Aadhar controversy

What explains the desperation to make Aadhaar mandatory for tax returns after July 1, 2017?

Aadhaar was missing from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manifesto and there was no such mention in Finance Bill 2017.

How desperate is the government of India to get everyone under its Unique Identity number project, Aadhaar? What is this extreme urgency to force everyone to get an Aadhaar number, while the case on the constitutionality of Aadhaar is yet to be determined by the Supreme Court? Why the sneaky tactics?

In a move that is in violation of the Supreme Court order of not making Aadhaar mandatory, the Union government has introduced amendments to the Finance Bill 2017 at the last minute, making Aadhaar mandatory for filing taxes. The amendments state:

“Every person who is eligible for an Aadhaar number shall, on or after the 1st day of July 2017, quote Aadhaar number,

(i) in the application form for allotment of the permanent account number

(ii) in the return of income”

Failing the quoting of the Aadhaar number in the income tax filing, the government will have the right to cancel the user’s permanent account number. These amendments were not a part of the Union Budget announcement earlier this year, and were slipped in yesterday: the Finance Bill on the Indian Budget website, makes no mention of Aadhaar.

The Finance Bill is being considered today for passing in the Lok Sabha.

Why make Aadhaar mandatory for tax returns?

What is the point of a PAN number then? There isn’t.

What the government of India is trying to do is take multiple identity documents and combine them under a single identity number, so that all other historical IDs become redundant. However, as is evident in this case, the PAN number isn’t going anywhere: it will still be required for tax filings, so Aadhaar is another layer of identification mechanism added on top of an existing one.

If the idea behind Aadhaar was to make give everyone an ID, why is it being forced on people who already have an ID for filing taxes?

An opinion piece in the Financial Express last month saw this coming, and saw it as an attempt to link tax filing to information of money and transactions available in bank accounts. While highlighting that out that out of “a total of over 24 crore PANs, the latest data indicate that only 97,33,664 have been linked to Aadhaar through e-returns”, it pointed out that an advantage of linking Aadhaar to PAN will “be a big source to gather banking transaction information, which can be an important indication of a person’s income profile.”

So, to put it simply:

Forcing digital transactions forces everyone to use accounts to make payments. Linkage of Aadhaar to bank accounts gives access to bank accounts. Linkage of Aadhaar to PAN number gives government ability to compare tax filings with bank accounts and payments.

An additional benefit is that the Income Tax department will be able to profile citizens according to their spending behavior, if it is allowed to do so, unless there are provisions in law preventing this.

For that we’ll need a privacy law. But a few things need to be pointed out:

1. Violation of Supreme Court guidelines

This appears to be in violation of the Supreme Court ruling of not making Aadhaar mandatory for citizens for all but a few services, while the court determines the constitutionality of Aadhaar and whether privacy is a fundamental right or not. It’s worth noting that the Aadhaar act fails in terms of guaranteeing privacy, and allows for mass surveillance of citizens under the guise of “national security”, a term which is vague and undefined under law. Citizens have no recourse under the law, and Section 47 of the Act prescribes that only the Unique Identification Authority of India can file a criminal complaint for theft of data.

What is this but contempt of court? The Supreme Court of India appears to be turning a blind eye to the government’s violation of its order: are laws and orders only valid when the SC chooses to enforce them?

Why the hurry?

Here’s a guess: By the time the government is done with getting everyone on Aadhaar by making it mandatory, in violation of the Supreme Court order, the Supreme Court ruling will become redundant: Aadhaar will stay because it’s too big now to fail, and too much money, time, effort has been spent on piecing this together. Thus, pace is important for the government.

2. The issue of the single identifier and linked databases

Unlike the United States Social Security Number, Aadhaar is being used as an identifier to link databases, which makes it easy for government officials to gain access to personal user information, such as bank records, education data, health records, and for surveillance of phone calls and data usage. Until Aadhaar, this data was not linked, but as we are aware, schools are now mandating Aadhaar numbers, Banks are pushing customers to get one, and even the Supreme Court has asked the government to link Aadhaar to mobile numbers.

3. The BJP’s U turn on Aadhaar

Lest we forget, the PM Narendra Modi had publicly criticised Aadhaar when he wasn’t the PM:

Note that Aadhaar was missing from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manifesto. Now it appears to have become their main focus.

