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"BJP" MP joins Opposition in attacking aadhaar's mandatory status, as minister talks of its welfare thrust

By Our Representative
Senior minister in the Narendra Modi government Ravi Shankhar Prasad, in charge of law and justice and IT, sought to assure the Rajya Sabha on Monday that no person would be denied welfare entitlements for lack of aadhaar, but refused to say whether any steps would be taken to withdraw the notifications making it mandatory.
A civil society organization, Rethink Aadhaar Campaign (RAC), commented soon after Prasad made his intervention: "No concrete steps or plans to keep aadhaar truly voluntary were given by Prasad. Empty words and rhetoric continue, as pensioners, ration card holders, and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) workers are pushed further into poverty and exclusion."
Interestingly, the heated short duration discussion on aadhaar began with MP Rajeev Chandrashakhar, close to the BJP, expressing apprehensions about it, and opposition MPs followed suit by criticizing the notifications making aadhaar mandatory for essential services. 
Opposition MPs raised the issue of the violation of the Supreme Court’s orders and exclusions due to Aadhaar in many welfare programmes. The Supreme Court had allowed only voluntary use of aadhaar and that too for only six government schemes, they added. 
Chandrashekhar raised concerns regarding verification of the database. He pointed out that before the Aadhaar Act was passed in 2016, 100 crore people had already been enrolled, but no verification of the UID database had been carried out.
Chandrashekhar also pointed out that the Standing Committee on Finance on Aadhaar had concluded that the database was going to be ineffective even for the purposes of directing subsidies. He reminded the house that the Leader of the House had conceded that privacy is a fundamental right even without the Supreme Court saying so.
Jairam Ramesh (Congress) followed suit by saying that Aadhaar had become a tool of exclusion in the Public Distribution System (PDS), MGNREGS and social security pensions. adding, it is in violation of the orders of the Supreme Court of India. 
In Rajasthan, he said, 10 lakh pensioners had been removed from the list of beneficiaries, adding, 
in Bhim (Rajsamand district) almost 1500 out of 3000 elderly whose names were cut after being declared “dead” or “duplicates”, were found to be alive and were restored their pensions. 
In the PDS the exclusion rate in Rajasthan was 25 per cent, according to government figures, i.e. 25 lakh people had not got rations since aadhaar-based biometric authentication was made mandatory, he said.
Derek O'Brien (Trinamool Congress) pointed out that there was no regulation and no information on the third parties that have access to the UID database. 
"Have you considered how other databases of Natgrid  and health are being linked to aadhaar and raised concerns on data use and data security?" KTS Tulsi, noted lawyer, wondered, adding, he has never seen as poor statutory framing in his life as in the Aadhaar Act. 
A Navneethakrishnan (AIADMK) and D Raja (CPI) also expressed concerns about denial of benefits due to various failures of aadhaar.
In his reply, Prasad said, the CAG report on LPG savings, which debunked government claims, was "judgmental", and instead cited World Bank and UNDP reports in support of the project. 
However, RAC says, "The World Bank’s figures have been challenged", quoting the World Development Report 2016 (p 195) as stating, "This [LPG] is just one of many subsidy programmes in India that are being converted to direct transfers using digital ID, potentially saving over US$11 billion per year in government expenditures through reduced leakage and efficiency gains." 
"In fact", says RAC, the source of this US$ 11 billion estimates states that "the value of these transfers (NREGA, pensions etc.) is estimated to be Rs 70,000 crore ($11.3 billion) per annum." 
According to RAC, Prasad "insisted that the database was secure and safe, but was unable to answer questions on access to the database by third parties, on national security, and on the gross and inhuman exclusion caused in social sector." 

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