You’ve probably read the WhatsApp joke about a post-Aadhaar scenario in 2020 India. A man orders pizza over phone. He is asked for his Aadhaar number first. He then orders a family-size seafood pizza, only to be reminded by the attendant about his high blood pressure and cholesterol levels (thanks to his Aadhaar history visible to everybody “on the system”) and is advised to order the low-fat Hokkien Mee pizza instead, based on his recent search history on Hokkien cuisine. As if this isn’t creepy enough, the pizza guy refuses a card payment, citing the man’s maxed-out credit cards, advises against ATM withdrawal owing to his massive overdraft and even decides to hold off the free cola offer given his dire health situation. When the man turns livid, he is told to mind his language, given that in 2007 he was already imprisoned for verbally abusing a policeman!
2020 is two and a half years away, and the WhatsApp scenario appears less incredulous by the day.
By the government’s latest estimate, 112,01,12,468 Aadhaar cards have been issued since January 2009, when the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was set up under the Planning Commission. So if you are an adult Indian resident without an Aadhaar card, you are in a two per cent minority (98 per cent adults are covered).
Last week, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the 12-digit number would be the single monolith identity for all Indians in the coming years, replacing every other identity card. The government is serious because each week a new scheme is added to the three dozen schemes in which Aadhaar has been made mandatory. All the 84 schemes under the direct subsidy benefit transfer programme are expected to follow suit.
Here are just a few instances in which you should be ready to whip out your Aadhaar card — a free midday meal at a government school, access to Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan, LPG subsidy and foodgrains under the public distribution system, six scholarship schemes for students with disabilities, getting your EPF pensions, booking a train ticket online, getting a backward caste quota or benefit, and, according to the most recent directive in the Finance Bill, filing your tax returns.
Why did a dispensation so critical of Aadhaar in 2014 make a sharp U-turn to bulldoze its way into having every single Indian citizen scanned, tagged and labelled?
The earliest felt need for an identification project can be traced to the Kargil Review Committee, instituted by the Vajpayee Government in 1999, in the wake of the Indo-Pak war. The Krishnaswamy Subrahmanyam-led panel had recommended a citizenship database for the identification of legitimate Indian citizens living in border areas.
As outlined in a Scroll article, this quickly expanded to include all Indians under the Multipurpose National Identity Card project, which was pilot tested in a few villages. The Citizenship Act was also amended to give a legislative backing to the scheme, which built on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s general stance against illegal immigrants.
The search for identity
The Citizenship Act was amended in 2004 by the incumbent Congress government to make way for the National Population Register (NPR), a database of the identities of all Indian residents, maintained by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India.
Eventually, in 2009, Aadhaar, or UIDAI, surfaced as a 12-digit identification number that served as proof of identity and address — meaning, it applies to all residents whether they are citizens or not, unlike with the NPR. Aadhaar, which means ‘basis’ in Hindi, is intended to be an all-encompassing substratum of identities that can provide “instant access to services like banking, mobile phone connections and other government and non-government services”. The United Progressive Alliance government managed to link it to its Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system for subsidies provided to targeted groups.
As the main Opposition party, the BJP had felt that the Aadhaar number ought to have been given only to Indian citizens, and not all residents, which, in its view, would include millions of illegal immigrants.
Nandan Nilekani, the former CEO of IT giant Infosys, was appointed UIDAI chairman in July 2009. The first Aadhaar number was issued in September 2010, and then the pace accelerated: 100 million by November 2011, 200 million by February 2012 and 500 million by end of 2013. “We felt speed was strategic. Doing and scaling things quickly was critical. If you move very quickly it doesn’t give opposition the time to consolidate,” Nilekani told Forbes India in a 2013 interview.
Here’s the part most of us forget: The largest opposition that Nilekani was referring to at that time was the BJP.
“The people who thought of themselves as having given birth to IT in this country refused to listen to a common man like me. Even the SC has demanded answers,” Narendra Modi, then Gujarat chief minister, had said and alleged that the Aadhaar programme was a bundle of lies to loot the country’s treasury.
As the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, days ahead of delivering the party’s biggest-ever victory, he had tweeted: “On Aadhaar, neither the Team that I met nor PM could answer my Qs on security threat it can pose. There is no vision, only political gimmick.” Recently, when Aadhaar enrolments had crossed the billion mark, this tweet was dug out prominently.
So, what changed? How did the Aadhaar’s primary opposition become it’s key crusader?
There were two meetings that supposedly changed the destiny of the Aadhaar project. In the first week of June 2014, as Nilekani was vacating his government-allotted Lutyen’s bungalow as UIDAI chief, he met Modi and Jaitley and persuaded the new regime to persist with Aadhaar. The more important meeting was with Vijay Madan, the UIDAI director general and mission director. According to a Governance Now article, when the UID team spoke of the potential savings from plugging subsidy leakages, and weeding out “ghost beneficiaries”, Modi asked them to give a precise estimate. The figure was “up to ₹50,000 crore a year” or a good 9.4 per cent of India’s ₹5,31,177-crore fiscal deficit.
Modi in his keenness to showcase the arrival of “acche din” immediately sought a 100-crore enrolment target at the ‘earliest’, putting paid to speculations that the new government would shelve the UIDAI project. A funding of ₹2,039.64 crore was formalised in the 2014-2015 Budget presented a week later, to create the infrastructure to enrol 30 crore people to add to the 70 crore already enrolled. The UIDAI targeted the 1-billion mark by the end of that fiscal.
Money bill to beat legal hurdles
It was in November 2012 that the SC admitted a PIL filed by retired Karnataka High Court judge KS Puttaswamy and advocate Parvesh Khanna, questioning the government’s decision to issue Aadhaar even as the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 was pending before the Rajya Sabha since December 3, 2010. They argued that there was no legislative backing for obtaining personal information. Also, the proposed law was rejected by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance.
