Aadhaar: The Brainwave of Crony Capitalism?
NEW DELHI: When asked about why India chose to go with the UID/Aadhaar model when several countries like France, Britain and Germany have disbanded such identification projects, Nandan Nilekani, a former official of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) replied in an interview to Business Line, “Their purpose was not development, inclusion, saving government money or curbing corruption. How can you compare Aadhaar with the smart card project in some other country? Even I would have disbanded those”.
His reply is a classic case of misrepresentation and sophistry. It represents a sample of all the replies UIDAI’s has provided to concerned Indians since its inception.
Take the case of Britain, mentioned by Nilekani, a 15-page Wipro document, titled 'Does India need a Unique Identity Number?’ cited the example of the United Kingdom's Identity Cards Act, 2006, on page no. 6 to advance the argument for a biometric UID/Aadhaar number in India. If it was not comparable as Nilekani will have us believe, why did Wipro cite Britain’s identification project to make a case for UID/Aadhaar for Indians.
Wipro’s document is significant because UIDAI and UID/Aadhaar is a product of a 14-page long document titled 'Strategic Vision: Unique Identification of Residents' prepared by Wipro Ltd. and submitted to the Planning Commission in July 2006. The vision statement reads: 'Creating a unique identification system of all residents in the country for efficient, transparent, reliable and effective delivery of various welfare and private services to the common person.' The cover page of the document mentions the National Institute for Smart Government (NISG), Department of Information Technology (now named MeitY-Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology), and Wipro Consulting. Admittedly, Wipro was the consultant for the design phase and programme management phase of the pilot UIDAI project.
The Hyderabad-based NISG is a not-for-profit company incorporated in 2002 by the Government of India and Nasscom. NISG aims to 'establish itself as an institution of excellence in e-governance and to leverage private sector resources through a public-private-partnership mode in establishing eIndia.'
But when the UK government stopped its biometric National Identity Cards Scheme neither Wipro nor its donors and promoters in the government examined as to why the UK did so and why this decision too is relevant to India. The decision was announced in the British Parliament, the same legislature which passed the India Independence Act, 1947.
It must be recalled that under Nilekani’s tenure UIDAI extended “undue favour” to Wipro Ltd. As a consequence UIDAI incurred an avoidable expenditure of Rs.4.92 crore on an annual maintenance contract, according to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India presented to the Parliament. UIDAI also incurred a loss of Rs.1.41 crore by not routing advertisements through the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity. Unmindful of manifest conflict of interest UIDAI had entered into a contract with Wipro in May 2011 for supply, installation and commissioning of servers, storage systems, security systems and accessories with incidental services in the data centres of the authority in Bengaluru and Delhi/NCR at a cost of Rs.134.28 crore.
This is not the only case of irregularity and corruption by UIDAI. It awarded projects to several companies without issuing tenders. In a RTI reply UIDAI itself disclosed that total project contracts worth Rs.13,663.22 crore were awarded without any tenders of which an amount of Rs.6,563 crore has been already spent on issuing 90.3 crore Aadhar cards till May 2015.
It also informed that a total 25 companies were awarded different responsibilities for the massive project and their empanelment was done under the process guidelines of Request For Empanelment dated May 19, 2014. Notably, companies like Accenture (USA), L1 (France) and Ernst & Young has been given access to sensitive data of present and future Indians.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance its Sixty-Ninth Report on the ‘Demands for Grants (2013-14)’ observed, “A provision of Rs. 2,620 crore has been allocated in Budget Estimate (2013-14) for Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and a major part of the budget provision for Rs. 1,040 crore is earmarked for ‘Enrolment Authentication and Updation’, out of which an amount of Rs. 1,000 crore has been earmarked under the head ‘other charges’.”
The total budgetary allocation made for UIDAI since its inception upto 31 March 2014 was Rs 5440.30 crores. For the year 2009-10, it was Rs 120 crores. For 2010-11, it was Rs 1,900 crores. For 2011-12, it was Rs 1,470 crores 1,200. For 2012-13, it was 1,758 crores and for 2013-14, it was Rs 2,620.00 crores. For the year 2014-15, the budget estimate was Rs 2,039.
The budget estimate of expenditure on the project being implemented by UIDAI was Rs 2,000 crore in 20015-16. For the year 2016-17, the budget estimate was Rs 990 crores (that included 190 crore first supplementary).
As of February 2017, UIDAI has incurred a total cumulative expenditure of Rs 8,536.83 crores. This includes undefined “other charges” pointed out by the Parliamentary Committee. Shouldn’t UIDAI provide the details of the expenses incurred under “other charges”? Take the case of the year 2009-10 when the budget estimate was Rs 120 crores. The final expenditure was Rs 26.21 crores. In the year 2015-16 the budget estimate was Rs 2,000 crores but the final expenditure was Rs 1679 crores. In 2016-17, when budget estimate (BE) was Rs 990 crores, the final expenditure is Rs 877.16 crore upto February 2017.
The Parliamentary Committee on Finance has wondered in its report as to why inflated targets were consistently being given. It observed, “the total budgetary allocations made for UIDAI since its inception upto BE 2013-14 is Rs 5440.30 crore, out of which Rs. 2820.30 crore has been utilized upto 31.03.2013 and the remaining amount of Rs. 2620 has been allocated in BE 2013-14. The Ministry has informed that the average cost per card is estimated to range from Rs 100 to Rs 157. Taking the average cost per card to be Rs. 130, the total expenditure for issue of 60 crore cards is estimated to about Rs 7800 crore. Thus, the expected requirement of funds during 2013-14 is Rs. 4979.70 crores, whereas only Rs. 2620 crores have been kept for BE 2013-14, which is thus grossly inadequate.” It is apparent that there is more to it than meets the eye.
When Nilekani was asked about “concerns that the Aadhaar could be used in surveys such as the Socio-economic Caste Census (SECC) for racial profiling, or be linked to EVMs to determine voting patterns”his replay was evasive. He said, “The SECC or EVM machines have nothing to do with Aadhaar.”
Notably Aadhaar is the brand name of Unique Identification (UID) Number. The UID project was renamed the Aadhaar project after the UIDAI avowedly had a nationwide competition to find a logo and a brand name. Curiously, Aadhaar name echoes the name of Bangalore based Adhar Trust that Nilekani and Rohini Nilekani set up to fund their initiatives into a government function.
(Part 2: Here)
(Dr Gopal Krishna, Member, Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), who has been working on the subject of Big Data and biometric-digital surveillance technologies. He had appeared before the Parliamentary Standing on Finance that examined the Aadhaar Bill, 2010. He is editor of www.toxicswatch.org. )