Aadhaar: The card of digital India
Aadhaar number is a 12-digit random number being issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to the residents of India after satisfying the verification process. Any individual, irrespective of age and gender, who is a resident of India, may voluntarily enrol to obtain Aadhaar number free of cost. Person willing to enrol has to provide demographic and biometric information during the enrolment process. An individual needs to enrol for Aadhaar only once and after de-duplication only one Aadhaar shall be generated, as the uniqueness is achieved through the process of demographic and biometric de-duplication.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is a statutory authority established under the provisions of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 (“Aadhaar Act 2016”) on 12 July 2016 by the Government of India, under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).Shri J Satyanarayana is the Chairman (part-time) of UIDAI. The Headquarters is in New Delhi.
UIDAI was created with the objective to issue Unique Identification numbers (UID), named as "Aadhaar", to all residents of India that is (a) robust enough to eliminate duplicate and fake identities, and (b) can be verified and authenticated in an easy, cost-effective way. The first UID number was issued on 29 September 2010 to a resident of Nandurbar, Maharashtra. The Authority has so far issued more than 111 crores Aadhaar numbers to the residents of India.
The unique biometric identity paves the way for direct benefit transfers.The JAM trinity – Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile are essential infrastructural requirement for the government to implement the direct benefit transfer scheme. The DBT has ensured that the funds are allotted to beneficiaries on a real time basis. It increases efficiency, reducing cost to exchequer and reducing leakages. It also helps to reduce the price distortion in the physical market, diversion of supplies and profiteering in the black market, e.g. MSP, PDS. It reduced the manual workload and human error in processing the benefits.
The government has introduced a new Section 139AA in the Income Tax Act, 1961 by way of amendment to Finance Bill, 2017. Every individual will have to mandatorily quote his Aadhaar number in PAN application form or income tax return form. Many tax evaders have got multiple PAN numbers which they have been using to fragment and conceal their real income. Being a biometric verified identification, it is not possible for any person to have multiple Aadhaar numbers.Under the existing system of PAN only demographic data is captured. It will also facilitate resolution of cases of one PAN allotted to multiple persons.
However, the project remains with a number of controversies due to the reasons mainly as under:-
1. The Aadhaar project was executed without adequate legal safeguards on the storage, usage and distribution of the data of citizens. The risks of abuse have been constantly understated by policymakers.
2. The excessive expansion of Aadhaar linkage to schemes where there is limited scope for leakages have weakened the original idea of Aadhaar i.e. an effective instrument in targeting leakages. The linkage should be restricted to a few key programmes and the results of such linkages should be carefully examined and analysed.
3. There was no independent cost-benefit analysis performed either before or after the launch of the project. Various claims about public savings from linking Aadhaar to various beneficiary databases have emerged but they depend on weak evidence.
The Economic Survey 2015-16 claims that DBTL led to a reduction of LPG subsidy by close to 25%. However, such claims do not take into account the decline in subsidy outgo because of the sharp drop in global oil prices. According to one estimate by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, the fall in oil prices account for 92% of the “savings” attributed to the DBTL scheme.
Another big challenge is biometric mismatches of genuine beneficiaries when their fingerprints do not match with what is recorded on the central database. The fingers of the daily wage workers are not clear at times and the biometric doesn’t work; they have to wait for days before they can avail due benefits.
Most policymakers have tended to underplay the concerns about data fraud and data breaches. But the human and financial implications of such breaches in the digital age are not trivial. Often comparisons are made with the social security number (SSN) system in the US but the SSN contains far less information, and is linked to a few databases. Yet, identity theft involving SSN numbers costs billions of dollars annually in the US, and these costs have been rising over time, as the digital transformation sweeping the world has made it easy to link different sets of data and the personal information of victims. The dangers of abuse by the state surveillance machinery, or by rogue officials, are also real in the case of Aadhaar.
Recently, a website filtered, compiled and published Aadhaar data to create a database listing of over 5,00,000 minors.Several telecom salesmen selling Aadhaar data were arrested.These events show the feasibility of parallel databases of such a sensitive data.
The biometric identification system is being used extensively for e-KYC processes for multiple purposes. At present, anybody can enroll as an agent to verify e-KYC.KYC user agencies access Aadhaar data after taking the individual’s consent by way of one-time password delivered to a registered mobile number. But the agency conducting the e-KYC and verification can collect and store data at its end.
Source: The mint, Financial Express, PIB