The PIL argued that linking the Aadhaar number with food security, LPG subsidy, the Employees’ Provident Fund and other direct benefit transfers made the enrolment mandatory, thereby falsifying the government’s claim that it was voluntary. Several other PILs too voiced similar privacy concerns.
Currently, there are two legal strictures governing the validity of Aadhaar: the apex court order of October 15, 2015, limiting the card’s voluntary use to six schemes (PDS, MGNREGA, LPG, NEPS and social assistance programmes) and prohibiting the government from making it mandatory for receiving any benefits or services; and the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, which is under challenge today. Both strictures have distinct operational status, but petitioners argue that recent government directives making Aadhaar mandatory are leading them to wonder whether the SC’s interim order is overshadowed by the Aadhaar Act or if the government is defying the court.
On March 3, 2016, in a surprise move, to put all dissent to rest, the Aadhaar Act was introduced as a Money Bill in Parliament to give it legislative backing. Things moved pretty fast thereon. On March 11, the Aadhaar Act 2016 was passed in the Lok Sabha. On March 26, the Act was notified. Accusing the BJP-led NDA government of showing “utter contempt” for the Rajya Sabha by taking the Money Bill route, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh challenged it in the Supreme Court in April. He likened the use of the Money Bill, which was passed overruling amendments moved in the Rajya Sabha, to “knocking a nail in the coffin of the Upper House”.
The government’s move took many, including Aadhaar advocates, by surprise. “We need to separate Aadhaar as identity from its specific functionality for which it’s used,” says Praveen Chakravarty, a senior fellow at the IDFC institute and a former member of Nilekani’s core team. He believes that just as a voter ID alone isn’t enough to vote, seeing the ownership of an Aadhaar card as key for any transaction is “fear-mongering”. Its use will still involve a process of checks and balances.
But can’t thumb prints be replicated with Fevicol?
“Sure, there could be failures, as there are with any system. But this is a far more foolproof method than any we’ve had before. Internationally also, biometric is to authenticate a higher level of security.”
The argument for privacy
“Aadhaar has the potential to improve welfare service delivery. But it has to be achieved in an inclusive manner befitting a truly liberal society and not through coercion,” says Chakravarty.
His only misgiving is with the use of the Money Bill to introduce the Aadhaar, without any right to privacy. “It should have gone through the process of debate in Parliament. Then it wouldn’t have been passed without a strong right to privacy safeguard,” he says, pointing that even a junior UIDAI officer can access the data of anybody he/she chooses.
“Aadhaar inverts the idea of transparency. It makes people transparent but the State opaque,” says legal expert Usha Ramanathan, a legal expert and anti-Aadhaar crusader.
The use of Aadhar as verification at every instance can help piece together very detailed information about citizens. These include banking transactions, online purchases, travel itineraries, mobile phone usage, location history and practically anything that can be electronically recorded and verified with an Aadhaar.
In February this year, the UIDAI filed a police case against Axis Bank and others for alleged unauthorised authentication and impersonation attempts by illegally storing Aadhaar biometrics.
The latest outcry over breached privacy involved a screenshot of cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s personal details that went viral on Twitter. The UIDAI blacklisted the agency that revealed Dhoni’s Aadhaar details after his wife complained to the IT Minister. A recent Scroll report shows the UIDAI received 1,390 similar complaints but took no action.
There are legitimate fears such an information database might eventually be misused, for instance in racial profiling or revealing voting preferences.
In January this year, Hyderabad-based ECIL developed a biometric-enabled mobile terminal for instant authentication of a voter “to prevent rigging of votes”. Till August 2015, the Election Commission was working on seeding Aadhaar data with that of voter ID card, in an attempt to weed out fake voters. However, the poll panel stopped this exercise after the SC ruled that Aadhaar be made compulsory only for PDS and LPG distribution.
Nilekani, in an interview to BLink, insisted that the Aadhaar has more privacy regulations than any other service in the world. He also pointed out that all election commission data is already online, and anyone can look up any voter’s name, date of birth, gender and address.
Additionally, social media profiles too are shared publicly of our own volition.
Concurring with this view, Chakravarty says, “It is surprising that we’re perfectly okay with giving all our life information to a 32-year-old named Mark Zuckerberg. However, this is voluntary. Whether we fully know consequences or not is another matter altogether.”
With the Finance Bill requiring all PAN cards to be linked to Aadhaar, there is added concern over privacy. Sunil Abraham, founder of the Centre for Internet and Society, says Aadhaar runs the risk of being used fraudulently. “If I want to get you in trouble, I can make a large purchase of gold against your Aadhaar number, which is linked to your PAN,” he explains.
He advocates for a system where different government departments don’t store Aadhaar numbers in their databases but instead use a token issued by UIADI kiosks. This would prevent proliferation of the number.
In February this year, Modi claimed in the Lok Sabha that plugging leakages through Aadhaar had saved the government ₹14,000 crore. And that nearly four crore fake ration cards have been seized till date.
One method of establishing a fake ration card is if the owner has not availed himself of his ration. Ever since Aadhaar’s biometric identification has been linked to point-of-sale (POS) machines at ration shops, residents have had to queue up with a prayer on their lips. A lot could go wrong — the biometric might not recognise them or, worse, there could be a network failure, forcing everyone to return home empty-handed. In both instances, while ration shop owners should ideally mark such transactions under ‘Transactions with “N” response from Aadhaar’, they invariably mark them under “Household yet to take ration”, implying that the beneficiary has chosen not to take home her share.
The February 2017 data for 22 ration shops across Delhi, accessed on the Department of Food & Supplies website, shows that none have a single beneficiary marked under “N”. At a Delhi Cantonment outlet, of the 1,038 registered beneficiaries only 168 have been marked “Y”, or ‘Yes’, showing they have taken their rations. Another 871 have been marked “Household yet to take ration” and none have been marked ‘N’ to indicate glitches in the Aadhaar authentication.
