I simply wanted to be
treated equally.

And as if all of this at the workplace was not enough, I also had to
deal with NISG, my employer, which hires professionals for various
Government departments. I joined on Dec 24, 2010 and left this
organization on Dec 23, 2013, and never in these three years, I got to
meet my employers. All their promises of a good workplace had already
fallen flat. It took them months to clear bills. It took them weeks to
respond to emails and phone calls, if they ever chose to. Later the
biggest revelation happened. The PMU members were expected to work on
the same salary forever. Yes. Later I was told by NISG people that
they pushed hard and finally made UIDAI give us a hike after putting
in two years of service. I too got a hike after putting in two years
of service, but the hike was not even ten percent. I was financially
set back. When the government-sector people were getting regular DA
and other hikes as a matter of routine, I was expected to work on the
same salary for two years. I fail to understand the logic behind a
salary hike after two years of service. Either there should be no hike
at all during the stint or there should be a hike on an annual basis.

Sir, there is much to write to highlight the deplorable work
conditions in the organization, but I would not waste your valuable
time with that.

I would rather fast forward it all to 2013, my last year in this
organization, which has been nothing short of hell.

I was mentally harassed by my boss, the ADG and when I shared my
plight with the DDG, he too gave a cold shoulder.

Sir, I was virtually cornered. No work was assigned to me, files were
removed from my possession, I was humiliated and was deprived of basic
and necessary perks of working as an officer in this office. I asked
for a proper chair, it was denied. I was told “proper office furniture
has been purchased only for the Government employees” and that I need
to settle with whatever I have been provided with. Rooms of all the
government employees were marked with proper signage, but the room
used by me, had no identity, despite that fact that probably my room
had the maximum visitors, owing to my job profile. Again, the logic
was same.

Ever since I joined the UIDAI, I was advised by Mr AK Pandey, the then
ADG (Media) and OSD to the then DG, to maintain good relations with
the media fraternity to ensure proper messages emanate from this
office. I was advised by him that I must meet media people on a
regular basis and I followed the instructions. Thankfully my efforts
resulted in good media relations and proper coverage of UIDAI, as and
when required. I am sure Mr AK Pandey would vouch for this. It was
probably for this reason that he used to assign me with HQ related
tasks as well. He reposed faith in me and this was one of the reasons
why my boss, Mr CS Mishra, ADG, started feeling offended. He started
looking for reasons to “cut me to size”. His ego was being hurt
because I was getting tasks from the HQ.

As soon as he realized that Mr RS Sharma the then DG and his OSD, Mr
AK Pandey would be exiting the organization, Mr CS Mishra had a plan
on his mind. He wanted to cut me to size and he also knew that he
could not point a finger at my professional efficiency so he began
with the usual administrative traps. It started with the issue of

Owing to my outdoor profile where I was encouraged to meet press
people, most of the times, I had to meet them as per their
convenience, but I was expected to be in office by 9:30 am and not
leave office before 6:00 pm. I was also directed that in case I need
to meet media people, I better call them to office within office
timings. He forgot that media people are not my subjects whom I can
call at my convenience. This is not how media relations work.

Interestingly, among officers, it was only me who was expected to be
in office at 9:30 am and leave at 6:00 pm. None of the other officials
were accountable to be in office as per this timing, despite most of
them having job profiles that did not expect them to be outdoors.

Nevertheless, he began with marking me LATE on the attendance
register, which incidentally was in place only for the PRIVATE SECTOR
people (PMU, peons, sweepers etc) and Group C government staff.

I told him that I get late in reaching office because I am working for
the office. I told him that I need to meet media people and others as
per their convenience and not mine. This is how PR works. He did not
agree to it. I found it pointless to meddle with him as by then I knew
that he was a Boss not a Leader.

Incidentally I had a word with Mr Pandey that day and he asked me how
everything in office was. I told him this development. He probably
called up Mr Mishra to advise him to encourage media interactions.

