I could almost hate India for many steps it is taking for her people that I would like to see Pakistan taking. First, India showed maturity towards implementing a system democratic in spirit with the Supreme Court’s epic judgment in September 2013, allowed casting of “negative votes”, noting that the provision of rejecting all candidates for a seat can be rejected by the electorate. “In the existing electoral system, a dis-satisfied voter does not turn up for voting and this provides an opportunity for unscrupulous elements to impersonate him/her. But if the option of ‘none of the above’ candidates is provided, even reluctant voters could turn up at the booth and press the NOTA button in the electronic voting machine, the Supreme Court said,” says J. Venkatesan in his article. (The Hindu September 28, 2013) ECP announced implementation of NOTA prior to elections 2013. The Headmistress of a leading school wrote to me thus, “Brilliant idea…gives the voter greater autonomy…. much needed autonomy actually.” The excitement to include the slot proved to be short-lived. It was withdrawn, deflating the balloon, leaving the Pakistani voters high and dry!
Now, India has introduced an ingenious concept. Titled Aadhaar, the idea is based on issuing a card to every resident Indian with a Unique Identification Number which is being issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) set up as an attached office of the Planning Commission in 2009. The idea of Aadhaar captured my imagination. The more I researched, the more the simplicity and proposed effectiveness of the concept captivated me.
According to the official website of UIDAI, “Any individual, irrespective of age and gender, who is a resident in India and satisfies the verification process laid down by the UIDAI can enroll for Aadhaar. This number will serve as a proof of identity and address, anywhere in India. Each Aadhaar number will be unique to an individual and will remain valid for life. Aadhaar number will help you provide access to services like banking, mobile phone connections and other Govt and Non-Govt services in due course.”
“I believe that that the most far reaching thing India will have done this decade will not be outsourcing or Mars, but bringing in the marginalized through Aadhaar”, says Manish Thakur, an Indian, who has a twenty year background in investing, finance and public policy.
The Aadhaar number, reports state; will enable identification and will provide a universal identity infrastructure which can be used by any identity-based application (like ration card, passport, etc.) Does this mean that a non-resident, posing as a resident and maybe a terrorist can be checked simply by not having an Aadhaar? Indeed, since each individual will be given a single unique Aadhaar ID number, this makes checking simply, beautifully easier. It will also help in tracing terrorists and criminals coming from outside the country that are using fake ID proofs to stay and indulge in violence and anti-state activities. This number is to be given to an infant or a grown-up. Unlike a national identity card in Pakistan that becomes mandatory only after a Pakistani reaches 18 years of age though Aadhaar does not replace other forms of identity.
The core purpose of the proposed scheme is to zero in on to the identity of the owner. Details that are purely demographic in nature yet crucial to the place of origin and current status of the owner will be duly included. These include photograph, Iris – scan, fingerprints and other pertinent data. Centralized in a data base, every card is unique to the individual owning it. Illegal immigration in India can be checked through this programme. This identification, unique in nature can be checked at any point in time. Also Indian citizens can use this card as their national identity at universal level to avoid any identification problems in India or abroad. Unique identification elements within, eliminates chances for it to be bogus. However, this will not replace other means and form of identification. According to a report by Ritesh K Srivastava (Published October 08, 2013) the Union Cabinet cleared National Identification Authority of India Bill to provide legal status to UIDAI and legal backing to Aadhaar. The new law seeks to create a National Identification Authority of India, which will oversee implementation of the Aadhaar project. It also seeks to define the penalties in case of misuse of data collected under the project.
According to a report by Yatin Ingle (Published: Afternoon Dispatch & Courier September 04, 2013) “Educational institutions have started asking students to submit a copy of their Aadhaar cards, in order to maintain a detailed record of them. The State Education Department, in turn has asked educational institutions to make this submission compulsory.” The programme however received a setback when the Supreme Court decided that this identification be deemed as compulsory for availing social benefits. The Bharatiya Janata Party has advanced the view that the card should be restricted only to Indians not to all the residents in India which it feels; includes illegal immigrants as well running into millions. Private activists and civic societies have shared concern that this data may be misused to cause mischief. According to a Forbes story, “The bureaucracy fought it too, presumably because it threatened the opacity it thrived in. Even the Congress had serious divisions over the project’s broad scope: Many saw it as a threat to existing power equations; most powerful of all, the Home Ministry’s National Population Register (NPR) fought to protect its turf.” (Published Oct 8, 2013) Nandan Nilekani has almost pulled it off; states the story quoting him, “Look at how many challenges we’ve contributed to help resolve: identity, financial inclusion, less-cash economy [cash transactions form the bedrock, globally, for fraud and corruption], direct benefit transfer and subsidy reform,” he tells Forbes India.
To gauge the reaction of an educated Indian; political views apart; I requested input from Rosen John, an Indian oil company executive, working for Bharat Petroleum with degrees in Mathematics and Management, based in Bombay.“Emerging economies - especially those as vassals of former colonies - have been plagued with typical problems-illiteracy, a teeming population, with societies that are rife with religious and gender biases. Feudalism holds sway, and is the single biggest factor hampering the just and equitable distribution of wealth and income, and this gap between the haves and the have-nots hasn’t been bridged at all. Aadhaar seeks to help evolve a medium where every citizen in the country is ‘accounted for’ i.e. every citizen’s physical characteristics are captured via biometrics - the irises, the thumb impressions, the visual snapshots etc... And these are transferred to a database. In the process, the citizen gets a card with his/her photograph and a number. There is also the QR code for each number, that’s unique and which can be captured at will,” he says. By implementing the scheme, each Aadhaar card holder will be compelled to open a bank account. This way, the government can directly transfer monies to the card holder accounts for any welfare schemes etc. Aadhaar number will serve as a reference point.
The scheme makes sense. At first look it looks like it can act like a bridge between the government and various other institutions and the local populace especially at the lower rung of the ladder, thus ensuring funds for various schemes for the poorer lot reaches the beneficiaries. This can be a huge progress in terms of social uplift programme implementation.
We can take a leaf from India’s book here. Unfortunately, in Pakistan the last census was held in 1998- step on it Pakistan!
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.