As Amrita Johri of citizens’ action group Satark Nagrik Sangathan explains, “Aadhaar relies on internet and electricity. This might seem like a problem only of rural areas. But we don’t have to go far. In South Delhi’s East Mehraam Nagar, there is a ration shop with no mobile signal and no network. Officials said we have to show that Aadhaar is a success, so the shop’s POS machine was finally hung on a jamun tree to get it to work.”
She questions the government’s reluctance to acknowledge the many instances of failure in the project.
Frighteningly, three consecutive failed attempts could lead to the card being placed in an abeyance list and possibly invalidated.
Top performers and laggards
Delhi is rated one of the better performing States/union territories, while Rajasthan has one of the worst records with the maximum number of biometric and network failures.
According to the government’s 2017 monthly estimates, 27 per cent of the residents whose Aadhaar cards have been seeded to the PDS were denied rations owing to biometric or network failure. This figure would be higher if the unseeded cards are also taken into account.
Nikhil Dey, founder of Rajasthan’s Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) says his organisation is fighting with its back against a wall.
“Nearly 73 lakh households get their monthly rations in this State, where a little over a crore households are eligible to receive them. We’re not even talking about exclusions here,” says Dey. Besides network failure, there are many instances of the old and sick who are unable to visit the shop to physically verify themselves.
“Back-up options such as OTP (one-time password) or facial recognition only work in theory,” says Dey. He alleges that shop owners often fudge the OTP system by punching in their own numbers and stealing the quotas of genuine beneficiaries.
He too believes that several names have been struck off as dead to project that the Aadhaar has weeded out a high number of fake social security pension ers.
Nilekani applauds Andhra Pradesh for its progress in the Aadhaar project by investing in infrastructure to eliminate technical glitches. J Satyanarayana, the UIDAI’s part-time chairperson, told BLink in an email interview that Aadhaar has led to transparency and efficiency in nearly all government schemes in AP.
During March 2017, 42.29 lakh (93.02 per cent) pensioners received their payment through Aadhaar-based biometric authentication, he says, adding that real-time monitoring systems are in place.
“The entire PDS (rations) is linked to Aadhaar,” he says. As many as 1.21 crore (87.39 per cent) card holders collected their ration this month, and 95.94 lakh received wages (totalling ₹5,283 crore under MNREGA through Aadhaar-enabled systems, he informs.
Neighbouring Telangana too is known for its 99 per cent Aadhaar enrollment, leading to an impressive 80 per cent of its population accessing the PDS.
BP Acharya, special chief secretary in Telangana’s planning department says, “Aadhaar’s use can perhaps be most seen in Telangana’s speedy clearances, investment promotion, creating licences and clearances for shops and establishments.”
Telangana took the Aadhaar database project one step further through its Citizen 360 programme. In August 2014, months after the State was newly formed, it conducted one of the largest household surveys in a single day, covering one crore households. This data was integrated with the Aadhaar database and now links different benefits on the same platform. Now the Aadhaar identity is linked to other details such as the holder’s driving licence and even crime record.
The UIDAI holds out AP and Telangana as shining examples of Aadhaar’s efficiency when backed by the right network and infrastructure. But for the lakhs of biometric factory rejects who are denied their rights, Aadhaar can only mean a mass experiment gone horribly wrong.
The ministry of communications and information technology approves the ‘Unique ID for Below Poverty Line (BPL) families’ project under the chairmanship of Arvind Virmani, then principal advisor, Planning Commission
Empowered group of ministers formed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decides to collate two schemes — the National Population Register under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the UID project — to conceive Aadhaar.
Planning Commission issues a notification to constitute the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).
Government appoints Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani as the first chairman of UIDAI, with the rank and status of a cabinet minister.
Former Karnataka high court judge justice K Puttaswamy files a public interest litigation before the Supreme Court (SC) declaring that Aadhaar violates an individual’s right to privacy and that the scheme lacks legislative backing.
In an interim order, the SC restrains the UIDAI from transferring biometric information with an Aadhaar number to any other agency without the individual’s consent in writing.
Three-judge bench of the apex court rules the unique identity number is not mandatory to avail of benefits from government programmes, restricting the use of Aadhaar to beneficiaries of the public distribution system and subsidies on cooking gas and kerosene, and refers the question on privacy to a larger constitution bench.
Centre moves SC seeking a review and modification of the August 11 interim order. A five-judge constitution bench modifies the same and extends the use of Aadhaar to Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Jan Dhan Yojana, pensions and the Employees’ Provident Fund scheme.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley announces in the budget speech that the government will offer statutory backing for Aadhaar. The Lok Sabha passes the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 as a Money Bill, rejecting Rajya Sabha recommendations.
Aadhaar is made mandatory for three dozen schemes with 84 more expected under direct benefit transfers, including midday meal scheme and universal education.
SC again rules that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for welfare schemes.
Aadhaar (English: Foundation) is a 12-digit unique identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data. The data is collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), a statutory authority established in January 2009 by the Government of India, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, following the provisions of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016.
Aadhaar is the world's largest biometric ID system, with over 1.19 billion enrolled members as of 30 November 2017, representing over 99% of Indians.World Bank Chief EconomistPaul Romer described Aadhaar as "the most sophisticated ID programme in the world". Considered a proof of residence and not a proof of citizenship, Aadhaar does not itself grant any rights to domicile in India. In June 2017 the Home Ministry clarified that Aadhaar is not a valid identification document for Indians travelling to Nepal and Bhutan.
Prior to the enactment of the Act, the UIDAI functioned, since 28 January 2009, as an attached office of the Planning Commission (now NITI Aayog). On 3 March 2016 a money bill was introduced in the Parliament to give legislative backing to Aadhaar. On 11 March 2016 the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016, was passed in the Lok Sabha.
