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Rajya Sabha debates Aadhaar, Opposition points to flaws

LiveMint logoLiveMint 10-04-2017 PTI

New Delhi: Punching holes in the Aadhaar scheme, the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha on Monday said it was based on unverified data and violated the Supreme Court order that it should not be made mandatory for schemes which are not linked to subsidies.

They also raised concern over data integrity and privacy issues while attacking the government for using the Aadhaar system to “exclude” the beneficiaries for delivery of subsidies and claiming to have made huge government savings.

Just before a short duration debate on Aadhaar started in the Upper House, IT and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government saved about Rs50,000 crore LPG subsidy due to the linking of Aadhaar card with Jhan Dhan accounts.

“The World Bank and a UN body have clearly stated that the extraordinary technological innovation of India needs to be followed by the world. Surely they (UPA government) started it, but after improvements, it is showing results and the benefits have to be considered objectively,” he said.

The Aadhaar scheme was started by the UPA government. “Now there is a robust legislation that has laid down the entire format of how the biometric data will be collected, processed, stored and under what terms and conditions will it be used,” Prasad said. If there is unauthorised use of Aadhaar card details, the law provides for prosecution and punishment for up to 3 years, he added.

ALSO READ: Aadhaar: In the eye of the privacy storm

Initiating the debate, Rajeev Chandrashekar (Ind) expressed concern over fake Aadhaar cards, data integrity and privacy issues and also exclusion of subsidies by making it mandatory. He said he was not against the Aadhaar system but the risks and problems need to be addressed by the government. The government should not take a “rigid position”.

On fake Aadhaar cards, Chandrashekar said the government has inherited “100 crore unverified database” created prior to bringing the law in 2016. These 100 crore entries do not come under the section 303 of the Aadhaar Act. The section provides for issue of Aadhar card only after verification, he said.

“What has Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) done to comply with section 303 for all Aadhaar entries prior to 2016? ...Who is responsible for verifying these 100 crore entries before it is used as identity for elections, bank accounts and entering the airports for CISF?” When there is “clear evidence” of fake Aadhaar, he sought to know what safeguards the UIDAI had taken before permitting Aadhaar for use as an identification beyond delivering subsidies. “This needs to be answered,” he said.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh attacked the government for violating Supreme Court orders which clearly outlined where to use Aadhaar. Making it mandatory beyond subsidies is in gross violation of the SC orders, he said. Expressing grave concern over implementation of the scheme, he said making Aadhaar mandatory for availing subsidies was resulting in exclusion of beneficiaries and the government cannot claim to have saved huge subsidies by this.

ALSO READ: Govt plans to make Aadhaar or passport must for booking flight tickets

Elaborating on implementation issues, Ramesh said the government claims to have saved Rs49,000 crore LPG subsidies by linking with Aadhaar but a CAG report has debunked this in a recent report. The CAG has found that 92% of the savings in LPG subsidy was due to fall in global crude oil prices and not due to Aadhaar seeding, he said, adding that similar was the case with food subsidy, old-age pension and MNREGA.

“You must have had some savings, but saying it was around Rs50,000 crore subsidy is mind-boggling,” Ramesh said, adding that PDS, old-age pension and MGNREGA were three schemes where maximum exclusion was taking place.

Citing PDS data of Rajasthan, he said 26% of beneficiaries could not draw PDS wheat last month and “that is exclusion and not savings”. In case of MGNREGA, officials are so much under pressure to achieve 100% Aadhaar seeding that workers are denied of wages. For example in Chitradurga district in Karnataka, Rs10-15 crores of wages are not paid on time as local functionaries are busy with Aadhaar seeding, he added.

Ramesh urged the government to revisit the amendments which he had moved last year when the Aadhaar bill was listed for passage in the Rajya Sabha. There are many petitions pending on this issue. “I hope at some stage, the Supreme Court would bring finality to this issue,” he said. Participating in the debate, Vinay P Sahasrabuddhe (BJP) said that the Congress was not only nostalgic about it but is now indulging in “political paranoia”. Some kind of identity is required at a time when there are corruption and security issues. So far, 115 crore people have Aadhaar cards, he said.

The government has saved subsidies in the last few years, not because of exclusion but by curbing duplicate beneficiaries, he said, adding that those opposing implementation of Aadhaar are “big ATM and hawala lobbies”.

ALSO READ: Aadhaar fails MGNREGS test in Telangana

Participating in the discussion, Ravi Prakash Verma (SP) alleged that the government was using Aadhaar as a tool for revenue realisation. “You are dreaming of a cashless society by effecting cash transfers into BPL accounts. You have linked Aadhaar to income tax returns and bank accounts. This will help in revenue realisation. Government is taking the help of this tool for revenue realisation,” he said.

Attacking the government, Verma said “You have launched not only economic reforms but administrative and judicial reforms as well.”

A Navaneethakrishnan (AIADMK) raised objections against direct benefit transfer to beneficiaries’ bank accounts under Public Distribution System (PDS). He said the poor will tend to buy items other than essentials for which the money is being transferred into their account.

Derek O Brien (AITC) criticised the government for using Aadhaar for various schemes like MGNREGA and mid-day meal schemes. He said that in case of stone workers and other labourers, the biometrics often do not match and the people were being harassed unduly, especially for the mid-day meal scheme.

C P Narayanan (CPI-M) opined that Aadhaar should not be made mandatory for availing benefits by the citizens. He said that there is data of 100 crore people under Aadhaar with private companies and they should not make profit from this wealth of huge data. D Raja (CPI) pointed towards the UIDAI tie-up with some US based information technology firms which have been working closely with US intelligence agencies. He also said that Aadhaar should not be made mandatory for mid day meal scheme. K T S Tulsi also participated in the debate.

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