I. Pre-election push against Aadhaar: A Call to Arms
Some of you might already be clued in on what our politicians are planning for their election manifestos. In terms of Aadhaar, while there may not be any immediately positive indications, efforts are underway to push parties to take a stated stance to at least ensure that Aadhaar is purely a voluntary id similar to other Officially Valid Document(OVDs). However, we will need to push the demand through to all political parties we can possibly contact. A petition of demands has been drafted; please let us know latest by noon on Thursday, February 28, if you and/or your organization wish to be a signatory to this petition.
We will also need to conduct at least one on-ground countrywide agitation prior to the elections, which will be accompanied by circulating a status update on Aadhaar exclusions, leaks, and other critical failures of the project. The timeline for such a public agitation is the week of March 17-24 (i.e. either side of Holi; latest by end of March). Please send your name, city, and contact number to Raghu/godavar at 97177-49998 or [email protected] if you wish to participate in this push. Please also share your suggestions on how we can expand our impact. Do forward this message to those who you think will find it important, asking them to contact Raghu/godavar.
Supreme Court reiterates Aadhaar-PAN linking mandatory; deadline March 31 :(
In an order passed on Feb. 4, the Supreme Court reiterated that linking of Aadhaar and PAN is mandatory. Responding to the Union government's petition impugning the order in Shreya Sen, the Court said that filing of income tax returns for the assessment year 2019-2020 should comply with the September 2018 Aadhaar judgment which upheld Aadhaar-PAN linking.
As things currently stand, legally, one has to mandatorily obtain an Aadhaar number and link it with PAN by 31st March 2019. While we continue to hope for a favorable review of this order, we suggest that readers follow their discretion and/or seek legal advice should they not possess an Aadhaar number and/or not wish to link with their PAN. We also note that many citizens are opposing this order in the spirit of civil disobedience against enrolling a project which poses a lifelong threat for one’s personal security. Instead, they have chosen to face whatever fines or penalties might be imposed for failing to link Aadhaar with PAN or failing to quote it in their income tax return (which will not be due until July 31 at any rate).
Note: Our lawyers have advised that not linking Aadhaar to PAN could result in a fine of INR 10,000, besides a 2-year jail term. This, we feel, is still a lower cost than that arising from enrolling in the Aadhaar project which threatens our fundamental right to life and livelihood.
Workers in Varanasi district protest denial of rations due to e-POS issues
On Feb. 5, workers from 50 gram panchayats in the Cholapur and Chiraigaon blocks of Varanasi staged a dharna [Hindi Link] at the Tehsil headquarters protesting their exclusion from receiving PDS rations since November 2018 due to e-POS limitations. In their petition to the UP Chief Minister, members of MNREGA Mazdoor Union and Mahila Chetna Samiti Sangathan highlighted several issues with the ePOS machines, including delays in distribution due to weak or failing networks in far-flung villages resulting in long queues; deletion of ration cards and/or denial of rations if rations not procured for 3 months (common for workers migrating to cities with families); children forced to miss school waiting at ration shops for biometric authentication should their mothers’ biometric fail to get authenticated, etc. The Tehsil authorities have promised redressal of these grievances within 15 days, failing which the workers plan to stage a district-wide agitation. [Read the English version of the Press Note.]
As starvation deaths rise, Jharkhand govt says Aadhaar mandatory for PDS
Also on Feb. 5, the Jharkhand government made it mandatory to link Aadhaar with ration cards in order for a household to receive its ration. According to the state’s food department, the Aadhaar of 68.8 lakh out of 2.62 crore registered in the PDS are yet to be linked with family ration cards. In Jharkhand, lakhs of cardholders are regularly denied their grain entitlements due to biometric failures.A survey in eight districts of the State in June 2017 found that the proportion of households not collecting grains in the previous month was five times higher in villages that use ABBA (21%) as compared to those that do not (4%). Close to half of the respondents in ABBA villages reported Aadhaar-related reasons for not collecting their grains. The government clearly hasn't learned from past tragedies: at least nine of the 19 persons who allegedly died of starvation in the state in the last two years were denied their entitlements because of Aadhaar-related issues. Among the dead is 11-year old Santoshi Kumari.
More Aadhaar Leaks - from Jharkhand, Delhi, and Indane LPG Service
Meanwhile, three major Aadhaar data leaks have been reported. TechCrunch reported that a Jharkhand government website was left exposed and without a password as far back as 2014, allowing anyone access to names, job titles, and partial phone numbers on 166,000 workers. The data leak isn’t a direct breach of the UIDAI's CIDR, but represents another lapse in responsibility from the authority.