Aadhaar is the subject of several rulings by the Supreme Court of India. On 23 September 2013 the Supreme Court issued an interim order saying that "no person should suffer for not getting Aadhaar", adding that the government cannot deny a service to a resident who does not possess Aadhaar, as it is voluntary and not mandatory. The court also limited the scope of the program and reaffirmed the voluntary nature of the identity number in other rulings. On 24 August 2017 the Indian Supreme Court delivered a landmark verdict affirming the right to privacy as a fundamental right, overruling previous judgments on the issue. A five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court is hearing various cases relating to the validity of Aadhaar on various grounds including privacy, surveillance, and exclusion from welfare benefits. On 9 January 2017 the five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court of India reserved its judgement on the interim relief sought by petitions to extend the deadline making Aadhaar mandatory for everything from bank accounts to mobile services. The court said that the final hearing for the extension of Aadhaar Linking Deadlines will start on 17 January 2018. Some civil liberty groups such as the Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties and the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) have also opposed the project over privacy concerns.
Despite the validity of Aadhaar being challenged in the court, the central government has pushed citizens to link their Aadhaar numbers with a host of services, including mobile sim cards, bank accounts, the Employee Provident Fund, and a large number of welfare schemes including but not limited to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Public Distribution System, and old age pensions. Recent reports suggest that HIV patients have been forced to discontinue treatment for fear of identity breach as access to the treatment has become contingent on producing Aadhaar.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is a statutory authority established on 12 July 2016 by the Government of India under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, following the provisions of the Aadhaar Act 2016.
The UIDAI is mandated to assign a 12-digit unique identification (UID) number (termed "Aadhaar") to all the residents of India. The implementation of the UID scheme entails generation and assignment of UIDs to residents; defining mechanisms and processes for interlinking UIDs with partner databases; operation and management of all stages of the UID life cycle; framing policies and procedures for updating mechanism and defining usage and applicability of UIDs for delivery of various services, among others. The number is linked to the resident's basic demographic and biometric information such as a photograph, ten fingerprints and two iris scans, which are stored in a centralised database.
The UIDAI was initially set up by the Government of India in January 2009, as an attached office under the aegis of the Planning Commission via a notification in the Gazette of India. According to the notification, the UIDAI was given the responsibility to lay down plans and policies to implement the UID scheme, to own and operate the UID database, and to be responsible for its updating and maintenance on an ongoing basis.
The UIDAI data centre is located at Industrial Model Township (IMT), Manesar, which was inaugurated by the then Chief Minister of Haryana Mr. Bhupendra Singh Hooda on 7 January 2013.
Starting with issuing of first UID in September 2010, the UIDAI has been aiming to issue an Aadhaar number to all the residents ensuring that it is robust enough to eliminate duplicate and fake identities, and that the number can be verified and authenticated in an easy and cost-effective way online anywhere, anytime. In a notification dated 16 December 2010 the Government of India indicated that it would recognise a letter issued by the UIDAI containing details of name, address, and Aadhaar number, as an official, valid document. Aadhaar is not intended to replace any existing identity cards, nor does it constitute proof of citizenship. Aadhaar neither confers citizenship nor guarantees rights, benefits, or entitlements. Aadhaar is a random number that never starts with a 0 or 1, and is not loaded with profiling or intelligence that would make it insusceptible to fraud or theft, and thus provides a measure of privacy in this regard. The unique ID also qualifies as a valid ID while availing various government services such as a LPG connection, a subsidised ration, kerosene from the PDS, or benefits under NSAP or pension schemes, e-sign, a digital locker, a Universal Account Number (UAN) under EPFO, and some other services such as a SIM card or opening a bank account. According to the UIDAI website, any Aadhaar holder or service provider can verify the genuineness of an Aadhaar number through a user-friendly service of UIDAI called the Aadhaar Verification Service (AVS), which is available on its website. Also, a resident already enrolled under the National Population Register is not required to enrol again for Aadhaar.
Previous identity card programs
In 1998 after the Kargil war, the Kargil Review Committee, headed by security analyst K. Subrahmanyam, was formed to study the state of national security. It submitted its report to the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, on 7 January 2000. Among its various recommendations was the proposal that citizens in villages in border regions be issued identity cards on a priority basis, with such ID cards issued later to all people living in border states.
A Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by L. K. Advani, was formed to study the recommendations and examine possible implementation. The GoM submitted its report in May 2001 in which it accepted the recommendation for an ID card and stated that a "multi-purpose National Identity Card" project would be started soon, with the card to be issued first in border villages and then elsewhere. In late September 2001 the Ministry of External Affairs proposed that a mandatory national identity card be issued. This announcement followed reports that some people had obtained multiple Indian passports with different details. This was attributed to the lack of computerisation between the passport centres. In December 2003 the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2003 was introduced in the Lok Sabha by L. K. Advani. It primarily aimed to provide various rights to persons of Indian origin, but the bill also introduced Clause 14 (a) that said: "The Central Government may compulsorily register every citizen of India and issue national identity card to him."
The UIDAI was established on 28 January 2009 after the Planning Commission issued a notification. On 23 June Nandan Nilekani, the co-founder of Infosys, was appointed by the then-government, UPA, to head the project. He was given the newly created position of Chairman of the UIDAI, which was equivalent in rank to a Cabinet minister. In April 2010 the logo and the brand name Aadhaar was launched by Nilekani. In May 2010 Nilekani said he would support legislation to protect the data held by the UIDAI.
In July 2010 UIDAI published a list 15 of agencies which were qualified to provide training to personnel to be involved in the enrolment process. It also published a list of 220 agencies that were qualified to take part in the enrolment process. Before this, the project had been only 20 states and with the LIC of India and the State Bank of India as qualified registrars. This announcement introduced several private firms. It was estimated that to achieve the target of enrolling 40% of the population in two years, 31,019 personnel and 155 training centres would be needed. It was also estimated that 4,431 enrolment centres and 22,157 enrolment stations would have to be established.