4. No privacy law in India

India doesn’t have an privacy law, and the attorney general, Mukul Rohatgi, has even argued in Supreme Court, that there is no fundamental right to privacy, saying, “Violation of privacy doesn’t mean anything because privacy is not a guaranteed right”

Someone needs to file a petition in the Supreme Court, seeking a stay, or at least pause this expansion of Aadhaar’s mandate in the absence of a SC ruling on it.

A version of this article first aapeared on medianama.com

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Harvard Business School’s HBX brings the future of business education to India with online programs

HBX is not only offering courses online, but also connecting students to the power of its network.

The classic design of the physical Harvard Business School (HBS) classroom was once a big innovation – precisely designed teaching amphitheaters laid out for every student to participate from his or her seat with a “pit” in the center of the room from which professors orchestrate discussions analyzing business cases like a symphony lead. When it came to designing the online experience of HBX—the school’s digital learning initiative—HBS faculty worked tirelessly to blend these tenets of the HBS classroom pedagogy with the power of new technology. With real-world problem solving, active learning, and social learning as its foundation, HBX offers immersive and challenging self-paced learning experiences through its interactive online learning platform.

Reimagining digital education, breaking the virtual learning mold

Typically, online courses follow a one-way broadcast mode – lectures are video recorded and reading material is shared – and students learn alone and are individually tested. Moving away from the passive learning model, HBX has developed an online platform that leverages the HBS ‘case-based pedagogy’ and audio-visual and interaction tools to make learning engaging.

HBX courses are rarely taught through theory. Instead, students learn through real-world problem-solving. Students start by grappling with a business problem – with real world data and the complexity in which a business leader would have to make a decision – and learn the theory inductively. Thus even as mathematical theories are applied to business situations, students come away with a greater sense of clarity and perspective, whether it is reading a financial report, understanding why a brand’s approach to a random sample population study may or may not work, or how pricing works.

HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program
HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program

“Learning about concepts through real-life cases was my favorite part of the program. The cases really helped transform abstract concepts into observable situations one could learn from. Furthermore, it really helped me understand how to identify situations in which I could use the tools that HBX equipped me with,” says Anindita Ravikumar, a past HBX participant. India’s premier B-school IIM-Ahmedabad has borrowed the very same pedagogy from Harvard. Learning in this manner is far more engaging, relatable, and memorable.

Most lessons start with a short 2-3 minute video of a manager talking about the business problem at hand. Students are then asked to respond on how they would handle the issue. Questions can be in the form of either a poll or reflections. Everyone’s answers are then visible to the ‘classroom’. In the words of Professor Bharat Anand, Faculty Chair, HBX, “This turns out to be a really important distinction. The answers are being updated in real-time. You can see the distribution of answers, but you can also see what any other individual has answered, which means that you’re not anonymous.” Students have real profiles and get to know their ‘classmates’ and learn from each other.

HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort
HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort

Professor Anand also says, “We have what we call the three-minute rule. Roughly every three minutes, you are doing something different on the platform. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. Anyone could be called on to participate at any time. It’s a very lean forward mode of learning”. Students get ‘cold-called’ – a concept borrowed from the classroom – where every now and then individuals will be unexpectedly prompted to answer a question on the platform and their response will be shared with other members of the cohort. It keeps students engaged and encourages preparedness. While HBX courses are self-paced, participants are encouraged to get through a certain amount of content each week, which helps keep the cohort together and enables the social elements of the learning experience.

More than digital learning

The HBS campus experience is valued by alumni not just for the academic experience but also for the diverse network of peers they meet. HBX programs similarly encourage student interactions and opportunities for in-person networking. All HBXers who successfully complete their programs and are awarded a credential or certificate from HBX and Harvard Business School are invited to the annual on-campus HBX ConneXt event to meet peers from around the world, hear from faculty and business executives, and also experience the HBS campus near Cambridge.

HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand
HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand

Programs offered today

HBX offers a range of programs that appeal to different audiences.

To help college students and recent graduates prepare for the business world, HBX CORe (Credential of Readiness) integrates business essentials such as analytics, economics, and financial accounting. HBX CORe is also great for those interested in an MBA looking to strengthen their application and brush up their skills to be prepared for day one. For working professionals, HBX CORe and additional courses like Disruptive Strategy, Leading with Finance, and Negotiation Mastery, can help deepen understanding of essential business concepts in order to add value to their organizations and advance their careers.

Course durations range from 6 to 17 weeks depending on the program. All interested candidates must submit a free, 10-15 minute application that is reviewed by the HBX admissions team by the deadlines noted on the HBX website.

For more information, please review the HBX website.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HBX and not by the Scroll editorial team.