Why do we need an Aadhaar law?

There is a necessity to protect privacy of individuals and prevent misuse of the confidential biometric data collected.

 |  Macro Matters  |  4-minute read |   07-03-2016
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For most of us, confidentiality and security of biometric data that we have shared to sign up for an Aadhaar card over the past four-five years has been a big concern. Many among us did not sign up for Aadhaar for this reason despite the aggressive push by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) through camps organised across work places and residential areas. Some of us reasoned that we have no need for yet another piece of document to prove our identity.

The Union government, however, had other plans. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government wanted every citizen of the country to have one. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government that came to power in May 2014, after being dismissive of Aadhaar in its initial days has wholeheartedly embraced it and wants to ensure the mission to allot this unique ID to all resident citizens is completed soon.

Over the last one year, it has relied on Aadhaar numbers for better targeting of subsidies and benefits. It may also use the same Aadhaar numbers to exclude the richer classes from availing benefits such as subsidised LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) cylinders in future. Currently, the government is relying on people to voluntarily give up subsidised LPG cylinders.

Having found Aadhaar useful, the NDA government is now hoping to address privacy and security of data concerns with a legislation. The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 was tabled in Lok Sabha on Thursday March 3 by finance minister Arun Jaitley.

Significantly, this bill is similar to the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 that was introduced by the UPA government in Rajya Sabha but could not become a law due to opposition. The UPA’s bill has now been withdrawn from the upper house.

Addressing data security concerns

The Bill is important as it proposes punitive measures for impersonation, playing mischief with another individual’s demographic or biometric data, unauthorised collection of data for Aadhaar and leaking of data. The bill has proposed a jail term which may extend to three years and a fine of Rs 10,000 for each offence.

If the offender is a company, the fine can go up to Rs 1 lakh. The Bill also provides how the demographic and biometric data collected may be used by UIDAI and the safeguards that need to be put in place to ensure complete confidentiality of information.

Unauthorised accessing of information stored in the central identification data repository is also liable for punishment – a jail term that may extend to three years and fine that may not be less than Rs 10 lakh. Introducing virus, tampering with data, disrupting and denying access to the repository, stealing data from repository and destruction of data have all been identified as offences that will be punishable with jail terms and stiff fine.

Everyone entitled to an Aadhaar number

The Bill does not make it mandatory for every resident Indian to enrol, but it says every resident is entitled to enrol for the Aadhaar number by providing his or her demographic and biometric data. Even so, it says the UIDAI shall make special effort to issue Aadhaar number to women, children, senior citizens, persons with disability, unskilled and unorganised workers, nomadic tribes or to such other persons who do not have any permanent dwelling house and such other categories of individuals as may be specified by regulations.

So far, the UIDAI has issued 975 million Aadhaar numbers, and if no one been allotted more than one number, over 75 per cent of the population have been covered. However, UIDAI data suggests that there are many people holding two or more Aadhaar numbers.

Consider enrolment in Delhi, for instance. Against the population of 17.7 million of Delhi, 19.2 million Aadhaar numbers had been issued. So the depository has a get down to the task of weeding out duplicates to minimise leakages of benefits, since the primary objective of issuing Aadhaar is to ensure better targeting of government schemes.

Improve efficiency of government’s social spending

Every year, the Union and the state governments spend lakhs of crores of rupees on schemes to help the poor get access to food, fuel, healthcare, employment, fertilisers and so on. Unfortunately, a large portion of the money meant for the poor do not reach them. As a result, government schemes are found to be failing to achieve their objective.

With Aadhaar, the intended beneficiaries are easier to identify. Further when Aadhar is used together with Jan Dhan scheme (under which banks accounts were opened for millions of people), the government can ensure that cash transfers to the intended beneficiaries are not siphoned away.

So far, people have been using BPL cards and voters ID card to prove their identity and claim benefit. This led to a situation where benefits were going to fictitious persons. Aadhaar, as the Economic Survey for 2015-16, points out uses technology to replace human discretion to identify the beneficiaries.

Better targeting of benefits has dual benefit. First, it ensures those who really need government aid actually get it and that will help reduce incidence of extreme poverty.

Second, efficient spending through government schemes will mean lower leakages and that will also bring down the total amount spent. That will prove to be beneficial for India’s economy.

Writer

Tina Edwin Tina Edwin @tinaedwin

The writer is a Delhi-based journalist.

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