What was supposed to be a unique identification number providing identification and access to a host of government benefits and services, ‘Aadhaar’ has almost unvaryingly been extended to anybody residing within Indian territories.
Almost anyone, be it Indian or an illegal immigrant can get an Aadhaar Card made without any proof of identity. More importantly, they get a numbered identity.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the nodal agency that issues Aadhaar cards however seems oblivious to all this. Cobrapost, exposes the underbelly of Aadhaar, which was for long touted as Government of India’s most ambitious programme.
The Inside Story: Posing as a conduit or an immigrant applicant, our Cobrapost correspondent, Md Hizbullah, poses as a benefactor of refugees from Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, and approached a dozen Aadhar enrollment offices.
He tells them that these immigrants have no proof of identity or proof of address but need help in getting an Aadhaar card.
The convenience, with which almost each of the Aadhaar enrollment officers gave assurances to not only provide the Aadhaar Card but also a proof of Indian identity, wasn’t surprising. Without a prescribed rulebook for the fraud, it was up to these officers to make their demands. Most of them were reluctant initially, but gave in when the applicant agreed to the prescribed fees.
The negotiations happened and a time was fixed for the applicant to come. Almost in all cases, the Aadhaar officers asked for a photograph and address written on a piece of paper for the purpose of making an affidavit, as proof of identity. The affidavit had to be countersigned by the local MLA or a gazetted officer thus making it valid. No one bothered to check the antecedents of our immigrant applicants.
From charges as low as Rs 500 to as high as Rs 2500, the ‘Aadhaar officers’ agreed to make Aadhaar Cards for applicants without any proof of identification or proof of address. These are the same people who have been entrusted to securely collect and send the biometric and demographic data of an individual to UIDAI’s data collection centre in Bangalore, Karnataka.
In a recently filed RTI query by a former defence scientist and RTI activist, Mathew Thomas, it has been found that UIDAI has not cared to check the antecedents of the companies that have been enlisted to collect biometric data. He alleges that the RTI made it clear that the data is being made accessible to foreign countries as these companies are owned by former CIA and FBI officials. Thus, clearly enough our personal data may just be sold to these companies who may use it in any manner they fancy.
In an interview published on 14th January, 2011 in the Hard News Magazine, Mr. Nandan Nilekani, Chairman UIDAI, on being reminded that biometrics have been known to malfunction when such a large number of people are involved said, “I think it will work despite the problems. Obviously, when you implement a brand new technology, there will be challenges. But, fundamentally, it will work. In a context where many people have no identity and the ways of authenticating identity are not very robust, the fact that we are taking this to 99.99 per cent of the population is in itself a huge improvement. We must look at the programme’s progress in terms of where we are and where we are going.”
With no or extremely feeble privacy laws in place, it has become imperative for India to declare ‘Right to Privacy’ as a fundamental right. A draft bill, which was introduced by the then law minister, M. Veerappa Moily in 2011 has still not been passed by the parliament. Indian citizens cannot defend themselves in the wake of a loss of privacy.
For now, agencies like the UIDAI, who have vast deposits of the biometric and demographic details of billions of Indians can function without any trepidation.
Evidently, the Government of India is not bothered about malfeasance and neither does it care if common citizens like us, who have unknowingly given their personal details, have any right to disclosure.
UIDAI knew India had a population of more than a billion and with a growth rate of almost 1.5% per year, it was bound to increase. Providing a unique identification number is not wrong but the manner in which UIDAI collected biometric data and proof of identity was.
With enrolment centers functioning as fly-by-night operators, charging varying amounts of fees for manufacturing Indian identities for non-Indian applicants, capitalizing on their nexus with their local MLAs in generating a parallel line of business, Aadhaar has failed on all parameters it was based on.
It has yet again proved that populism oriented, government mandated schemes do not work in a country with such humongous demographics. Perhaps, Nandan Nilekani should first accommodate more questions to justify UPA’s most ambitious programme than to blatantly promote his candidature for the Lok Sabha 2014 elections.
We are providing small excerpts from the twelve cases where Cobrapost has exposed the business of making Aadhaar cards for illegal immigrants who approach without any proof of identity.
Asif Chaudhary, 169, C.P.A Block, New Seelampur, Delhi
In a dingy office in New Seelampur in the capital, Asif Chaudhary, appears to be the incharge of an Aadhaar Camp. This area being home to a lot of illegal Bangladeshi migrants, the rush to get an Aadhaar Card made seems justifiable, as without any proof of identity the migrants cannot avail the government provided benefits, the other locals can. With nowhere to go, the immigrants turn up at his office and he is more than willing to help. When our reporter presents his case, Asif says, “इनके पास कुछ नहीं है, 500 रूपये लगेंगे”. When our reporter tells him that it is free everywhere, he replies, “नहीं नहीं हम private franchise है हमारे पास.”