Mr Mishra then slyly made me submit a letter explaining the situation,
so that, in his words “people in Lucknow office do not object to my
movements”. Trusting him, I did so. But by then he had trapped me. He
got me an OM issued by the DDG. He presented that letter before the
DDG as a request from me to be allowed to attend office at my free
will. The DDG, through that OM, obviously directed me to attend office
as per the office timings and refrain media interactions. I was
surprised and taken aback by this act of deceit and betrayal.

Sadly, there has been no full-time DDG for this office and being the
ADG(HQ) Mr Mishra call the shots here. The current DDG, Mr AP Singh,
also has not been able to visit this office much. Three times I guess
in his current stint as DDG, Lucknow office.

I was obviously disturbed but that was of no use. I then began
attending office from 9:30 am till 6:00 pm. I then talked to Mr Mishra
asking him to assign me some work. He didn’t. I then started
submitting proposals so that he may consider them and give me some
work, but again he didn’t.

Sadly, other ADGs too knew my plight but chose to restrict to mere
sympathy with me. None of them bothered to make office life better for
me. They are not to be blamed I guess. It is the bureaucratic mindset
that prevented them from taking a stand for someone. All they could
give to me was sympathy.

Meanwhile, Mr Mishra chucked out five Data Quality operators from
office. These boys approached the media and their story was published.
They were probably sacked arbitrarily. Later one of them, who,
happened to be a Dalit, moved the National Commission for the
Scheduled Castes (NCSC) accusing Mr Mishra, Dr Ashutosh Ojha, ADG and
Mr Abhishek Mishra, Assistant of harassing him because he was a Dalit.
The NCSC took cognizance of the complaint and sought an explanation
from the accused UIDAI officials. Probably the matter is still pending
with the Commission. Now this was a big issue and the news got
published in the Times of India and ever since then Mr Mishra and the
co-accused took offence against me.

They assumed that it was me who got the story published. I was the
obvious target as I am a former journalist and I was already on their
hit list. Life was made hell for me thereafter.

The entire administrative machinery of RO, Lucknow unleashed its power
to suffocate me in office. Mr Mishra and his close confidant Mr
Abhishek Mishra, Assistant, along with Dr Ojha, ADG, used all they
could to harass me mentally. I was marked as late even if I was late
by say 15 minutes. I was made to sign the attendance register
alongside secretarial staff and peons and sweepers. The call bell from
my room was removed, the peons were probably told to not acknowledge
my presence, the direct phone line from my room was already removed,
later the STD facility in the extension line was also removed, and the
printer attached to my computer was also removed. There were so many
things that were done to harass me. Most of it was intangible. People
in office were told to stay away from me and an eye was kept on office
staff who met me.

Later, my performance appraisal was ruined by Mr CS Mishra. Last year
when I got a rating of 5/5 this year, he got it degraded to 3/5
without assigning a reason. He never gave me a warning for depleting
performance, if at all it did. But he arbitrarily chose to ruin my
prospects. The rating is linked to disbursal of bonus and Mr Mishra
had hit my finances. I informed the DDG via an email, but he did not

The worst was when someone tried to get my phone call records
retrieved. I immediately lodged a police complaint with the Gomtinagar
police Station. After a police probe, this October, I was told by S-I
Arvind, the investigating officer, that it was done at the behest of
Mr Abhishek Mishra, Assistant, UIDAI, RO, Lucknow. I immediately
informed DDG, Mr AP Singh, but he gave me a cold shoulder. He was
unfazed by the gross misconduct of Mr Abhishek Mishra who committed a
crime by misusing his official position to get impersonation done and
get my call records retrieved. The police told me that the motive was
to establish a link between me and the Dalit boy. It was also reported
in the Times of India that the Dalit boy feared for his life from
Abhishek Mishra as one of the sacked data quality operators submitted
an affidavit before the NCSC disclosing the nefarious designs of Mr
Abhishek Mishra.

I chose to not initiate a police action against Mr Abhishek Mishra as
I did not want to ruin his career and I also could make out that an
Assistant would not be the only one behind this and this would have
been done at the behest of someone else. For how else he would have
thought of misusing my official documents and using them to fool
Vodafone into sharing my call details. Thankfully technology prevented
that from happening and I got to know about this attempt in time.

