Serious concerns were raised regarding the UID/Aadhaar project and other
digital platforms undermining citizen’s rights, in a workshop organised at
the Sambhaavnaa Institute. Their particular concern was that the
UID/Aadhaar is destroying people’s right to obtain justice, equality,
liberty, and dignity.

The workshop, titled ‘Digital Colonisation: Examining how digitization is
undermining our economy, democracy and sovereignty’
was organised during
February 24-26, 2017 to discuss the impact of the national digital ID
system in India (UID / Aadhaar) and the push towards digital banking
through demonetisation. 30 participants comprising of policy researchers,
lawyers, technologists, activists, and journalists from across the country
attended the workshop.

At a time when the UID/Aadhaar database is being touted as the biggest
biometric database in the world, while it has not been verified or audited
after private agencies collected the data, and enrollment agencies have not
been restricted from retaining and reusing the data, the workshop
highlighted critical failures that are emerging due to linking of this
database with various government welfare and service schemes, such as
MGNREGA, EPFO, LPG, and PDS, as well as with bank accounts.

“The coercive use of Aadhaar-based authentication for delivery of public
services is leading to widespread misery and excluding lakhs of people from
getting basic services like rations and pensions” said Nikhil Dey, an
eminent social activist who was part of the Right to Information Campaign.
He added that “there are several Supreme Court interim orders stating that
Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for provision of basic services and this
has been rampantly violated by many state governments”.

Recently, the FIRs filed by UIDAI against several of its longtime financial
technology partners further illustrate the high risk created by using eKYC
service provided by UIDAI for any acts of identification and
authentication, such as opening of bank accounts and making Aadhaar-based
digital payments.

The workshop participants also critiqued the systematic destruction of
autonomy of the apex financial institution of the nation – the Reserve Bank
of India – through dilution of KYC standards, introduction and scaling up
of eKYC provided by UIDAI, use of UID as a financial address, and forced
digitalisation of the banking and payments sector through the
demonetisation move, announced on the 8th of November 2016. They expressed
concern that instead of promoting debit cards and NEFT, that were RBI
payment systems, private payment systems that are not auditable, enable
anonymous money transfers, money laundering and result in digital black
money were being encouraged.

“The main concern of citizens’ rights organisations is that there is
neither any policy document nor any safeguard that ensures that the
fundamental rights of the citizens are not harmed in the process of, and
after the achievement of, this shift to digital,” said Dr. Usha
Ramanathan, a legal researcher and activist.

The demonetisation exercise, just like the Aadhaar enrollment process,
marks a new culture of governance in India: that is premised on closed and
opaque decision-making, outsourcing and privatisation of government
functions to private agencies, creating market space for and promotion of
private services (such as UPI and BHIM, both owned by NPCI, which is a
non-government company)

Dr. Anupam Saraph, Professor and eminent expert in governance and complex
systems, sees this as a destruction of swaraj, or self-rule. He proposes
that “the only way to reclaim swaraj would be by restoring the autonomy
of the public institutions, like the RBI, and quitting the use of colonial
instruments like UID/Aadhaar for controlling the citizen’s access to rights
and entitlements.”

“We are in the process of initiating a campaign called ‘Rethink Aadhar’ and
we intend to spread awareness about the problems with UID across the
country”, said one of the participants of the workshop.

“Now more than ever, we as citiznes need to educate ourselves on the
impacts of mass digitisation in India” said Mohammad Chappalwala of
Sambhaavnaa Institute.

Sambhaavnaa Institute, nestled in a small village called Kandwari, in the
lap of the Dhauladhar mountains, is an educational centre for those
concerned with social and political change. Founded under aegis of the
Kumud Bhushan Education Society, Sambhaavnaa has organised close to 80
workshops, meetings and trainings for youth and social activists since
2011-12, on a series of social and public interest issues.