On 7 February 2012 the UIDAI launched an online verification system for Aadhaar numbers. Using the system, banks, telecom companies and government departments could enter an Aadhaar number and verify if the person was a resident of India.
On 26 November 2012 Prime MinisterManmohan Singh launched an Aadhaar-linked direct benefit transfer scheme. The project aimed to eliminate leakages in the system by directly transferring the money to the bank account of the recipient. The project was to be introduced in 51 districts on 1 January 2013 and then slowly expanded to cover all of India.
In late November 2012 a former Karnataka High Court judge, K. S. Puttaswamy, and a lawyer, Parvesh Khanna, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the government in the Supreme Court of India. They contended that the government was implementing the project without any legislative backing. They pointed out that the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010, which had been introduced in the Rajya Sabha, was still pending. They further said that since the UIDAI was proceeding only on the basis of an executive order issued on 28 January 2009, it could not collect biometric data of citizens as it would be a violation of privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution. In December 2011 the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, led by Yashwant Sinha, rejected the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 and suggested modifications. It termed the project "unethical and violative of Parliament's prerogatives". On 23 September 2013 the Supreme Court issued an interim order saying that the government could not deny a service to anyone who did not possess Aadhaar, as the identity number was voluntary.
In late September 2013, following the Supreme Court verdict, Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Planning, Rajeev Shukla, said that it would attempt to pass the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 in the winter session of the Parliament. On 9 October 2013 the National Payments Corporation of India launched an Aadhaar-based remittance system. Using the system, funds could be transferred to any Aadhaar-linked bank accounts if the Aadhaar number was known. It was announced that an SMS could be used for amounts up to ₹5,000 (US$77) and for amounts over that a mobile bank app could be used. By this time around 440 million Aadhaar numbers had been issued.
In March 2014 Nilekani resigned as the Chairman to contest in the general election on an Indian National Congress nomination from Bangalore South. His responsibilities were taken over by 1981-batch IAS officer Vijay Madan, who was given an extension of his term as the director-general and mission director by the government. Nilekani lost to Ananth Kumar.
On 10 June 2014 the new government disbanded four cabinet committees to streamline the decision-making process; among them was the cabinet committee on Aadhaar. Also in June 2014 the IT Department held a meeting with the secretaries of the states to receive feedback on the project.
On 1 July 2014 Nilekani met with the Prime Minister Modi and Finance MinisterArun Jaitley to convince them of the project's merits. On 5 July 2014 Modi announced that his government would retain the project and asked an official to look into the possibility of linking the project with passports. The 2014 budget allotted ₹20.3964 billion (US$310 million) to the project for the fiscal year 2014–2015. It was a substantial increase from the previous year's allotment of ₹15.50 billion (US$240 million). Also in July, it was reported that UIDAI would hire an advertising agency and spend about ₹300 million (US$4.6 million) on an advertising campaign.
On 10 September 2014 the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs gave approval to Phase V of the UIDAI project, starting the enrolment process in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Uttarakhand. The Union Cabinet allocated ₹12 billion (US$180 million) to the project in order to reach the target of 1 billion enrolments by the end of 2015.
On 5 July 2015 finding the experience with DBT scheme in LPG "very encouraging", with a reported savings of ₹127 billion (US$1.9 billion) to the public exchequer this year, Jaitley said, "If we can realize the government's JAM—Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, Mobile—vision we can ensure that money goes directly and more quickly into the pockets of the poor and from the savings we achieve, we can put even more money for the poor. If we can be careful in our design and implementation, we can extend DBT to other commodities, so that the poor get more money to spend for their upliftment."
In March 2015 the Aadhaar-linked DigiLocker service was launched, using which Aadhaar-holders can scan and save their documents on the cloud, and can share them with the government officials whenever required without any need to carry them.
On 18 June 2015 in a high-level review meeting on the progress of the UID project and DBT scheme, Prime Minister Modi asked officials to accelerate the delivery of benefits and expand the applications of the Aadhaar (UID) platform. He also asked them to examine the possibility of offering incentives to the states to increase participation in the project, through a one-time sharing of a portion of the savings. It was reported that the government was saving up to 14–15% in the direct benefit transfers of subsidies on LPG to the beneficiaries through Aadhaar.
During the budget presentation on 29 February 2016, Jaitley announced that a bill would be introduced within a week to provide legislative support to the Aadhaar project. On 3 March 2016 the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, was introduced in the Parliament as a money bill by Jaitley. The decision to introduce it as a money bill was criticised by the opposition parties. Ghulam Nabi Azad, an INC leader, wrote in a letter to the Jaitley that the ruling party, the BJP, was attempting to bypass the Rajya Sabha, as they did not have the majority in the upper house. A money bill is only required to pass in the lower house Lok Sabha.Tathagata Satpathy of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) raised concerns that the project could be used for mass surveillance or ethnic cleansing in the future.
On 11 March 2016 the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016, was passed in the Lok Sabha. During the Rajya Sabha debate on 16 March, Sitaram Yechury of the CPI-M said that bill should not have been passed when the issue of the right to privacy was still in the Supreme Court. On 16 March 2016 the bill was returned to the Lok Sabha by the Rajya Sabha with some suggested amendments, which the Lok Sabha promptly rejected.
Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT)
Main article: Direct Benefit Transfer
The Aadhaar project has been linked to some public subsidy and unemployment benefit schemes such as the domestic LPG scheme and MGNREGA. In these Direct Benefit Transfer schemes, the subsidy money is directly transferred to a bank account which is Aadhaar-linked. Previously, however, the direct-benefit transfer had been carried out quite successfully via the National Electronic Funds Transfer (NEFT) system, which did not depend on Aadhaar.
On 29 July 2011 the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas signed a memorandum of understanding with UIDAI. The Ministry had hoped the ID system would help eliminate loss of the subsidised kerosene and LPG. In May 2012 the government announced that it would begin issuing Aadhaar-linked MGNREGS cards. On 26 November 2012 a pilot programme was launched in 51 districts.