Mr Abhishek Mishra even sent a letter to the Times of India accusing
the reporter of colluding with me to get the “false” news published. I
told Mr AP Singh about this also, but he was unfazed.

This case of Dalit atrocity and harassment at workplace is not new in
this office. Earlier, Mr Ashutosh Kumar, former SSA, UIDAI, RO,
Lucknow was also forced to quit the organization after he was harassed
by Mr CS Mishra and Mr Abhishek Mishra. He told me that he mentioned
Mr CS Mishra and Abhishek Mishra’s caste based discrimination in his
resignation letter to the DDG, Mr AP Singh.

And the ill-treatment was not merely restricted to me. Mr CS Mishra,
technically being the “head of office” and in absence of a DDG, even
troubled other senior government officials in this office. The way in
which Mr Alok Chopra, the then ADG and the officer who setup the
Lucknow office, was treated at the time of his exit was extremely sad.
No one bothered to bid him farewell and he had to exit unnoticed. I
visited his room out of courtesy to bid him farewell, hours before his
exit on his last day in UIDAI. It was then when he, while recollecting
his memories of the Lucknow office, said how much he was humiliated in
this office due to the treatment meted out to him by Mr CS Mishra and
Dr Ashotosh Ojha, ADG. He even rued the fact that the attitude of Mr
Mishra not just affected him mentally, it even affected the project.
Mr Chopra said that owing to the office atmosphere, he had lost
interest in the project and despite his desire to work for UIDAI and
despite being promoted he chose to get rid of this office.

Coming back to my case, I was told by NISG that three months prior to
completion of my three-year term with UIDAI, I would be asked if I was
interested in continuing here. But it did not happen. Mr CS Mishra did
not seek my views and arbitrarily decided to not extend my term with
UIDAI and was adamant to see that my services were not extended at
all. I have not been told the reason for not extending my services. I
am surprised that Mr AP Singh, DDG, also did not question Mr Mishra as
to why the services of IEC Manager were not required any more,
especially when the project is at a crucial juncture and the
organization needs to educate people about Aadhaar/DBT/etc in Uttar
Pradesh. Elections are round the corner and a proper and professional
communication campaign is a must to make Aadhaar a success. People are
confused and Mr Mishra chose to move ahead without a professional,
much against the essence of having the PMU in the organization.

I was told about this non-extension of tenure just a fortnight back. I
was given merely 2 weeks or so to look for a new job. Is this
professionalism? Is this not harassment.

And in his signature style, Mr Mishra raised several unjustified
issues at the time of my exit, just a couple of days prior to the term
end, clearly proving his deep desires to harass me once again. He
wanted to inflict maximum pain to me. And I am sure, now when I have
left, he would not make it easy for me to settle my dues with NISG.

Thankfully I was not interested in working in such environment. I do
not have a job in hand while I am writing this email to you but I am
extremely happy that I do not have to visit the UIDAI office.

Sir, workplace harassment is nothing new in this office and with
officials choosing to ignore the plight of PMU, it is extremely sad.
And Sir, I am not the only one who feels discriminated. The PMU
members across UIDAI would acknowledge that they have been
discriminated against for being from the private sector.  But I would
talk about myself and I am not responsible for the plight of others. I
hope you would take a serious view of my email and make this
organization a better place to work at. This organization needs

Having said that, Sir, in case you find any merit in my case, I would
want you to look into the case with the following focal points:

Denial of equal opportunity at work
Not assigning any work to an officer with a clear intent to harass and torture
Not treating an officer like an officer
Misuse of official documents to commit a criminal offence of seeking
phone call records of an official.

Also, Sir, please note that neither am I seeking any undue favour from
you through this letter, nor do I wish to be associated with the
organization in such an environment and under the stewardship of a
person like Mr CS Mishra and his aides like Mr Abhishek Mishra. I
merely want things to be set right, the guilty must be punished,
misuse of power/position and facilities provided by the government be
stopped immediately to achieve the noble objective of this

You may consider this letter as a complaint/feedback or whatever, till
the time it improves the state of affairs of UIDAI. Sir, I feel pained
to see what is ailing UIDAI—Government’s ambitious endeavor to improve
the life of an average Indian resident.

