"UID is a ‘fig leaf’ for NATGRID"
Civil libertarians started pushing this conspiracy theory well before the Home Ministry and the Union Cabinet themselves seemed to have any real agreement on the scope of NATGRID. Their suggestion: UID was set up to serve as a front to collect data for implementing a massive surveillance regime upon Indians.
Listen to what Usha Ramanathan, a leading anti-UID voice, has been claiming:
“The arrangement that emerges is that the NPR will gather data and biometrics of the whole population…This information will not be confidential, and will feed directly into the UID data base, which, while pretending to be doing little other than verifying that a person is who they say they are, will act as a bridge between silos of information that will help profile the individual. This will assist the market and, through NATGRID, the intelligence agencies, who will continue to remain unaccountable...The benign promise of targeted welfare services is held out to legitimize this exercise.” ('Implications of registering, tracking, profiling' Apr 4, 2010, The Hindu)
The gist of this line of argument: We should abandon UID because we’re concerned with the implications of NPR.
We find this troubling on several counts:
- The idea of UID goes back to discussions within the government, as far as back as 2006, on the possibility of a unique ID to better manage subsidies, and to address the dual problems of ‘wrongful inclusion’ and ‘wrongful exclusion’;
- The UIDAI has been consistent from day one about these being its primary objectives, and its initiatives on the ground to date bear testimony to its consistency of purpose;
- The UIDAI’s close working relationship with NPR was based on government mandate designed to reduce duplication of enrollment work;
- Open disagreements between the Planning Commission and the Home Ministry in recent weeks make it amply clear that there was never any real basis for the above conspiracy theory. (It defies logic that the government would go through an elaborate façade of setting up UID merely to collect data for NPR, when the law would have given sufficient power to NPR to do it all on its own, well under the radar, so to speak.)
We are not in a position to comment on the intentions of the NPR database; however, the UIDAI’s developmental mission is neither a pretension nor a benign exercise, as its initiatives on the ground amply demonstrate: e.g. financial inclusion pilot with MGNREGS in Jharkhand; LPG gas subsidy pilots in several states, and many more applications on the drawing board.
While we don’t see anything wrong in the UIDAI and NPR sharing enrollment data to reduce duplication of work (which was recenlty affirmed in an agreement between the UIDAI and the Home Ministry), we think that the government is on the right track in finally trying to distance the developmental mission of UID from the national security shadows of NPR.
Perhaps, the time has come for those ‘smoking guns’ with respect to the UIDAI’s intentions to make room for ‘Occam’s Razor’: i.e. the simplest explanation is the most plausible until evidence is presented to prove it false. The latest NPR-UIDAi compromise is another proof point.