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Proposed Aadhaar law divides experts, again

The proposed ordinance allowing private companies to use customers’ Aadhaar identities to meet know-your-customer (KYC) rules has attracted criticism from experts and activists.

india Updated: Mar 02, 2019 07:19 IST
Rajeev Jayaswal & Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Rajeev Jayaswal & Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
The proposed ordinance allowing private companies to use customers’ Aadhaar identities to meet know-your-customer (KYC) rules has attracted criticism from experts and activists. (AFP)

The proposed ordinance allowing private companies to use customers’ Aadhaar identities to meet know-your-customer (KYC) rules has attracted criticism from experts and activists who say it violates fundamental privacy norms, makes people vulnerable to identity thefts, and undermines the parliamentary process.

It has its share of supporters, though.

Similar mixed reactions have been received for the other decision of the cabinet that exempted the recently-launched the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KiSAN) scheme from Aadhaar-related conditions. While some experts said that the decision exposes inherent weaknesses of the biometric system, other said that the exemption was a political necessity because of paucity of time.

The cabinet on Thursday cleared two separate proposals related to Aadhaar. The first decision approved promulgation of an ordinance for “voluntary use” of Aadhaar number for KYC authentication, and the other one made Aadhaar optional for small and marginal farmers to avail the second instalment of ₹2,000 on April 1 under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KiSAN) scheme.

“The hurried-through ordinance, bypassing Parliament, is disturbing. The Supreme Court verdict does not permit the government to allow private entities’ access to personal data of citizens,” Reetika Khera, associate professor, IIT Delhi, said, referring to the court’s Aadhaar judgement. She alleged that the companies were “lobbying to get access to Aadhaar data, which will expose people to the risk of identity thefts and identity frauds”.

“It is not clear why the government passed the ordinance in a hurry, without discussions in Parliament and without debating it in public,” advocate Vrinda Bhandari, who represented petitioners against the government in the SC in the Aadhaar case, said.

In September last year, the Supreme Court said that Aadhaar is constitutionally fair and gives “dignity to the marginalised”, but ordered that the government could not make Aadhaar-linking compulsory for operating bank accounts, mobile phone connections, and school or college admissions.

Commenting on the second decision of the cabinet, Khera said, “The fact that Aadhaar is not compulsory for the PM KiSAN scheme is the first time that the government has admitted to the failures of Aadhaar. It suggests that the government is aware of the problems that Aadhaar has created in the banking system.”

Pronab Sen, economist and former chief statistician of India, however, said the government has corrected an error it made earlier in making Aadhaar mandatory for various schemes. “The original idea of Aadhaar was to give citizens an alternative to identify proofs like passports, ration cards, driving licenses, etc. It was meant to help them, if they don’t have any other IDs, they can use Aadhaar. It was never meant to be mandatory,” he said.

While briefing the media after the cabinet meeting on Thursday, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “Aadhaar can be used as KYC on a voluntary basis.”

Congress spokesperson Pranav Jha said this is again a step taken by the government in contravention of the SC judgment in the Aadhaar case. “It is a blatant subversion just to provide massive secret data base of ordinary Indians to crony corporates,” he said.

First Published: Mar 02, 2019 07:18 IST