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Aadhaar a Govt of India marketing success, even World Bank got attracted towards it: Top anti-UID campaigner

By Our Representative
One of the topmost campaigners against aadhaar, Reetika Khera, has admitted that the marketing of the scheme as “a welfare-enhancing, pro-poor, anti-corruption programme has been hugely successful”, adding, things have gone to the extent that, despite contradictory evidence, “the view that it is helping disadvantaged people is hard to dislodge.”
This, says Khera in an interview, has happened because the voices of thousands, or even millions, who are vulnerable, rarely “make it to mainstream media.” Worse, she adds, “The Indian Supreme Court has issued six orders categorically prohibiting the government from making aadhaar compulsory, but neither this nor the previous government have paid heed to the Court’s orders.”
Things, according to her, have gone to the extent that “universal ID numbers, biometrics, the creation of centralized databases, and so forth have become very popular with governments even in countries where those same governments are otherwise inclined to do very little.”
She adds, “Even the World Bank is pushing in this direction (e.g., the 2016 World Development Report was on "Digital Dividends").”
Speaking to Tanu Wakefield of Stanford Humanities Center, where Khera is currently international visitor, Khera says, “Proponents of aadhaar believed that identity fraud (i.e., me pretending to be you) was the main source of corruption in Indian welfare services.”
However, according to her, the fact is, “Quantity fraud (my getting less than my entitlement, typically through the deliberate withholding of a portion of the aid by the distributor) is the bigger beast to worry about.”
Insisting that “biometric authentication can’t fix quantity fraud”, Khera, citing the example of eleven-year-old girl named Santoshi of Jharkhand, who died of starvation last month (click HERE), notes, “Her family was entitled to subsidized rations as part of the government’s food security programme, but because their aadhaar number had not been properly linked to the appropriate database, her family’s name was struck off the rolls.”
She adds, “After Santoshi, three other hunger-related deaths have occurred. After these deaths, for a day or so, this was national news. This is a sad comment on Indian democracy.”
Sulaiman Mutawa Associate Chair in Economics at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Khera accuses Nandan Nilekani, “an Indian tech czar”, of “barking up the wrong tree” when he says that “fewer people would be excluded from programmes of social support such as food aid or social security pensions.”
“It was like a cure (biometrics) that was in search of a disease (identity fraud)”, she underlines, adding, “Fraud in welfare is an issue, but it is quantity fraud and eligibility fraud, much more than identity fraud, that plague the system”, she says.
According to her, “A resident’s unique number, stored biometric data, etc., can do next to nothing about quantity or eligibility fraud. Moreover, even the cure is not quite the magic pill that it is made out to be, as biometrics are in fact easily replicated, and therefore can enable identity fraud.”
“Across the Indian states that have linked food distribution to aadhaar biometric demands, increasing numbers of people have reported being unable to access their allocated grain entitlements. These are quite literally the foods that sustain them”, she adds.
She says, “Due to technical failures with the machinery, problems with electrical and cell connectivity, registry mistakes, and the sheer fact that elderly and disabled people must now appear in person to be biometrically identified (whereas previously an elderly widow might have sent a family member or neighbor to collect her rice, for instance), many have been unable to access these desperately needed foods.”

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