The French security researcher Robert Baptiste (aka Elliott Alderson) reported another massive Aadhaar data leak from the Indane server. Indane, IndianOil’s LPG distribution arm, accounts for over 90 million consumers, of whom 5.8 million were affected in this leak of consumer data relating to 11,000 dealers and including names and addresses besides Aadhaar numbers.
Another leak, reported in The Hacker News, has exposed nearly 500 thousand individuals’ data records from a database possibly created for the Delhi government by Goa-based Transerve. The details exposed include Aadhaar numbers, voter card numbers, health conditions, education, etc.
Citizens express concern regarding Aadhaar Amendments Bill and DNA Bill
Over 260 organisations and concerned citizens have written (letter attached) to the Vice President of India, who is also the Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, and the Prime Minister demanding that the Aadhaar Amendments Bill and the DNA Bill be scrutinized by the appropriate Parliamentary committees.
The Aadhaar Amendments Bill allows the use of the biometrics-linked 12-digit ID for commercial purposes, including banks and mobile services. This is in blatant violation of the Supreme Court judgment which prevented the use of Aadhaar by the private sector. There are also reports that Aadhaar may be linked to voter IDs. The DNA Bill allows for the creation of a widespread DNA database of Indian citizens, without specifying the purpose for which it may be used, how long it will be kept.
With regular disruptions throughout the Budget Session, the Rajya Sabha adjourned indefinitely on Feb. 13, without discussing either of these bills. With the 16th Lok Sabha now completing its term and likely to be dissolved soon, the two Bills will lapse. There is however the possibility that the government may still introduce the Amendments through an ordinance with no regard to citizens’ rights.
Updates from Parliament
While the Parliament’s Budget session concluded with no further action on the Aadhaar Amendments Bill, we are continuing to track questions related to the Aadhaar project raised in either the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. The questions and responses from Parliament are summarized on this page.
Briefly, during the Budget session, Ministers informed Parliament that 86% of the approx. 23 crore ration cards in the country have been seeded with Aadhaar, with 2.51 crore cards cancelled since 2014; that the nutrition programme of Anganwadi Services is being implemented as a DBT Scheme, requiring proof of possession of Aadhaar; that Aadhaar-enabled Payment Systems (AePS) continue to be operative to facilitate payment of monetary subsidies through micro ATMs; and that 123.03 crore Aadhaar numbers have thus far been issued by the UIDAI.
Earlier, during the Winter Session, Parliament was told that no study had been conducted to evaluate the impact of Aadhaar linkage with either MNREGA wage deposits or with the PDS for disbursal of rations. This further underscores the hollowness of all the claims of welfare savings by the government when, in fact, this has not been studied by the government at all. Despite there being no study to back their claims, the government also continued its denial of Aadhaar-related exclusion from welfare benefits and entitlements as well as starvation deaths. Several peoples’ campaigns have repeatedly highlighted the havoc that Aadhaar has been causing in welfare disbursements. Links to some of the latest reports are at the end of this newsletter.
Aadhaar linking with Voter ID - no clear answers yet
With the Election Commission of India looking to mandate linking Aadhaar with Voter ID yet again, questions are being raised about Aadhaar-based revision of electoral rolls. Such a revision is seen as the reason 22 lakh voters were deleted from the Telangana electoral rolls. Following RTI requests from data researcher Srinivas Kodali, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) for Telangana admitted that the deletions were not preceded by door-to-door verification as mandated by law. The Supreme Court’s Aadhaar judgment, however, did not explicitly settle the question of linking Aadhaar to voter cards. As a result, the matter is still pending, per the ECI.
Aadhaar in news
Usha Ramanathan also writes on the urgency to give corporates access to the UID system
NPCI’s call for bids to set up mobile payments facilities potentially facilitates an illegal private monopoly disproportionately benefiting the likes of Anil Ambani and Nandan Nilekani
There is no provision to cancel or surrender Aadhaar, even after death
Never mind the SC, Aadhaar is now in the people’s court
In Jharkhand, 43% go hungry due to Aadhaar linking-related web of procedural obstacles
Aadhaar Operator's Biometrics Stolen & Misused, UIDAI Documents Prove
Aadhaar scam: Jharkhand spends ₹222 cr on PoS machines, when it could have been bought for ₹12.5 c