Under the original policy for liquefied petroleum gas subsidies, the customers bought gas cylinders from retailers at subsidised prices, and the government compensated companies for their losses. Under the current Direct Benefit Transfer of LPG (DBTL), introduced in 2013, customers had to buy at full price, and the subsidy would be then directly credited to their Aadhaar-linked bank accounts. This scheme, however, did not take off, and in September 2013 a Supreme Court order put a halt on it. Subsequently, the GOI constituted a committee to review the "Direct Benefits Transfer for LPG Scheme" to study the shortcomings in the scheme and recommend changes. The DBTL scheme was modified later as PAHAL by the new government in November 2014. Under PAHAL, subsidies could be credited to a purchaser's bank account even if he or she did not have an Aadhaar number. Official data show that cooking gas consumption during the January–June period grew at a slower 7.82%, which is nearly four percentage points less than the 11.4% growth in the same period last year.
The PAHAL scheme has covered 118.9 million of the 145.4 million active LPG consumers until March, as stated by the Petroleum Minister in the Parliament. The DBT has thereby become a "game changer" for India, claimed the Chief Economic Adviser to the Finance Ministry, Government of India, Arvind Subramanian, for in case of LPG subsidy, DBT had resulted in a 24% reduction in the sale of subsidized LPG, as "ghost beneficiaries" had been excluded. The savings to the government were to the tune of ₹127 billion (US$1.9 billion) in 2014–2015. The success of the modified scheme helped fuel marketing companies save almost ₹80 billion (US$1.2 billion) from November 2014 to June 2015, said oil company officials. The DBT for the public distribution system (PDS) will be rolled out in September 2015.
The government's own data, however, suggest that the cost of implementing the DBT for LPG was over a million dollars, a figure quite at odds with the savings figures that the government cites.
Prime Minister Modi has asked for integration of all land records with Aadhaar at the earliest, emphasising at his monthly PRAGATI (Pro-Active Governance And Timely Implementation) meeting on 23 March 2016 that this was extremely important to enable monitoring of the successful implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana or crop insurance scheme.
Aadhaar-enabled biometric attendance systems
In July 2014 Aadhaar-enabled biometric attendance systems were introduced in government offices. The system was introduced to check late arrival and absenteeism of government employees. The public could see the daily in and out of employees on the website attendance.gov.in. In October 2014 the website was closed to the public but as of 24 March 2016 is again active and open to public access. The employees use the last four digits (last eight digits for government employee registering as of August 2016) of their Aadhaar number and their fingerprints, for authentication. Technological glitches with the system have, however, meant that employees have to often spend
Other uses by central government agencies
In November 2014 it was reported that the Ministry for External Affairs was considering making Aadhaar a mandatory requirement for passport holders. In February 2015 it was reported that people with an Aadhaar number would get their passports issued within 10 days, as it sped up the verification process by making it easier to check if an applicant had any criminal records in the National Crime Records Bureau database. In May 2015 it was announced that the Ministry of External Affairs was testing the linking of passports to the Aadhaar database.
In October 2014 the Department of Electronics and Information Technology said that they were considering linking Aadhaar to SIM cards. In November 2014 the Department of Telecom asked all telecom operators to collect Aadhaar from all new applicants of SIM cards. On 4 March 2015 a pilot project was launched allowing Aadhaar-linked SIM cards to be sold in some cities. The purchaser could activate the SIM at the time of purchase by submitting his Aadhaar number and pressing his fingerprints on a machine. It is part of the Digital India plan. The Digital India project aims to provide all government services to citizens electronically and is expected to be completed by 2018.
In July 2014 the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation of India (EPFO) began linking provident fund accounts with Aadhaar numbers. In November 2014 the EPFO became a UIDAI registrar and began issuing Aadhaar number to provident fund subscribers. In December 2014 Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya clarified that an Aadhaar number was not necessary for any provident fund transaction.
In August 2014 Prime Minister Modi directed the Planning Commission of India to enrol all prisoners in India under the UIDAI.
In December 2014 it was proposed by the Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, that Aadhaar should be made mandatory for men to create a profile on matrimonial websites, to prevent fake profiles. In July 2015 the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) called a meeting of various matrimonial sites and other stakeholders discuss the use of Aadhaar to prevent fake profiles and protect women from exploitation.
On 3 March 2015 the National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP) of the Election Commission was started. It aims to link the Elector's Photo Identity Card (EPIC) with the Aadhaar number of the registered voter. It aims to create an error-free voter identification system in India, especially by removing duplications.
Other uses by states
In the Hyderabad region of Telangana state, Aadhaar numbers were linked to ration cards to remove duplicate ration cards. The project was started in July 2012 and was carried out despite the 2013 Supreme Court order. More than 63,932 ration cards in the white category and 229,757 names were removed from its database in the drive between July 2012 and September 2014. In August 2012 the government of the state of Andhra Pradesh asked citizens to surrender illegal ration cards before it began to link them with Aadhaar numbers. By September 2014 15 lakh illegal ration cards had been surrendered. In April 2015 the state of Maharashtra began enrolling all school students in the state in the Aadhaar project to implement the Right to Education Act properly.
Electronic-Know Your Customer (e-KYC) using Aadhaar card is also being introduced to activate mobile connections instantly to check Aadhaar Card Status.
Aadhaar as digital identity
A number of features make the Aadhaar card a digital identity and facilitate digital identity: the document of the card itself is electronic in PDF format; a QR Code provides digital XML representation of some core details of the card; the number and some limited details can be validated online (with the notable exclusion of the name); updating details can be done electronically using a mobile phone number and/or email as the second factor of authentication; the system collects a photo, all 10 finger scans, and eye scan; however, there is no known common usage of this data to date to electronically validate a holder.