Warmest Regards


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#UID – Nilekani Caught on Wrong Foot on Biometric Data #Aadhaar

Nandan Nilekani

Nandan Nilekani (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Express News Service – NEW DELHI

: 27th December 2013 

Contrary to Unique Identification Authority of India chairman Nandan Nilekani’s claim of the biometric system used for the the creation of Aadhar identity numbers being infallible, an RTI response related to one of its contracts to private parties revealed that the system was not completely accurate and that the uniqueness of the biometrics of a person is still an assumption.

The Contract agreement between Ernst & Young and the UIDAI raised serious questions over the entire process of the largest biometric identification scheme in the world, ambitiously storing data of over a billion persons.

The global consultancy firm Ernst & Young was given the responsibility of setting up the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) and selecting Managed Service Provider (MSP), by the UIDAI in 2010. The contact agreement was obtained through an RTI filed on December 6, 2013.

“The Primary claim of the whole exercise is that we are able to assign a unique ID to every individual who is enrolled in the system. However, the uniqueness of the biometrics of a person is still a postulate, albeit with very strong statistical evidence,” said the contract chapter on approach and methodology. In January last year, the Home Ministry had raised concerns over the collection of biometrics of residents saying that the biometric technology of the UIDAI could be flawed. However, the UDIAI was quick to rebut the apprehensions claiming that enrolment system had proven to be reliable, accurate and scalable.

There are other startling disclosures in the appendices of the contract, which reveals that there is also a possibility that the biometric data of two different individuals could be identical.

“The loss in information due to limitations of the capture setup or physical conditions of the body, and due the feature representation, there is a non-zero probability that two fingerprints or IRIS prints coming from different individuals can be called a match,” it stated.

Nilekani in a statement made in January 2012 had maintained that the “UIDAI biometric system is processing over 100 trillion biometric person matches with a high degree of accuracy each day, capable of issuing 10 lakh Aadhaars daily. This makes it not only one of the most accurate, but soon to be the largest biometric system in the world”.

Read more here-

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Open letter to all Speakers at #THiNK2013, Goa, actually the #STiNK2013

Dear Speaker 
We understand that you are scheduled to speak at the ‘Think ‘13 Festival’ being organized by Tehelka at the Grand Hyatt, Bambolim, Goa from 8th to 10th November 2013.
We bring to your kind attention the following brief facts regarding the said event:
  1. Most of the sponsors are alleged to be involved in major illegal activities such as illegal mining scams, telecom scam, Radiatapes, Sponsorship of Salwa Judum, environmental destruction and displacement of indigenous communities.
  2. The organizer of the event is collaborating with the illegal acts of these corporations. The refusal to expose illegal mining in Goa, in spite of having a story researched by one of their own journalists much before it became Public knowledge, amounts to covering up the illegal mining and allowing the wanton destruction (done by the same corporations who are sponsoring the event now).
  3. The venue is a construction in violation of CRZ laws.
  4. The event is for the very rich only, as is evident from the entry charges.
It is very clear that holding this event is only an attempt to create a clean image for the same corporations who are alleged to be involved in massive scams, environmental destruction and displacement of indigenous communities.
We therefore request you to kindly boycott the event, or, announce your disapproval of, or, non-association with, the tainted corporations and their anti-people acts.
Thanking you,
Members of the Goan Society, including John Fernandes, Benaulim; Zarina Da Cunha, Nuvem; Abhijit Prabhudesai, Curtorim; Sidharth Karapurkar, Navelim; Rony Dias, Cuncolim; Fr. Victor Ferrao, Rachol; Cassian Furtado, Varca and many others




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#India – Tehelka’s #THiNK2013 – The Unbearable Stench of Blood Money is #STiNK2013 #mustread





STiNK2013 – The Unbearable Stench of Blood Money


When the fourth estate is peddled like real estate, when journalism and dirty business collude, and when Orwellian ‘doublethink’ becomes the way of the scribes; we can unhesitatingly conclude that the so-called fourth pillar of democracy has been reduced to smithereens, much like the other three pillars.


