Saturday, 13 April 2013


We're in a quandary, don't you think milady?
What is life,but a satirical comedy?
Afflicted with each and every malady,
Are the leading actors of this parody!

Standing together, arm in arm;
Spreading discord, grief and alarm.
Causing much strife and great harm,
Love a nonentity, the world no longer warm.

None to stand and give a fight, 
As all have given into flight.
Save one whose soul burns a dazzling white,
The emancipator,the bright light.

Tis he and he alone,
Unaffected by desecration and the nefarious tone,
Whose marrow be hardened like stone,
Rid us of this pestilence, with the remarkable skills he doth hone.

Wait, we must, patiently.
For he of this mettle, exists not presently.
One can only pray,fervently,
In addition to believing wholeheartedly

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Aadhaar: A UIDAI Undertaking

What is Aadhaar?

Aadhar is basically a glorified attempt to copy "Social Security Number" of the west. 

Since the disclosure of the central government notification for the purposes of issue of unique identification numbers, dated 28/01/2009, being in executive in nature, the UIDAI (functioning under the Planning Commission of India) has been the topic on everyone’s lips. While many proclaim it to be the most beneficial measure the Indian government has declared till date, there are others who hold views in the exact opposite direction. One may naturally assume that all literate and several illiterate citizens of India know the gist of the Aadhar scheme brought out by the UIDAI, as it has gathered a lot of publicity and also, this is not a very recent change.
The  UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India), with the charismatic Nandan Nilekani at its helm, has come out with India’s version of the American social security number system: The Aadhaar number. The Aadhaar card is issued by the UIDAI on the behalf of the GOI and it contains a 12 digit Aadhaar number, which serves as proof of identity and address across India. When first announced, no government schemes were linked with it, although the possibility was being looked into. Now, however, several subsidiaries and schemes are associated with it and it is seen as a structure that will drastically reduce, if not completely abolish the leakages and corruption seen in many of the government’s welfare schemes. It is also viewed as a corrective measure enforced by the government, to facilitate easy access of aid by the appropriate beneficiary/beneficiaries.

The government claims that enrollment into the Aadhaar system is a by choice as it is not mandatory.But, a lot of benifits being afforded to people are being coupled with Aadhaar which makes the afore mentioned statement a technicality.
 A list of various identity and address proofs have been put up on the UIDAI website (, which is the only set of documents requested, can be brought to the Aadhar centre for enrollment. One of the more attractive features of the Aadhaar scheme is that the underprivileged, such as rural, tribal or nomadic people, can also avail an Aadhaar card without much fuss as all they require is an introducer to vouch for them. Only demographic and specific biometric information is asked for here, namely your age, sex, D.o.b., address, contact details, photo, all 10 fingerprints and an iris scan. There also exists a grievance redressal mechanism within it, to whim one can go to with their respective problems regarding Aadhaar.

The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 (yet to be ratified in the Rajya Sabha) is the statutory basis of the Aadhaar system. Till date, several ingenious designs of the government have been linked with the Aadhaar scheme, such as:

1.Direct Cash- This can be of two types, namely direct cash transfer and conditional cash transfer. In Direct Cash Transfers, money is either delivered directly to the beneficiary or transferred into the individual’s bank account. It carries no conditions after beneficiaries are recognized (e.g. Pension). In Conditional Cash Transfers, transfers are made conditional on the achievement of certain social or development objectives. In these programs, beneficiaries must fulfill certain conditions before obtaining money (e.g. NREGS, Janani Suraksha Yojana etc.).

2.Subsidies- Under the broad umbrella of subsidies, a variety of welfare schemes such as TPDS (Targeted Public Distribution Systems; LPG subsidy, ration system etc.) are present. Aadhaar Enabled Service Delivery (AESD) is an IT enabled service based on the Aadhaar which will be used for TPDS.

3.Individual Service Schemes- It includes schemes that involve payments to service providers providing supplies and services to consumers such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) program.

4.Aadhaar for Identification (KYC) - The need for “Know your Customer” norms arose, while brainstorming for methods to curtail losses incurred by banks due to bad loan investments (defaulters). Suggested by the RBI, it has now been adapted by many of the financial institutions. The Ministry of Finance has amended Prevention of Money Laundering Rules to recognize Aadhaar as an “officially valid” KYC document. RBI, IRDA and SEBI have notified Aadhaar as a valid KYC document for banks, insurance and securities markets respectively. It is also taken as KYC w.r.t Telecom and Internet connections.