Impediments and other concerns
In October 2010 R. Ramakumar, an economist at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, wrote in an editorial for The Hindu that the project was being implemented without any cost-benefit or feasibility studies to ensure whether the project would meet its stipulated goals. He also pointed out that the government was obscuring the security aspects of Aadhaar and focusing on the social benefit schemes. He quoted a former chief of the Intelligence BureauAjit Doval, who had said that originally Aadhaar aimed to weed out illegal aliens.
In March 2011 Rajanish Dass of IIM Ahmedabad's Computer and Information Systems Group published a paper titled "Unique Identity Project in India: A divine dream or a miscalculated heroism". Dass claimed that even if enrolment was voluntary, it was being made mandatory by indirect means. He pointed out that essential schemes like the National Food Security Act, 2013, was being linked to the UIDAI. He also stated that the feasibility of a project of this size had not been studied and raised concerns about the quality of the biometric data being collected. He cited statements of another researcher, Usha Ramanathan, that the UIDAI would ultimately have to become profit-making to sustain itself.
The debate on the feasibility of sustaining a project of the size of population of India is settled as over 1.19 billion Indians are enrolled in Aadhaar as of 30 November 2017, representing over 99% of the total population. The quality of the data collected is also the most advanced in the world as of now. The scheme compliments other initiatives taken by the government, for example Digital India, to benefit people by giving easier access to public services.
On 9 November 2012 the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) published a paper titled A cost-benefit analysis of Aadhaar. The paper claimed that by 2015–2016 the benefits of the project would surpass the costs, and by 2020–2021 the total benefit would be ₹251 billion (US$3.8 billion) against a total expenditure of ₹48.35 billion (US$740 million). The benefits would come from plugging leakages in various subsidy and social benefit schemes.
On 2 February 2013 Reetika Khera, a development economist at IIT Delhi, published a paper in the Economic and Political Weekly titled A 'Cost-Benefit' Analysis of UID, in response to the cost-benefit analysis published by NIPFP. She argued that the seemingly large benefits were based 'almost entirely on unrealistic assumptions' and outdated data. The paper pointed to how the relative cost-effectiveness of Aadhaar in comparison with alternative technologies – the basic premise of any cost-benefit analysis – was entirely ignored. Further, concerns regarding a possible conflict of interest were also raised.
In March 2016 the International Institute for Sustainable Development released a report that the benefit from Aadhaar-linked LPG subsidy scheme for 2014–2015 was ₹140 million (US$2.1 million) and for 2015–2016 was ₹1.209 billion (US$19 million). These sums were much lower than the number stated by Finance Minister Jaitley in the Lok Sabha. He had said in March 2016 that the government had saved ₹150 billion (US$2.3 billion) from the scheme. The paper said that the government was also including the savings from the efforts of oil marketing companies (OMCs) prior to the introduction of Aadhaar. The method used by the OMCs to weed out duplicates and ghost customers was 15–20 times more effective than the Aadhaar-based method. It has to be noted that the savings of ₹150 billion (US$2.3 billion) from the scheme was not claimed by the government to be from LPG subsidy alone, but by plugging leaks and checking corruption with the help of Aadhaar in all the schemes administered by the government of India. Though Aadhaar records were not available for removing the duplicates and ghost customers previously, they are effective in future to prevent or remove duplicates and ghost accounts, not just for LPG subsidy, but for numerous Direct Benefit Schemes operated by government of India. Being a socialist country with large government subsidies along with widespread corruption and poverty, a biometric system if used properly can prove to be a boon.
Lack of legislation and privacy concerns
On 2 February 2015 the Supreme Court asked the new government to clarify its stance on the project. This was in response to a new PIL filed by Mathew Thomas, a former army officer. Thomas had claimed that the government was ignoring previous orders while pushing ahead with the project and that the project was unconstitutional as it allowed profiling of citizens. In a reply on 12 February the government said that it would continue the project. On 16 July 2015 the government requested the Supreme Court to revoke its order, saying that it intended to use Aadhaar for various services. On 21 July 2015 the Court noted that some states were insisting on Aadhaar for benefits despite its order.
On 11 August 2015 the Supreme Court directed the government to widely publicise in print and electronic media that Aadhaar was not mandatory for any welfare scheme. The Court also referred the petitions claiming Aadhaar was unconstitutional to a Constitutional Bench.
On 19 July 2017 a nine judge bench of the Supreme Court began hearing the arguments on whether there is a fundamental right to privacy. On 24 August 2017 the nine judge bench unanimously upheld the right to privacy as a fundamental right under the Constitution.
A five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court is currently hearing various cases relating to the validity of Aadhaar on various grounds including privacy, surveillance, and exclusion from welfare benefits. As of 27th February 2018, senior counsels Shyam Divan, Kapil Sibal, and Gopal Subramanium, have argued over a span of 13 days in this matter.
Legality of sharing data with law enforcement
In 2013 in Goa the CBI was trying to solve the case of a rape of a schoolgirl. It approached a Goa local court saying that they had acquired some fingerprints from the scene that could be matched with the UIDAI database. The court asked the UIDAI to hand over all data of all persons in Goa to the CBI.
The UIDAI appealed in the Bombay High Court saying that accepting such a request would set precedent for more such requests. The High Court rejected the argument and on 26 February 2014 in an interim order directed Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) to study the technological capability of the database to see if it could solve such a crime. The UIDAI then appealed in the Supreme Court. It argued that the chance of a false positive was 0.057% and with 600 million people in its database it would result in hundreds of thousands of false results.
On 24 March 2014, the Supreme Court restrained the central government and the UIDAI from sharing data with any third party or agency, whether government or private, without the consent of the Aadhaar-holder in writing. Vide another interim order dated 16 March 2015, the Supreme Court of India has directed that the Union of India and States and all their functionaries should adhere to the order passed by this court on 23 September 2013. It observed that some government agencies were still treating Aadhaar as mandatory and asked all agencies to issue notifications clarifying that it was not.