Farman Ali, SDM Office, Kotwali, Kashmere Gate, Delhi
For Farman Ali, the interest is in getting an Aadhaar Card made. “हम लोग दिन में 100 लोगों का genuine बनाते हैं तो 10 आदमी का वैसे भी बनाते हैं”, this statement of Farman Ali gives us the insight that the Aadhaar centre he is in-charge of alone generates 10 percent fake identities. For any person without any proof of identity, Farman Ali is willing to provide all help. It is not restricted to getting an Aadhaar Card made only.
Ravindra Kumar, DM office, Jam Nagar House, ShahJahan Road, New Delhi
Initially reluctant, Ravindra Kumar, the Aadhaar Officer informs that if caught he stands to lose his monthly salary of seven thousand rupees. When our reporter inquires about the proof of identity Ravindra Kumar says, “आप मुझे address लिखके दे दो मैं उसका documentary बनवा दूंगा.. बैठते हुए MLA या निगम पार्षद से करवा दूंगा पक्का काम कराऊंगा tension मत लो,” we wonder if the honourable MLA or the local councilor is taking cognizance of this.
Sadam, SDM office, Tis Hazari Court, Delhi
Sadam, the Aadhaar Officer is reluctant to speak and constantly indicates to talk on phone first. Our reporter informs him of the refugee status of the applicant and Sadam says it shall cost fifteen hundred rupees to make two Aadhaar cards. Proof of identity, however is certainly not mandatory.
Suraj, Rajkiye Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, Block- 2, Trilokpuri, New Delhi
It doesn’t deter Suraj if the fake Aadhaar Cards are being made for Bangladeshi immigrants. He is quick to sign off with, “अरे India है यार क्या नही होता इधर, सब होता है इधर”. Do we need to say anything more?
Aditya and Mohit, SDM Office, Karol Bagh, New Delhi
At the SDM office in Karol Bagh, New Delhi, the officer in charge and the applicant initially bond on their refugee status. Later it is revealed that there is an established nexus between the MLAs and these identity verifying officers. Aditya alleges MLA’S do not take money but their personal assistants do and their purpose is revealed when he says, “क्योंकि election चल रहे हैं उनको जरूरत होती है.”
L B Paswan, SDM office Laxmi Nagar Delhi
The Aadhaar camp at the SDM Office at Laxmi Nagar, New Delhi functions through touts and Aadhaar Officers. Aryan, a tout is confident about the work he does when he says, “1 का बता दिया मैंने अभी मैंने 4 without ID बनवाए है यार हमारा यही काम होता है.” L B Paswan, the Aadhaar Officer is quick to negate the tout’s claim and make himself sound righteous, “भाई ये है नहीं UID से.. broker है ये समझ रहे है आप.”
Raj, Nand Nagri, Delhi:
There may be a rulebook for Aadhaar but if a gazetted officer, can stamp your identity documents where is the need to be worried about a proof of identity. Raj, the Aadhaar Officer, first cites the rule book but then agrees to get the work done, “देखो gazetted officer से तो लिखवाना पड़ेगा.. gazetted officer से लिखवा के फिर करवा दूंगा.. बात सेवा पानी की नहीं है भाई साहब बात बताऊं क्या है बात है rule regulations की है sir.”
Rahul, DC Office, Gurgaon:
Rahul, the Aadhaar Officer at the DC office in Gurgaon is right in refusing initially. He says, “भाई Nepal का नहीं होगा India का होगा.” He later says he shall charge rupees five thousand because the Aadhaar Card is for a Nepali. To check his authenticity, our reporter asks him if the Aadhaar Card would be genuine and he almost instantly replies, “original जैसा आप सब लोगो का बनाता है आपका भी वही.”
Sajid Ali, GTB Complex, Near CBI New Market Branch, New Market, Bhopal
Sajid Ali is one convenient Aadhaar officer. The moment he tells our reporter who is an immigrant applicant, “तो हम शाम को फिर वही आ जाते है शाम को वहीं मिल जाओ room पे .. वही पर ही बनायेंगे.. मशीन मेरे बैग में आ जाती है ना… print आप दूसरे दिन यहां से आके ले लेना,” we wonder if UIDAI has given its consent to such convenience?