5.Aadhaar Enabled Payment Systems- Aadhaar Enabled Payments System(AEPS) enables banks to route the financial transactions through a standard platform to empower the resident to use Aadhaar as his identity to authenticate and subsequently operate his respective Aadhaar enabled account and perform basic financial transactions (Deposit, Withdrawal, Funds Transfer, Balance Enquiry and Mini Statement) using the Aadhaar number and their fingerprint as identity proof (along with a Bank Identification Number for inter-bank transactions). For this, standards for on-line, inter-operable devices termed microATMs have been finalized by a committee consisting of members from RBI, Indian Banks Association (IBA), Banks, UIDAI and the Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology (IDRBT).

      6.Aadhaar in Public Health- An integrated routine health system that can capture and track population level disease conditions by linking citizen ids with hospital or other medical facility records generated through facility visits can inform the public health system of the prevalence of various disease conditions as well as help prepare the health system to respond to unforeseen epidemics. The UID could further help catalyze a revolution in India’s health outcomes.

7.Labour skills and Employment- Tie up between Aadhaar and schemes like MGNREGA etc.

8. Aadhaar in Education- Section 3(1) of the recently passed Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act makes it clear that every child of the age of six to fourteen years shall have the right to free education. In order to achieve this goal, an exhaustive survey of all children of this age group must be conducted. Providing Aadhaar cards to these children will help subsequently to find out the children who are out of the education system. Once it is provided during childhood, the Aadhaar number can be utilized throughout his/her lifetime (as according to the information provided by the UIDAI states that the iris undergoes no significant change during an individual’s lifetime), including the period during the educational age. Monitoring dropouts, which constitutes a significant problem in the elementary education stage, would become easier.

So what's wrong with Aadhar?

The integration of Economic, social and health related government welfare schemes (with the underlying theme being inclusive in nature) through efficient application of technology is most definitely a noble initiative. This shows the government’s eagerness and initiative to help out all off its citizens, irrespective of caste, creed or income. The UPA has capitalized on this widespread feeling of goodwill towards Aadhaar (more so, as UIDAI Chairman Nandan Nilekani doesn’t want to be known as the face of the government’s ‘game changer’ and is more than willing to let the UPA take credit for the Aadhaar initiative).Thus, on one hand, the GOI and UIDAI have been heralded as saviours, most able administrators of our country and the initiative most admirable. On the other hand, the critics of Aadhaar are crying foul, stating that it is not the foolproof universal solution everyone touts it to be. In this light, numerous allegations have been made against Aadhaar, from the information it collects to its collection methods and the basis for it all.

Approximately 220 million people have applied for Aadhaar by now, out of which 201 m have already received it and the government wants 600 m more people to enroll by 2014. Although enrollment is not mandatory, by linking welfare schemes of the state to it, indirectly, it is made compulsory for everyone. The scheme was introduced as a pilot scheme in Mysore, Karnataka. Many, especially the poor, like daily wage labourers, weren’t enthusiastic about it. For them, it meant losing wages while standing in long queues, participating in cumbersome proceedings and later, even open bank accounts. This initial reluctance ensured only minimal enrollment into Aadhaar. To overcome it, UIDAI advertised emphatically about the benefits of Aadhaar and then stated that, to obtain PDS ration and LPG subsidy, one must possess an Aadhaar card. This figuratively lit a fire, so to speak, and all and sundry ran to enroll. At the end of this, UIDAI proudly claimed success, as 97% enrollment was achieved in Mysore.

This joining of schemes, with basic rights, such as salary and important benefits such as pension, subsidies and other services is seen as highly absurd as well as inconvenient, as enrollment is not mandatory. Many question whether amenities like subsidies can be denied or revoked just because an individual does not possess an Aadhaar card. Apart from facilities catering for the poor, jobs, housing, provident funds and even registering a marriage require enrollment. Suddenly, Aadhar has mutated into a non-optional scheme, in the presence of an elected, democratic government. Is this fair?

