Hot air versus reality: How much, and how often, has the Government of Gujarat opposed the Aadhaar scheme?

aadhaarBy Venkatesh Nayak*

A few ago the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi made a blistering criticism of the Aadhaar project. He was addressing an election rally in my home town, Bengaluru, where the erstwhile Chief of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Nandan Nilekani is seeking to enter Parliament on an Indian National Congress ticket. Glad to know that a political heavy weight is openly opposing Aadhaar — a Government of India initiative to provide ‘proof of identity’ to the supposedly ‘identity-less’ 1.2 billion residents of the country. But there was a need to check the reality.

After I emptied a glass of cold water in celebration (veggie version of the chilled bubbly spirit which is customary for such occasions) I decided to cross check how much, and how often, the Gujarat government under the chief ministership of Narendra Modi has opposed the roll out of Aadhaar in Gujarat. According to UIDAI website, Gujarat government officials held a meeting with the Chief Minister of Gujarat, on December 8. 2009, with senior state officials in tow (see http://uidai.gov.in/consultations/with-stackholders.html).

The minutes of this meeting are not available on the UIDAI website. So given the trenchant criticism of Aadhaar by the Chief Minister, he must have attended that meeting kicking and crying and may have only criticised the UID project asking whether Aadhaar made any sense at all like he did in Bengaluru recently.

However, this supposed ‘opposition’ does not seem to have had much effect on the administration in Gujarat, which is hell bent on implementing Aadhaar, come what may. So on March 25, 2010, the general administration department (GAD) issued a resolution constituting a state cabinet council under the chairmanship of none other than chief minister of Gujarat to oversee the implementation of Aadhaar in the State (see https://uid.gujarat.gov.in/GRs/Cabinet%20Council%20GR.pdf). Here was the prime opponent of Aadhaar chairing a committee to oversee its implementation!

The ‘mutinous’ administration did not stop at that. In June 2010 it entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the UIDAI, with the principal secretary, GAD, Gujarat signing it in the presence of none other than the Chief Secretary of Gujarat agreeing to ‘cooperate’ and ‘collaborate’ with UID to effectively implement Aadhaar in the state (see http://uidai.gov.in/images/mou/MOU-Gujarat.pdf). Officers in the know tell me that the Chief Minister is very popular with them because of the freedom he gives them to provide ‘good governance’ to the people – a major component of the ‘Gujarat model of development’.

In addition to biometrics, UIDAI has been collecting demographic data of each resident of the country at the time of enrolment such as name, gender, date of birth and address under the Aadhaar project. The Gujarat GAD decided to include additional fields of information under Aadhaar such as PAN number, Voter I-card number, ration card number, BPL card number, Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana number, disability-related data and LPG or PNG connection details (see https://uid.gujarat.gov.in/GRs/Deciding%20KYR%20+.pdf )

The GR issued by the state government in August 2011 makes failure to record such additional information liable for penal action. It is not clear who will be penalised – the registrars, the officials, or the people? Gujarat under its chief minister wants to go several steps ahead of UIDAI to database people.

Later in December that year the GAD issued another GR requiring inclusion of household numbers issued to residents of urban slums in the database (see https://uid.gujarat.gov.in/GRs/Unique%20Identification%20Implementation%20Programme%20KYR+.pdf).

These twin GRs were issued in the name and by order of the Governor of Gujarat, and copied to the principal secretary to the chief minister. He might have failed to bring these GRs to the notice of the chief minister, who dismissed Aadhaar as mere gimmickry in Bengaluru recently.

According to a reply tabled in Parliament, 2.2 crore people had opted for Aadhaar in Gujarat at the end of the year 2013 (see http://164.100.47.234/question/annex/230/Au2875.pdf). According to the UID portal this figure had increased by 1 crore by the end of March 2014 (see https://portal.uidai.gov.in/uidwebportal/dashboard.do?st=Gujarat).

With such accelerated enrollment, no wonder the humble chief minister of Gujarat lamented in Bengaluru that people who think they gave birth to IT in this country (whatever that means) refused to listen to a common person like him. Even his own officials do not seem to have listened to him if at all he spoke against Aadhaar before them ever and have enrolled more than 50 per cent of the residents of Gujarat.

The chief minister also dubbed Aadhaar as a bundle of lies in whose name the treasury was being looted. Many of us have also been very critical of the unprecedented financial implications of this project from the very beginning.

However, according to a reply tabled in the Lok Sabha in February this year, the Government of Gujarat had sought financial assistance of Rs 50 per Aadhaar number successfully generated in the state. UIDAI had reduced this amount to Rs 40 per number generated during Phase II of the enrolment process. Parliament was told that the Government of India had refused the state government’s request (see  http://164.100.47.132/LssNew/psearch/QResult15.aspx?qref=150191).

While the Hon’ble chief minister was probably spending sleepless nights over wasting public money on the Aadhhar project, his officials were demanding more money from the Central government to implement it. If Shakespeare had written Hamlet in Gujarat he would have ended Scene 1 of this celebrated tragedy by making Marcellus say, “Something is rotten in the State of Gujarat.”

Aadhaar is not just a gimmick. It is an attempt by the governments to collect more and more data about people without telling them how and who will be using it. This is the grandest project yet of the ‘surveillance state’ that is emerging in India.

Sadly, the BJP leader is waking up to the reality of Aadhaar too late in the day when more than 60 per cent of the people have been enrolled across the country. Or is his criticism of Aadhaar itself another political gimmickry? Can we trust such a person with the reins of the Central government?

I went out to cast my vote after writing this piece. I thought voting for a Prime Minister candidate who does not practice what he preaches is not honesty. According to him every vote for his party will reach him, no? I wonder by what magic.

*RTI activist. These are personal views of the author. They must not be construed as the official view of the organisations he works with or is associated with.

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