Since its first edition in 2011, the Tehelka ThinkFest has been seen as a severe blow to the codes of journalism. The first ThinkFest featured the benevolence of the most controversial names in the business world that year, Essar and Tata Steel, both corporations stuck neck deep in a quagmire of accusations, from being involved in mining scams, telecom scams, sponsorship of the Salwa Judum, Radiagate, environmental violations, illegal land grab, forced displacement and several other crimes. But it was no surprise as Tarun Tejpal, the top gun at Tehelka, had earlier been seen that year at the Jaipur Literature Festival defending the event’s sponsorship by criminal corporations like Shell and Rio Tinto; he had essentially argued for his own case. That Tehelka was not the going to organise seminars on rural issues in Jamia Milia auditoriums anymore. That they would now openly solicit endorsements from the very corporations they had exposed in their publications.


Shoma Chaudhury, the Managing Editor of Tehelka, in an interview defended Tehelka’s decision to rake in blood money, saying it was to tell stories of the poor. Since 2012, aside from its problematic coverage of Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi’s cases, the publication seems to have cautiously veered from reporting any scams about Essar and other sponsors.  Even prior to the ThinkFest, the publication was totally mum on the 2010 medieval-era styled pillaging of villages in Odisha’s Kalinga Nagar, where Adivasi communities have been fighting Tata Steel with their lives. In the same NYTimes interview, Shoma mentions how Tehelka refused money from Vedanta, but many might be aware of how Tehelka had once carried a Vedanta press release in the guise of an article glorifying Vedanta’s CSR activities in Lanjigarh & Niyamgiri, attributing it to a reporter who personally claimed that he had not written it.


This year, the Think Fest has amongst its sponsors even more infamous corporations like the Narendra Modi-backed Adani group, land grabbers like DLF and late liquor baron Ponty Chaddha’s Wave. The Adani group is widely known for its illegal land grab for its illegal SEZ and port in Mundra, all facilitated by the Gujrat Govt. It is India’s largest coal importer, biggest private port operator and biggest thermal power producer (read one of India’s biggest polluter). The Modi government has allegedly alloted land to Adani at the rate of Re.1/- per sqm, at least a thousand times less than the market rates. In fact, a CAG report highlights that Adani gained more than Rs.70 crore when the Gujarat government-owned GPSC sold natural gas to it at rates much lower than what it had bought from the open market. Another CAG report says that Adani Power owed at least Rs. 240 cr as a fine to the Gujarat Govt but was officially fined a little more than Rs.79 cr.


After destroying more than a thousand hectares of coastal mangroves and being slapped with a Rs. 200 crore fine, Adani needs all the goodwill that events like ThinkFest can garner for it. After all, it is India’s most indebted company with a debt bill of at least Rs. 65,000 cr while its revenues stand at Rs. 47,000 cr.


The rise of Adani is closely linked to the rise of Narendra Modi in the post-riot situation. Modi needed big business to support him and Adani fulfilled that role. In return Adani was given a free run to devastate nature and society and rise from a mere Rs.3,300 cr company to a Rs. 47,000 cr company within a decade. With Modi’s blessings Adani has grown rapidly and made inroads across the nation and world. While its proposed coalfields in Australia are going to be one of the single largest producer of greenhouse gases, in Odisha, the company’s goons have been seen orchestrating attacks on activists like Prafulla Samantara, who are opposing the massive proposed coalfields in Angul. The infamous Tata port at Dhamra, which is devastating Olive Ridley nesting grounds, is slated to be taken over by Adani soon.


While one could get stuck on Adani, there’s a long list of logos that make up ThinkFest’s Patrons that need to be talked about. Essar, for instance, continues to be one of the chief patrons of the event. If this video from the first fest is anything to go by, Neena Tejpal herself admits that Essar and Tehelka essentially share the same values, at a time when the memory of Essar’s role in the telecom scam, in supporting the Salwa Judum, its illegal diversion of water from river Mahanadi and land grab in Jagatsingpur for a steel factory where displaced people are protesting, was fresh in our minds. Essar’s relationship with Modi, of course, reads out like a jaded Bollywood love story– with Shasi Ruia accompanying Namo on foreign tours to Switzerland and South Korea, making promises of undying investment at Vibrant Gujarat summits, falling out in the face of 8000 crore sales tax dues, being caught in a compromising position by the CAG and eventually making up.