Another cause for worry is the sudden closure or absence of Aadhaar centres, when one wants to enroll. For those organizations partnering the UIDAI (list present on UIDAI website), enrollment is very easy, as the Aadhaar officials come to their offices, collect the requisite data and process it within a few weeks. However, for the common citizen, things are never so straightforward. One must catch the Aadhaar office while it is functional; endure the serpentine queues, sometimes in the presence of dirt and faulty machinery, in order to continue availing the benefits he/she rightfully should rightfully beget. Many vociferously state that this extra-legal coercion deviously imposed by the present government is a sad sight to see.

The severest critic of the Aadhaar scheme has been the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance (PSCF), which deliberated that the Aadhaar scheme is “full of uncertainty in technology as the complex scheme is built upon untested, unreliable technology and several assumptions”. It found Aadhaar to be “directionless” and “conceptualized with no clarity”. Horror tales from Karnataka and Rajasthan have begun to do rounds, as to how even the Aadhaar scheme can be manipulated by middle men as well as unscrupulous NGO’s for their own benefit. It thus comes as a very great surprise, the Finance Minister’s observation that the pilot projects have been a boon to the beneficiaries in both Karnataka and Rajasthan

One of the grand affirmations made my UIDAI is that with the implementation of the Aadhar scheme is the complete eradication of the “middle men” present in the PDS. Also, all the fake beneficiaries will be weeded out and cash transferred only to all the eligible, identified beneficiaries. Thus, Aadhaar facilitates all three: Access to eligible benefits, Access to full benefits, and Access to benefits when it is due. Aruna Roy, social activist and National Advisory Council member, says the performance of DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) scheme has been dismissal and exclusionary, with respect to poor beneficiaries. For example, out of 20,000 potential beneficiaries in Ajmer district, only 220 received cash through the scheme, she said. As none of those who claimed their money used the much publicized Aadhaar biometric authentication system, it had seen “zero success” so far, said Ms. Roy. Other critics mention that the PDS is a vital source of economic security and nutrition support for millions of people and ask for it to be consolidated, not dismantled.

As per the UIDAI, the human iris does not vary much during an individual’s lifetime (not including those who have undergone eye surgery, have blood clot in the eye etc.) and thus was taken as the main focus of their biometric identification measures. Lawyer-activist Usha Ramanathan states that “Iris scanning adopted for the UID project is flawed as the iris changes over time”. She also goes on to say that the idea of using biometric validation of identities was adopted despite there being no evidence of its viability anywhere in the world. These are statements backed by science as one can see in the Nature news article ( Also, the UIDAI’s own Biometrics Standard Committee has confessed that retaining biometric efficiency database of more than one billion people “has not been adequately analysed” and the problem of fingerprint quality in India has not been studied in depth either. On that account, the technological basis of the project remains doubtful.

It is very much true that Saudi Arabia supports biometric validation and has in fact adopted it as a part of most of their economic transactions. UK, Canada, Australia as well as the U.S.A wanted to adopt biometric validation of identities, and they all did, to various extents. However, all four did give up on the idea as it proved to be very costly, not fool-proof as the likelihood of software incorrectly matching two irises from different people, known as the false match rate, is not insignificant as previously thought, but grows more significant as time passes. Hence all four
Have rejected the idea, the reasons behind it being predominantly been costs and privacy. If it is too expensive for the US with a population of 308 million, and the UK with 61 million people, and Australia with 21 million people, it is being asked by many why India thinks it can prioritise its spending in this direction. In the UK the home secretary explained that they were abandoning the project because it would otherwise be “intrusive bullying” by the State, and that the government intended to be the “servant” of the people, and not their “master”. Is this an unobtrusive way of keeping tabs on each and every citizen of the country is another question being voiced.

Anyone, without having to provide identity and address proofs, can also avail the Aadhaar card with the assistance of an introducer. This was allowed to facilitate those citizens living in poverty stricken areas who do not possess any legal document whatsoever, to also benefit from the Aadhar schemes. This has in advertently resulted in many illegal immigrants obtaining the Aadhaar card, and so establishing themselves as bona fide citizens of India. This makes it a problem of national security. This must be stopped.

