Aadhar – R.I.P?

I don’t have an Aadhar card. Why, you may ask. I’ll answer that with another question; why do I need it and what will I do with it? In fact, I’ve had this debate with my parents who were all excited when they got their Aadhar cards made about a year ago. Both my parents weren’t sure how it was going to help, but their counter was, “What’s the harm in getting one made? It may just come handy someday.” Fact is, not a lot many people understand what the Aadhar card truly does.

I have had the good fortune to work for couple of organizations that have been instrumental in developing the UID infrastructure, because of which, I’ve been privy to some information about how the backend systems work, which may not be all that common knowledge. This may sound biased but trust me when I say, that the IT infrastructure involved in making the UID a reality, is truly extraordinary. Collecting biometrical data from 1/6th of the world’s population is no mean feat and we’re already half way there! But that’s where my optimism ends. I’m agnostic by nature. Substantiate proof of benefit for me and I’ll believe.

                                                (Image Courtesy: The Hindu)

As of January 31st 2014, the govt. has managed to issue 57.62cr Aadhar cards (source: Times Of India). With a project of this magnitude, certain things are bound to go wrong and hence certain glitches like non-receipt of cards, technical issues at the registration facilities, poor management of registration drives etc. can be overlooked. But how do you overlook a tactical glitch?  If my memory serves me right, back when the UID project was launched, Mr. Nandan Nilekani (Chairman of the UIDAI) and the govt. were seen harping about how Aadhar was going to revolutionize microfinance, banking, lending etc., however, now it seems as though the Aadhar has been reduced to a mere identity card! If that was the only purpose that the Aadhar card was supposed to serve; wouldn’t a passport, PAN card or driver’s license have sufficed? Did Nandan Nilekani and co. rush into this project without thinking through how it can be leveraged and maximized to benefit the people? If this isn’t swindling away the tax payer’s money, what is?

What surprises me the most is the fact the govt. has started singing a different tune as far as the purpose of the Aadhar card is concerned – the UID website and their Wikipedia page tries to now cover their tracks by saying “Aadhar serves as a proof of identity and address, anywhere in India”.  Call a spade a spade then, maybe? If the Aadhar was meant to be India’s version of the British Identity Card or the US Social Security Number, then why show the unsuspecting citizens of this country the trailer of a movie that they’ll never see?

Five years down the line, UID looks like it’s going to become yet another defunct govt. policy that will be locked away along with its predecessors. Let me tell you why. Firstly, Nandan Nilekani has announced that he’ll resign from his post as the UID chairman to contest elections from Bangalore South (source: The Hindu). According to him, anybody can come in and take over the Aadhar project, which apparently is self-sustainable. Well, good luck with that. Earlier this year, the govt. had announced that it has shelved the Aadhar based Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) for cooking gas, which was set-up with the objective of eliminating middle-men and allowing the subsidies to reach their rightful beneficiaries (source: The Economic Times). Had this scheme become a reality (implemented only in select regions thus far), the subsidies apportioned by the govt. for cooking gas would have been directly transferred to the beneficiary’s bank account. All this back and forth has left LPG customers in the lurch, having to shell out as much as Rs. 1203 per gas cylinder without any subsidies forthcoming (source: The Indian Express). There have also been a few cases where petitioners have gone to the Supreme Court to opt out of the Aadhar project, because they found gaping discrepancies with the manner in which their registration was carried out, and they now feel that their biometric information could be misused (source: Indiatoday.in). Even officials within the govt. are apprehensive about the success of Aadhar in its current form, they believe that a more meticulous plan has to be chalked out before implementing any new Aadhar-linked schemes (source: Business Standard).

In conclusion, I’d urge you to evaluate for yourself, the pros and cons of getting an Aadhar made. I’m not saying that someone could misuse your biometric data to steal your identity, at least not yet, but do think about the risks associated with it. An Aadhar card may serve as an identity proof, but it may never serve the purpose it was meant to, which would mean that you’ve allowed your personal information to be stored in some archive somewhere which could someday be used by miscreants for mischief. Unless the govt. pulls up its socks and takes operative action to have stable schemes associated with the Aadhar, there’s absolutely no reason why you should rush to get an Aadhar card made.

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