Also on the red carpet of sponsors are JSW Steel, pulled up by both the Lokayukta and the CBI in connection with the Karnataka mining scam, causing a windfall Rs. 890 crore loss to the exchequer in resources, just as JSW wired a hefty thank-you in the form Rs 20 crore donation to Yedyurappa’s son’s trust for turning a blind eye to its excesses.


Iconic scammers DLF, whose large-scale land-grabbing stunts have even found mention in Tehelka, are presenting the John Pilger session, if only to add to the irony that the ThinkFest is the perfect example of the industrial-military-media complex that Pilger always endeavored to expose.


A session with Medha Patkar (quite a feat to get her to endorse an event sponsored by Coca Cola), Bianca Jagger and a former Maoist revolutionary is being presented by a defense equipment manufacturer, Pipavav, just as disarmament activist Binalakshmi Nepram is also a speaker at the event. Pipavav has just been awarded a 920 crore contract to build warships for the Indian coast guard.


Other sponsors include chronic polluters and cartelists United Phosphorous, who slapped a 25 crore defamation lawsuit against activist Rohit Prajapati for exposing pollution at their VAPI plant. United Phosphorous also leads the race in Mumbai’s garbage scam to process the city’s waste in its Deonar dump for a whopping cost of Rs. 26,000 crore, and displace those amongst its poorest who make their living from garbage.  To stir up some local angst, Goan mining companies also feature on the list of sponsors.


If that wasn’t enough to fill one up with disgust, the line-up of speakers is no less. Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, BJD MP often seen on TV defending Naveen Patnaik’s corporate resource grabbing, a high-flying mining and cable TV baron, is being heralded as “The Golden Boy…clearly a doer, a technocrat eager to set an example of good governance and efficiency”. This “‘accidental politician’ irritated by the inefficiencies of the country still beset by many of the problems of the ‘licence raj’” is no less than an Adani. His mining company, IMFA, availed of loan waiver from the amounting to over Rs. 2000 crore from the Naveen Patnaik government in 2007.


Then again, Panda hasn’t had a fraction of the good times that Vijay Mallaya has gotten away with. And yet here is, presented by Tehelka as ‘the Maverick Mogul’, his achievements listed as “bringing back to the country the sword of Tipu Sultan, Mahatma Gandhi’s eyeglasses” and “an annual calendar shoot with stunning models” (not necessarily in that order, but well, “it says as much about Mallya as the balance sheets do.”)


THiNK is a celebration where people like Nandan Nikelani, Vijay Mallya and Jay Panda will be promoted endlessly to the point that all their past misdeeds are pushed out of our consciousness into oblivion.


While a few names like Medha Patkar, Bianca Jagger and John Pilger on the guest list might make  Think seem like an honorable seminar to attend, just a little digging exposes it as a vulgar celebration of dirty blood money appropriating a journalistic organisation that was, until now, seen as a torchbearer of truth and progressive values.


It is understandable that there is no outcry from the general public, who might buy the general rhetoric of the sponsored bottomline. But for those in the know, those who’ve seen the truth behind the logos, who’ve resisted it in their own capacities, and who have yet chosen to actively engage with or ignore the goings-on on this rotten stage, it raises uncomfortable questions.


It signals an era where even vociferous dissenters believe that struggles cannot exist unless legitimised by the media, just as the avenues of getting an uncomfortable story covered are rapidly shrinking in the face of media corporatisation. It makes even the socially defiant among us afraid to call out this mainstream masquerade and risk the chance of never being invited to the ball.

As it trivialises and capitalises on the very pillars that it stands on, ThinkFest forces us all to do a double-think on what kind of inconvenient truths and truth-tellers we can live with, as the lines blur.



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