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In Rajya Sabha: "What sterilisation was to the Emergency, Aadhaar seeding is becoming to your Government"

During a heated short duration discussion on the Aadhaar project in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, several MPs attacked the notifications making Aadhaar mandatory for essential services. Opposition MPs raised the issue of the violation of the Supreme Court’s orders and exclusions due to Aadhaar in many welfare programmes. The Supreme Court had allowed only voluntary use of Aadhaar and that too for only six government schemes.

 

MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar began by raising concerns regarding verification of the database. He pointed out that before the Aadhaar Act was passed in 2016, 100 crore people had already been enrolled, but no verification of the UID database had been carried out. He also pointed out that the Standing Committee on Finance on Aadhaar had concluded that the database was going to be ineffective even for the purposes of directing subsidies. He reminded the house that the Leader of the House conceded that privacy is a fundamental right even without the Supreme Court saying so.

 

Jairam Ramesh said that Aadhaar had become a tool of exclusion (in the PDS, NREGA and social security pensions) and was in violation of the orders of the Supreme Court of India. In Rajasthan, 10 lakh pensioners had been removed from the list of beneficiaries. In Bhim (Rajsamand district) almost 1500 out of 3000 elderly whose names were cut after being declared “dead” or “duplicates”, were found to be alive and were restored their pensions. In the PDS the exclusion rate in Rajasthan was 25 per cent, according to government figures, i.e. 25 lakh people had not got rations since Aadhaar-Based Biometric Authentication was made mandatory. Similarly, A Navneethakrishnan, D Raja were concerned about denial of benefits due to various failures of aadhaar.

 

Derek O'Brien pointed out that there was no regulation and no information on the third parties that have access to the UID database. "Have you considered how other databases - NATGRID, Health are being linked to Aadhaar” and raised concerns on data use and data security." KTS Tulsi (noted lawyer) said that he has never seen as poor statutory framing in his life as in the Aadhaar Act.

 

In reply, Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad stated that the orders of the Supreme Court were interim orders and the Aadhaar Act overrode the orders.  He, however, failed to mention that in September 2016, after the Aadhaar Act was passed in Parliament, the Court had said that their earlier orders stand. In fact the matters challenging the constitutionality of the Aadhaar project as well as the 2016 Aadhaar Act are still pending before the Supreme Court.

 

He said that the CAG report on LPG savings which debunked government claims was "judgmental" and instead cited World Bank and UNDP reports in support of the project. Again, the World Bank’s figures have been challenged. The World Development Report 2016 (p. 195) states "This [LPG] is just one of many subsidy programs in India that are being converted to direct transfers using digital ID, potentially saving over US$11 billion per year in government expenditures through reduced leakage and efficiency gains." In fact, the source of this US$ 11 billion estimates states that "The value of these transfers [NREGA, pensions etc.] is estimated to be Rs. 70,000 crores ($11.3 billion) per annum."

 

He insisted that the database was secure and safe, but was unable to answer questions on access to the database by third parties, on national security, and on the gross and inhuman exclusion caused in social sector. Though Ravi Shankhar Prasad assured the House that no person could be denied welfare entitlements for lack of Aadhaar, no notification making it mandatory has been withdrawn so far. No concrete steps or plans to keep Aadhaar truly voluntary were given by Mr. Prasad. Empty words and rhetoric continue as pensioners, ration card holders, and mgnrega workers are pushed further into poverty and exclusion.

 

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