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SAGNIK DUTTA NEW DELHI | 18th Mar , Sunday Guardian

A customer pushes a shopping trolley down an aisle at a retail supermarket in Mumbai on Friday. ‘It is unlikely that UIDAI will improve the efficiency of the government’s welfare schemes this year.’ REUTERS

hile the government is banking heavily on the Aadhar data supplied by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for the implementation of the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) and better targeting of fertiliser subsidies, the reliability of the data is in itself in question.

In fact, a Parliamentary Standing Committee Report on Finance had questioned the legality of the collection of biometrics for creating a citizen database in December 2011. Also, the process of creation of a citizens’ database was outsourced to a third party with no means of adequate monitoring of their activities. The Union Finance Minister seems to have placed immense faith in this one-technology driven initiative to deliver many ambitious fiscal targets. But most of the UID-based delivery schemes will be pilot projects to be rolled out in a few chosen districts. It is unlikely that they will improve the efficiency and accuracy of the government’s gargantuan welfare schemes this year.

Pranab Mukherjee, in his Budget speech, said, “To ensure that the objectives of the National Food Security Bill are effectively realised, a Public Distribution System using the Aadhar platform is being created.” The Finance Minister also mentioned, “The recommendations of the task force headed by Nandan Nilekani on IT strategy for direct transfer of subsidy have been accepted.” Speaking to this newspaper, Anupam Saraf, a former Governance Advisor to the Government of Goa and an independent leadership, strategy and innovation mentor, said, “The process of registering individuals under Aadhar was assigned to third parties. There is no way to ensure that the third parties will not register non-existent individuals. This leaves a lot of room for massive scams, corruption and leakages if the data is used for distribution of subsidies. Thus the proposed Food Security Bill and targeting of fertilizer subsidies will be based on data which is not reliable. Instead of better targeting of subsidies, it will only lead to more leakages.”

Saraf added, “A population register is already maintained by the Registrar General of India at present. The registration of citizens and the issuing of national identity cards are already provided for under the Citizenship Act 1955. This population register could have been used as a database for targeting subsidies instead of the Aadhar data.”

“Also, there has been no audit of the UID project by an independent authority. The CAG should audit the entire process of creation of a people’s database,” Saraf said.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance in December 2011 had said, “The collection of biometric information and its linkage with personal information without amendment to the Citizenship Act 1955 as well as the Citizenship (registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards Rules 2003, appears to be beyond the scope of subordinate legislation, which needs to be examined in detail by the Parliament.”