June 27, 2013

Aadhar Not Meant For Ordinary Mortals

UIDAI is not eager to enquire into any of its goof-ups that the media constantly reports about.http://www.sunday-guardian.com/analysis/aadhar-not-meant-for-ordinary-mortals

By V Balachandran, a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat.

"Nandan Nilekani should realise that he is not and he cannot be a Sam Petroda. Telecom Revolution in India was all about 'connecting' Indians where the so-called Aadhar card revolution in India aims only at 'tracking' Indians. This unique mega project at the cost of tax payer's expense would only benefit those hungry nations invested in tracking human beings for their national security." (From a Creative Resistance story by Sethu Das, Co-founder, Design & People)

I was happy to read that Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia was able to get his lost "Aadhar" card replaced within one hour on 24 May. Perhaps, the Nandan Nilekani-led Unique Identification Authority (UIDAI), which is facing incessant criticism for its stodgy record, may be wanting to prove its technical prowess by pleasing a VIP, which will receive prominent media mention. But ordinary mortals like me have a tough time to get our cards. Believing in their constant propaganda that it was a "walk in" affair we went without appointment to a South Mumbai vendor in October last year when we were asked to come again or wait for hours in line. After the appointment was fixed online (how many poor people can do this "online"?) our data was taken on 27 October 2012.We were told that our cards would arrive in three months. On 1 March 2013, our daughter's card was received but there was no trace of her parents' cards. I sent them an email on 9 March reminding them to send our cards, which met with only stony silence unlike the promptness they displayed in the case of the Planning Commission deputy chairman.

In these circumstances, I was quite amused to read a claim by Director General, UDAI R.S. Sharma in a national daily (20 March) that "Aaadhar" was "transparent and accountable". My experience is that their services in Mumbai, rendered through vendors, are elitist and heavily tilted against the poor. Our aged domestic assistant, who had procured her previous card last year after standing in queue for several days, has to redo it all over again after hearing the government propaganda that cash transfer on her cooking gas would start flowing into her bank account. When I examined the card I found that it had no mention of her bank account. The vendor, after refusing to talk to her initially, told her finally that her card cannot be amended and she has to obtain a new card. Similar is the plight of thousands of daily wage earners in Mumbai who are forced to forgo income by standing in queue.

UIDAI does not seem to be eager to enquire into any of their goof-ups, which constantly appear in the media. The experience of some, which appeared in the media, is astonishing. Although UIDAI claims that the scheme is "voluntary" there is a hidden pressure to enrol. In Pune, no cooking gas is given without these cards. In Mumbai, a former municipal engineer was told that he would not get his pension without the card.

A poor domestic worker had to engage an agent on payment to get her cards since her children's school would not reimburse text book and uniform money unless she made cards for her children. Senior citizens are the most harassed lot. One individual complained that he had to go four-five times for registration. On day one, he was not given the enrolment form because he did not have his ration card. On day two, he was informed that forms would be issued only from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. On day three, he was told that the forms were exhausted. "Days later, he was told to come before 11 a.m. for an appointment. The next day, he was told to come another time since the person who gave appointments was out of office." On 8 January 2013, there was a report from Bhopal that bundles of Aadhar cards were found in a drain. Similarly, on 23 March, there was a report from Mumbai that Maharashtra had lost data of nearly 300,000 Aadhar applicants, compelling them to appear again for taking their particulars.

It appears that the loss occurred while being uploaded from Mumbai to their central server in Bangalore. The national daily which reported this also said that "The loss came on top of thefts of laptops with UID data from Mumbai". Astonishingly, Maharashtra state IT Department was unfazed with this loss, although police departments all over the country complain that terrorists use stolen PAN card details for obtaining bogus SIM cards. Is this the efficiency that Nandan Nilekani, once the head honcho of a dazzling Indian IT firm, can show in his own country?

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