Friday, October 22, 2010

Nandan's Number: UID will lead to Citizen's Rights violations

The following is a comment I made on the blog post by Nitin Pai of the Takhsashila Institution.

a disappointing Yes Tank post.

its fairly obvious that UID will lead to "human" or rather citizen rights violations. lets take the PDS example.

the fundamental problem with PDS is not that there are more ration cards than families, but that many needy families don't have a ration card.

and not having a ration card, not just denies a beneficiary of food ration but also several other state benefits from a handloom saree to a color tv :-) but more crucially denies access to pension, ladli lakshmi, kalaigner health insurance etc. and don't even ask me about how premium the possession of a BPL ration card is against the APL one.

how will UID solve this problem? no way. it'll make the situation a lot worse.

the possession of a UID number will now become the premium possession and there is no reason to believe that govt will deliver such numbers any more efficiently than its bungling with ration/voter/pension cards. infact Nandan Nilekani's overly optimistic (rather outlandish) claim that govt offices will ping the Aadhar network for the citizen's identity, further strengthens the argument that the poor and the needy will be denied access to several benefits because they don't have a UID number.

The parliament authorizes the govt to spend billions of taxpayers money to provide food (and other essential benefits) but a needy citizen will be denied the benefit becos of a non-possession of a mere UID number. Parliament is going to makes laws proclaiming the RIGHT TO FOOD and the govt machinery jolly makes that conditional on a possession of a card?!! Or is parliament also gonna mandate the possession of a UID number a fundamental duty? and Nilekani claims UID number is optional!! yeah, right.

Now, pls don't under-estimate the difficulty in getting a card, any card from the govt if you are poor or belong to a backward caste. Any one of you who reads this post and doesn't have a voter ID, try to get one for you and your house maid from the same AROs office but going separately. There is a extremely high probability that your maid won't get it.

I'm part of a citizen's group in Bangalore which has worked on electoral roll/turnout mobilization efforts and I'm also studying PDS for another project. I can testify to the fact the India's poor are having a hard time getting any card from the end levels of the govt. Not to mention the bribes one has to pay, once the babu deigns that the poor person could be entitled to the "benefit" of possessing a card.


And this post is lot more disappointing becos its contrary to a widely held economic consensus (surprisingly on both left and right) that the targeted PDS is doomed to fail. Several left leaning members of the NAC (lead by Jean Dreze) have advocated universal PDS as opposed to TPDS. Harsh Mander and N C Saxena (who doubles up as a planning comm. member as well) wrote in detail about the merits and demerits of TPDS in their reports as the Supreme Court Commissioners ( on the "Right to Food".

On the other side of the spectrum, Swaminathan Aiyar advocates self-targeting by which the benefits are universal but come with strings attached (like taste of the flour distributed via PDS, becos of iodine, iron, millet flour mixed), that only the poor will opt for it.

on the whole, its fair to say that UID will lead to violation of citizens rights, unless ofcourse this blogger and the other pro-govt agencies think you are not a citizen unless you possess Nandan's Number.

ps: i have given five more reasons why we all should SAY NO TO UID. click on my name above to read the blog post.


Update: I didn't write this while commenting on Nitin's blog. but now I think about it, UID could be used to commit caste and gender based atrocities and almost certainly to demand bribes.

If UID is implemented as Nilekani claims it will be, where citizen's identity will be found by a govt office by pinging the Aadhar network, then thats a disaster waiting to happen. Currently, a govt official has to be very brazen to refuse identifying a citizen, when the latter submits copies of ration/voter/PAN card.

But if the onus of identifying the citizen is the domain of the babu, who'll look it up on the Aadhar network, then the citizen is a goner. The official can simply say "your name doesn't exist" and that "you are an imposter". A poor citizen will have no option but to bribe his/her way out of this insurmountable Babudom obstruction. And one can't even prosecute the official later. "Its not working on my computer" claim is as old as the computer itself.

And I can think of thousands of villages where upper castes in cooperation with the babus, will make the UID number more like a Manu (as in Manu Smriti) number. Our poor citizen being the pariah (outcast, untouchable) without a number.

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