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Workshop Report - UIDAI and Welfare Services: Exclusion and Countermeasures

This report presents summarised notes from a workshop organised by the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) on Saturday, August 27, 2016, to discuss, raise awareness of, and devise countermeasures to exclusion due to implementation of UID-based verification for and distribution of welfare services.

 

Introduction

The Centre for Internet and Society organised a workshop on "UIDAI and Welfare Services: Exclusion and Countermeasures" at the Institution of Agricultural on Technologists on August 27 in Bangalore to discuss, raise awareness of, and devise countermeasures to exclusion due to implementation of UID-based verification for and distribution of welfare services [1]. This was a follow-up to the workshop held in Delhi on “Understanding Aadhaar and its New Challenges” at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy, JNU on May 26th and 27th 2016 [2]. In this report we summarise the key concerns raised and the case studies presented by the participants at the workshop held on August 27, 2016.

Implementation of the UID Project

Question of Consent: The Aadhaar Act [3] states that the consent of the individual must be taken at the time of enrollment and authentication and it must be informed to him/her the purpose for which the data would be used. However, the Act does not provide for an opt-out mechanism and an individual is compelled to give consent to continue with the enrollment process or to complete an authentication.

Lack of Adherence to Court Orders: Despite of several orders by Supreme Court stating that use of Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for the purpose of availing benefits and services, multiple state governments and departments have made it mandatory for a wide range of purposes like booking railway tickets [4], linking below the poverty line ration cards with Aadhaar [5], school examinations [6], food security, pension and scholarship [7], to name a few.

Misleading Advertisements: A concern was raised that individuals are being mislead in the necessity and purpose for enrollment into the project. For example, people have been asked to enrol by telling them that they might get excluded from the system and cannot get services like passports, banks, NREGA, salaries for government employees, denial of vaccinations, etc. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has ordered Aadhaar not be mandatory, yet people are being told that documentation or record keeping cannot be done without UID number.

Hybrid Governance: The participants pointed out that with the Aadhaar (Targeted delivery of financial and other subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016 (hereinafter referred to as Aadhaar Act, 2016 ) being partially enforced, multiple examples of exclusion as reported in the news are demonstrating how the Aadhaar project is creating a case of hybrid governance i.e private corporations playing a significant role in Governance. This can be seen in case of Aadhaar where we see many entities from private sector being involved in its implementation, as well as many software and hardware companies.

Lack of Transparency around Sharing of Biometric Data: The fact how and why the Government is relying on biometrics for welfare schemes is unclear and not known. Also, there is no information on how biometric data that is collected through the project is being used and its ability as an authenticating device. Along with that, there is very little information on companies that have been enlisted to hold and manage data and perform authentication.

Possibility of Surveillance: Multiple petitions and ongoing cases have raised concerns regarding the possibility of surveillance, tracking, profiling, convergence of data, and the opaque involvement of private companies involved in the project.

Denial of Information: In an RTI filed by one of the participant requesting to share the key contract for the project, it was refused on the grounds under section 8(1) (d) of the RTI Act, 2005. However, it was claimed that the provision would not be applicable since the contract was already awarded and any information disclosed to the Parliament should be disclosed to the citizens. The Central Information Commission issued a letter stating that the contractual obligation is over and a copy of the said agreement can be duly shared. However, it was discovered by the said participant that certain pages of the same were missing , which contained confidential information. When this issue went before appeal before the Information Commissioner, the IC gave an order to the IC in Delhi to comply with the previous order. However, it was communicated that limited financial information may be given, but not missing pages. Also, it was revealed that the UIDAI was supposed to share biometric data with NPR (by way of a MoU), but it has refused to give information since the intention was to discontinue NPR and wanted only UIDAI to collect data.

Concerns Arising from the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on Implementation of PAHAL (DBTL) Scheme