An even more serious issue is data security and the subsequent threat to privacy. The UIDAI claims that access to its database will be secure from intelligence agencies. This claim rings hollow because the Aadhaar project is contracted to receive technical support from L-1 Identity solutions (now Morpho Trust U.S.A.), a well- known defense contractor. Contracts are also awarded to Accenture Services Pvt. Ltd., which works with U.S. homeland security and Ernest and Young to install the UIDAI’s central ID Data Repository. The feasibility of database security when the technical providers are American business corporations and U.S. law requires them to provide information demanded of them, to U.S. Homeland Security, is questioned by Major General S.G Vombatkere (Retd. Director General, Discipline and Vigilance in Army HQ) in his article published in The Hindu. He goes on to say, when biometric data and other personal information fall into the hands of unauthorized agencies, privacy is unequivocally compromised. So, when the data of millions of citizens are involved, it is nothing short of a potential recipe for a national disaster. The fact that UIDAI is silent and doesn’t address these security concerns doesn’t inspire confidence in the ability of UIDAI or the Aadhaar system to maintain the right to personal privacy.

The most substantial and thus the most worrisome aspect of the Aadhaar scheme, is the fact that it has no statutory force. Hence, a PIL (Public Interest Litigation petition) was filed by retired Karnataka High Court judge, Justice K S Puttaswamy and advocate Parvesh Khanna, which questioned the government's decision of issuing Aadhaar numbers to citizens while the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 is pending before the Rajya Sabha where it was introduced on December 3, 2010.The Bill, for the purpose of giving legal backing to the scheme, was referred by the Rajya Sabha to the Standing Committee (Finance) which had rejected it by overwhelming majority on December 11, 2011. "Whether the executive power vested in the Union under Article 73 of the Constitution can be exercised by avoiding the consideration of a Bill on the same subject pending before the Parliament and after its rejection by the Standing Committee… and circumventing the Parliament?", the plea asked. They seek Legal redress and wish to stop the implementation of the Bill, which the government is bent on implementing by circumventing the passage of the Bill by Parliament after discussion, debate and voting.
My Take:
Incorporate PAN Card into Aadhaar. Go one step further than the west and incorporate your driving status into it as well. Include a passport number. Make the criteria on which Aadhaar cards are being issued more structured and stringent. May be then, we can discuss details.

Please feel free to leave feedback.


Many thanks to S.G Vombatkere (Retd. Major General) for I have not only referred to several of his writings, but have also liberally used many of his points in the above piece.

Friday, 22 February 2013

State Politics: A curious observation

Sometime during this past week, I had an interesting conversation with a colleague of mine. It went something like this:

Him: So, dude, which party are you going to vote for in the next state elections?
A: I dunno. I'm not really too enthused about performances of any of the parties for the past 15 years. I wish there were more independents like Capt. Gopinath around.
H: OK..
A: What about you?
H: Definitely for a regional party.
A: Because they had done such an incredible job?
H: No.. To keep the money in our state. TN would be a perfect example of this. They're prospering. I'm sure TN is not corruption free.But what the politicians earn in TN, stays in TN.  H.D. Kumaraswamy started a Kannada channel a few years ago. Now, I don't know how a farmer's son managed to "earn" so much money, but, it kept the money in Karnataka. I don't want my money going into some politician's daughter's wedding out of state.

Now, this logicking blew my mind. I'd never thought of state parties and governments this way. I was interested by this train of thought and started doing some research. Here's what I found(Thank you wiki):

State/union territory
Tamil Nadu219,003249,567287,530305,157320,085350,258391,372428,109
Uttar Pradesh260,841277,818300,225322,214344,726365,761394,499419,090
Andhra Pradesh224,713246,210273,730306,645327,731347,344381,942407,949
West Bengal208,656221,789239,077257,632270,248296,843317,786340,234
Delhi Territory100,325110,406124,080137,961155,791172,830191,696213,429

All GDPs mentioned above are nominal and I've only taken the top 12 states into consideration.

Looking at the table above, though my colleague's theory was interesting, the stats threw the theory out the window. TN is an exception rather than the rule. If its not politics, what exactly does it depend on? Size? If so, where are MP, JK and Odisha? Population? If so, Rajasthan, MP and Odisha are missing again. I've tried to rank states on different criteria and tried to see if all the top 12 from that list figured in the GDP list.
After some desperation, I threw GDP out the window and took up Per-Capita and compared it with Literacy, etc etc etc. After much research, I came to one conclusion: Development is a simple concept to understand.

Now, I am not a professional journalist. I'm not even an amateur blogger. I'm just an average Citizen with time to spend.

For all the activists and journalists out there, here's a question for you. We are a diverse sub-continent. Instead of highlighting the friction, can you come up with statistics and hard fact about what makes a state tick? And how other states can emulate them?

Please share your thoughts and leave your comments.