I am not blindly opposed to a unique (and uniform) identity system for all residents in India. I have lived and worked in several countries where important transactions and activities were identifiable with my unique number. The same ID number appeared on my bank statements, driving licence, income tax returns and residence permits. But that is where it stopped. In India, we already have an untidy array of identities: our voter cards, our permanent account numbers, our driving licences and our government employees and armed forces ID cards. It is now mandated that Aadhaar must be linked to everything, from our PAN cards to our bank accounts, investments, property transactions, mobile phones and much else. We have been bombarded with coercive and threatening reminders to do so or be left penniless and sans communication. Although, the deadline for compliance has been extended to 31st March, the Supreme Court’s Aadhaar ruling may come too late for the recalcitrant. Aadhaar was originally designed as a voluntary enrolment for residents of India. Section 7, of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act of 2016, says verification of an individual’s identity will be necessary for transfers from the Consolidated Fund of India (i.e. the state exchequer). In reality, the demand for Aadhaar is now being used by growing numbers of service providers. Aadhaar was aimed at eliminating corruption in subsidies and enabling direct transfers to beneficiaries. In practice, its biometric (fingerprint and iris) verification has been found not to be fool-proof.
As the Tribune reporter proved last week, unscrupulous agents are already peddling access to the database of names, addresses, email IDs and so on (though not so far of biometrics). How much longer will it take for our most intimate details to fall into the paws of those who do not give a fig about our lives? Much of the hand-wringing about Aadhaar has come from people who will not actually need to use Aadhaar regularly. The system’s weaknesses will hit the poorest the most. Already, from outrages like refusals to issue death certificates to refusing a retired serviceman his pension to blocking a young man from obtaining a ‘hall ticket’ for an important examination, Aadhaar is proving exclusionary for the people it was meant to benefit the most.