Land Allotment Dispute
In September 2013 the Delhi Development Authority accepted a complaint from the activist group India Against Corruption and cancelled a land allotment to the UIDAI. The land was previously owned by BSNL, and MTNL had also laid claims on it. It had an estimated ₹9 billion (US$140 million) value but had been allotted to the UIDAI at a very cheap rate.
The issue of constructing the UIDAI HQs and UIDAI Regional Office building in Delhi was resolved with Department of Telecom (DoT), following which the Ministry of Urban Development issued a notification on 21 May 2015 clearing the titles of the land in favour of the UIDAI, including projected land use.
In an August 2009 interview with the Tehelka, former chief of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Ajit Doval, said that Aadhaar was originally intended to flush out illegal immigrants, but social security benefits were later added to avoid privacy concerns. In December 2011 the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, led by Yashwant Sinha, rejected the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, and suggested modifications. It expressed objections to the issuing of Aadhaar numbers to illegal immigrants. The Committee said that the project was being implemented in an unplanned manner and bypassing the Parliament.
In May 2013, deputy director general of the UIDAI, Ashok Dalwai, admitted that there had been some errors in the registration process. Some people had received Aadhaar cards with wrong photographs or fingerprints. According to Aloke Tikku of the Hindustan Times, some officials of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) had criticised the UIDAI project in September 2013, with the officials saying that the Aadhaar number cannot be considered a credible proof of residence. As under the liberal pilot phase, where a person claimed to live was accepted as the address and recorded.
Overlaps with National Population Register
Main article: National Population Register
The Aadhaar and the similar National Population Register (NPR) projects have been reported to be having conflicts. In January 2012 it was reported that the UIDAI would share its data with NPR and the NPR would continue to collect its own data. In January 2013 then-Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said that Aadhaar was not an identity card but a number, while the NPR was necessary for national security purposes. The 2013 Supreme Court order did not affect the NPR project as it was not linked to any subsidy.
In July 2014 a meeting was held to discuss the possibility of merging the two projects, Aadhaar and NPR, or making them complementary. The meeting was attended by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Law and Justice and Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, and Minister of State for Planning Rao Inderjit Singh. Later in the same month, Rao Inderjit Singh told the Lok Sabha that no plan to merge the two projects has been made.
In order to make Aadhaar accessible to often undocumented poorer citizens, obtaining an Aadhaar card does not require significant documentation, with multiple options available. In theory, the use of biometric facilities should reduce or eliminate duplication. So, in theory, while it may be possible to obtain the card under a false name, it is less likely that a person would be able to obtain another Aadhaar card under a different (or real) name.
The Aadhaar card itself is not a secure document (being printed on paper) and according to the agency should not be treated as an identity card though it is often treated as such. However, with currently no practical way to validate the card (e.g. by police at airport entry locations) it is of questionable utility as an identity card. "There are five main components in an Aadhaar app transaction – the customer, the vendor, the app, the back-end validation software, and the Aadhaar system itself. There are also two main external concerns – the security of the data at rest on the phone and the security of the data in transit. At all seven points, the customer's data is vulnerable to attack ... The app and validation software are insecure, the Aadhaar system itself is insecure, the network infrastructure is insecure, and the laws are inadequate," claims Bhairav Acharya, Program Fellow, New America.
The Aadhaar card is usually printed on glossy paper, and the government has stated black and white copies are valid. Some agencies charge extra to laminate the document. Other agencies have been reported charging ₹50 to 200 to produce a PVC version of the card, and it is marketed by them as a smart card, despite having no official validity and no chip.
Certain mobile apps claim to verify an Aadhaar card using a QR code scanner. However, the QR code is not a secure representation of an Aadhaar card either and can be copied and edited. The only way to validate an Aadhaar card is to perform an online validation, which will confirm that the card number is valid, confirm the postal code and gender of the holder (but not their name or photo). In theory, this means that is possible to create a false Aadhaar card using the number of a genuine holder from the same postal code with the same gender, with the card subject to a number of cases of counterfeiting.
The digital document itself is self-signed by a non-internationally recognised certificate authority (n)Code Solutions, a division of Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers Company Ltd (GNFC) and needs to be manually installed on the PC. This is despite Entrust assisting in the development of the solution.
While the service is free for citizens, some agents have been charging fees. Despite the modern processes, there are cases where enrolments are lost in the system without explanation. mAadhaar is an official mobile application developed by the UIDAI to provide an interface to Aadhaar number holders to carry their demographic information including name, date of birth, gender, and address along with photograph as linked with their Aadhaar number in smartphones. In one case, every resident in a village in Haridwar was assigned a birthday of 1 January.
Documentary proof may be difficult to obtain, with the system requiring documents such as bank accounts, insurance policies, and driving licences that themselves increasingly require an Aadhaar card or similar documentary evidence to originate. This may lead to a significant minority underclass of undocumented citizens who will find it harder to obtain necessary services. Introducers and Heads of family may also assist in documentation; however, for many agencies and legitimate applications, this facility may not be practical.
Non-resident Indians, overseas citizens of India, and other resident foreigners may also find it difficult to avail themselves of services they could previously freely obtain, such as local SIM cards, despite assurances to the contrary.
The detailed personal information being collected is of extremely high importance to an individual. However, once collected, it is not being treated with the required sensitivity for privacy concerns. Major financial transactions are linked with information collected in Aadhaar. Data leaks are a gold mine for criminals who now use sophisticated hackers. Government departments and various other agencies that collect this information such as banks cannot be trusted to maintain the secrecy of all this collected information. Another case occurred wherein Aadhaar data collected by Reliance Jio was leaked online, and the data may now be widely available to hackers. The UIDAI confirms more than 200 government websites were publicly displaying confidential Aadhaar data; though removed now, the data leaked cannot be scrubbed from hackers' databases. On 2017 July privacy issues with regard to the Aadhaar card were discussed in the Supreme Court.