The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: Even if you believe in the Aadhaar project, UIDAI’s behaviour should shock you

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more).

The Big Story:

The decision of the Unique Identity Authority of India, the body that oversees the Aadhaar project, to file a complaint against the Tribune and its reporter Rachna Khaira for pointing to major weaknesses in the unique identity digital infrastructure has rightly been condemned. Khaira’s story pointed out that any number of operators that had originally been signed up to enrol Indian residents onto Aadhaar, a 12-digit biometric-based identity, could access the demographic details of people across the entire database. Moreover, Khaira learnt that these operators were monetising this data, selling it to her for Rs 500, with another Rs 300 to print out the Aadhaar card of anyone in the database, so long as she had their Aadhar number.

In response, UIDAI first called the story a case of misreporting, denied that anything had happened, admitted that the story referred to an extant grievance redressal mechanism that did indeed give access to all that data as reported, insisted that the leak of demographic data was not dangerous (even though it has been used to commit fraud) and reverted to its now numbingly familiar statement: biometrics remain safe. It then went and filed a complaint with the Delhi Police, specifically asking for a First Information Report to be filed against the agents mentioned in the story, as well as Khaira, the reporter and the Tribune. Ultimately, the police registered an FIR against unknown persons.

On Sunday, after being condemned by journalists’ bodies and Opposition parties, the authority attempted to defend itself by claiming that it is “duty bound to disclose all the details of the case”. The UIDAI insisted in its release that this should not “be viewed as UIDAI targeting the media or the whistle-blower or ‘shooting the messenger’.”

Unfortunately, that is exactly what the authority has tried to do, repeatedly, and there is no reason to believe it is not doing the same thing again. It has in the past filed similar complaints against other journalists who have attempted to point to flaws in the system’s operations. And let us not forget, the co-founder of an organisation closely associated with UIDAI admitted in May 2017 that he took to Twitter to troll those who criticised Aadhaar. Both the authority itself and the ecosystem that has grown around it, enabled by a government that has used spurious methods to expand Aadhaar’s remit, appear to see shooting the messenger as the only way to deal with criticism.

For those who have been critical of the Aadhaar project, this is only further proof of the bad faith with which the entire scheme has been run. From what was meant to be a tool that enabled welfare delivery, Aadhaar has instead turned into a means of exclusion that doubles up as surveillance technology building databases that can be monetised. Activists who have pointed this out all along have often been vilified, accused of defending the corrupt or simply been dismissed as kooky conspiracy theorists.

But UIDAI’s behaviour should be troubling even for those who believe the Aadhaar project has the potential to improve governance. That premise rests on the belief that technology can make up for the failings of the Indian state, which had so far meant plenty of leakage in welfare and service delivery. Yet the actual implementation and spread of Aadhaar enabled by the same state appears to have been done in as shoddy of a manner as the schemes that came before it, with little proper security, errors that might be irreversible and the emergence of things like duplicate Aadhaars that threaten the very idea of the unique identity altogether. And all of that is the case before even considering whether Aadhaar violates a fundamental right to privacy, a question that the Supreme Court will take up this month.

The government and UIDAI’s unwillingness to listen to criticism of Aadhaar suggests this has turned into just another failed government scheme, one that is useful for the state but not for the people. Those critical of Aadhaar have been saying this all along. Those who were hopeful about the project should demand, at the very least, transparency and inquiry if they are to continue trusting a scheme that clearly rests on shaky foundations.

The Big Scroll

Punditry

  1. “Bhima Koregaon has become a flashpoint because it is the contingent site where at least three political projects are colliding even as they are trying in different ways to collude with each other,” writes Satish Deshpande in the Indian Express, referring to the Hindutva project, the Dalit project and the backward castes project.
  2. “Rajinikanth’s branding of his politics as “spiritual” too seems a well-thought-out idea to distinguish and distance himself from the anti-god moorings of the politics of the State where people are becoming increasingly religious,” writes S Gurumurthy in the Hindu.
  3. The jury is still out on the new Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, writes Ashwini Mehra in Mint, while pointing out promising signs that will nevertheless need constant vigilance from the government and regulators.
  4. “If India is to pull back from becoming a land in which people live with dread only because they worship a different god, or are born to disadvantaged castes, or look different or eat differently, then we must fight to shatter societal, political and official silences and denials,” writes Harsh Mander in the Telegraph.
  5. Rajinikanth may offer an alternative leadership to Tamil Nadu, but the politics of populism and patronage look set to continue as usual, writes Pravin Prakash in the Indian Express.

Giggle

Don’t miss

Angikaar Choudhury writes about South Africa’s pace quartet which took on India together for what is perhaps the last time.

 Vernon Philander is the metronome. He’s more classic rock than heavy metal. He has no time for the fury and the rage. Much like Roberts before him, he is all precision, method and brain. Teasing and tantalising the batsman with relentless banana swing at one spot of the pitch. Over and over again. Much like an incisor chipping through cloth.  

Okay fine, but he won’t take off my head, right? No worries, look who it is from the other end. Why, South Africa’s own version of the Big Bird himself. There’s a bit of Joel Garner in Morne Morkel. A lot of limbs, a towering presence at 1.96 metres, all coming together in one heaving package to deliver a red ball from way above the eye-line.

Virat Kohli, perhaps the greatest batsman of his generation, thought he knew a thing or two when he saw Morkel pitch it to him on a good length on Friday. Except when it comes from that height, the ball does strange things – it jags up uncomfortably, zones in on your body and, in Kohli’s case, took the edge of his bat’s shoulder, rebounding off to Quinton de Kock behind him.

Sounds uncomfortable already? The batsman in you cringing? That’s probably the same thing those hapless batsmen in the late ’70s felt. But, come now, we’re just getting started here. Heard the phrase, “Pace like Fire”? Meet the man who exemplifies that: Dale Steyn.

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