Aadhaar's image makeover? Govt of India "refusing to divulge" info on amount being spent by UIDAI

By Reetika Khera*
Why is the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) refusing to divulge its advertising expenses? Two attempts were made recently to obtain information from UIDAI on advertising expenditure.
1. Right to Information (RTI) query
On November 15, 2017, the following RTI request was filed with UIDAI:
“According to a newspaper report in 'Economic Times' on July 12, 2014, a new agency was employed for an image makeover for Aadhaar. In this article, it is stated that such agencies were employed in the past also and the tenure of agencies empanelled earlier was over. According to the attached UIDAI documents also, such agencies were employed and some budget was allocation for such branding work.
“Please provide: 1. A List of all agencies that were empanelled since the creation of UIDAI in 2009. 2. For each agency, please provide the amount spent in each financial year.”
On January 3, 2018, the Media Division of the UIDAI denied the requested information, as follows: “The information sought by you cannot be disclosed as per the provisions mentioned in Section 8 (1)(d) and 8 (1)(j) of the Right to information Act, 2005” [8(1)(d) pertains to adversely affecting third party’s competitive position and 8(1)(j) to personal information].
Reetika Khera
2. Parliamentary question in Rajya Sabha
On 27 July, 2018, the following questions were asked (emphasis added):
(a) whether UIDAI has been hiring advertising and creative agencies for publicity and undertaking an image makeover for Aadhaar programme;
(b) if so, the details of such agencies hired since 2014 and the funds spent thereon;
(c) whether UIDAI refused to reveal the details of such agencies hired and money paid to them in an RTI response recently; and
(d) if so, the basis on which this information has been denied? 

The Minister (Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad) replied (emphasis added):
(a): Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) doesn’t hire advertising and creative agencies for image makeover for Aadhaar programme. It carries out only information, education and communication (IEC) activities in order to generate awareness and convey the benefits of the Aadhaar to the residents.
(b): Does not arise in view of (a) above.
(c) and (d): No, Sir. The replies to RTI queries are provided to the applicants as per provisions of the RTI Act, 2005.
Note: In both cases, UIDAI is evading the query. In the first instance, it invokes RTI exemptions. In the second instance, it denies that money was spent on image makeover and calls it IEC. If so, then why did it need to invoke RTI exemptions in the first instance? The fact is that UIDAI has been spending a fair amount on image make-over activities, whether one calls them IEC or something else. Why is it trying to hide these expenses?
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*Associate Professor of Economics in the Public Systems Group at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, currently on leave from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi

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