A presentation on the CAG compliance audit report of PAHAL on LPG [8] revealed how the society was made to believe that UID will help deal with the issue of duplication and collection as well as use of biometric data will help. The report also revealed that multiple LPG connections have the same Aadhaar number or same bank account number in the consumer database maintained by the OMCs, the bank account number of consumers were also not accurately recorded, scrutiny of the database revealed improper capture of Aadhaar numbers, and there was incorrect seeding of IFSC codes in consumer database. The participants felt that this was an example of how schemes that are being introduced for social welfare do not necessarily benefit the society, and on the contrary, has led to exclusion by design. For example, in the year 2011, by was of the The Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Regulation of Supply and Distribution) Amendment Order, 2011 [9], the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas made the Unique Identification Number (UID) under the Aadhaar project a must for availing LPG refills. This received a lot of public pushback, which led to non-implementation of the order. In October 2012, despite the UIDAI stating that the number was voluntary, a number of services began requiring the provision of an Aadhaar number for accessing benefits. In September 2013, when the first order on Aadhaar was passed by court [10], oil marketing companies and UIDAI approached the Supreme Court to change the same and allow them to make it mandatory, which was refused by the Court. Later in the year 2014, use of Aadhaar for subsidies was made mandatory. The participants further criticised the CAG report for revealing the manner in which linking Aadhaar with welfare schemes has allowed duplication and led to ghost beneficiaries where there is no information about who these people are who are receiving the benefits of the subsidies. For example, in Rajasthan, people are being denied their pension as they are being declared dead due to absence of information from the Aadhaar database.

It was said that the statistics of duplication mentioned in the report show how UIDAI (as it claims to ensure de-duplication of beneficiaries) is not required for this purpose and can be done without Aadhaar as well. Also, due to incorrect seeding of Aadhaar number many are being denied subsidy where there is no information regarding the number of people who have been denied the subsidy because of this. Considering these important facts from the audit report, the discussants concluded how the statistics reflect inflated claims by UIDAI and how the problems which are said to be addressed by using Aadhaar can be dealt without it. In this context, it is important to understand how the data in the aadhaar database maybe wrong and in case of e-governance the citizens suffer. Also, the fact that loss of subsidy-not in cash, but in use of LPG cylinder - only for cooking, is ignored. In addition to that, there is no data or way to check if the cylinder is being used for commercial purposes or not as RTI from oil companies says that no ghost identities have been detected.

UID-linked Welfare Delivery in Rajasthan

One speaker presented findings on people's experiences with UID-linked welfare services in Rajasthan, collected through a 100 days trip organised to speak to people across the state on problems related to welfare governance. This visit revealed that people who need the benefits and access to subsidies most are often excluded from actual services. It was highlighted that the paperless system is proving to be highly dangerous. Some of the cases discussed included that of a disabled labourer, who was asked to get an aadhaar card, but during enrollment asked the person standing next to him to put all his 5 fingers for biometric data collection. Due to this incorrect data, he is devoid of all subsidies since the authentication fails every time he goes to avail it. He stopped receiving his entitlements. Though problems were anticipated, the misery of the people revealed the extent of the problems arising from the project. In another case, an elderly woman living alone, since she could not go for Aadhaar authentication, had not been receiving the ration she is entitled to receive for the past 8 months. When the ration shop was approached to represent her case, the dealers said that they cannot provide her ration since they would require her thumb print for authentication. Later, they found out that on persuading the dealer to provide her with ration since Aadhaar is not mandatory, they found out that in their records they had actually mentioned that she was being given the ration, which was not the case. So the lack of awareness and the fact that people are entitled to receive the benefits irrespective of Aadhaar is something that is being misused by dealers. This shows how this system has become a barrier for the people, where they are also unaware about the grievance redressal mechanism.

Aadhaar and e-KYC

In this session, the use of Aadhaar for e-KYC verification was discussed The UID strategy document describes how the idea is to link UIDAI with money enabled Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) to the beneficiaries without any reason or justification for the same. It was highlighted by one of the participants how the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) believed that making Aadhaar compulsory for e-KYC and several other banking services was a violation of the Money Laundering Act as well as its own rules and standards, however, later relaxed the rules to link Aadhaar with bank accounts and accepted its for e-KyC with great reluctance as the Department of Revenue thought otherwise. It was mentioned how allowing opening of bank accounts remotely using Aadhaar, without physically being present, was touted as a dangerous idea. However, the restrictions placed by RBI were suddenly done away with and opening bank accounts remotely was enabled via e-KYC.

A speaker emphasised that with emerging FinTech services in India being tied with Aadhaar via India Stack, the following concerns are becoming critical:

  1. With RBI enabling creation of bank accounts remotely, it becomes difficult to to track who did e-KYC and which bank did it and hold the same accountable.

  2. The Aadhaar Act 2016 states that UIDAI will not track the queries made and will only keep a record of Yes/No for authentication. For example, the e-KYC to open a bank account can now be done with the help of an Aadhaar number and biometric authentication. However, this request does not get recorded and at the time of authentication, an individual is simply told whether the request has been matched or not by way of a Yes/No [11]. Though UIDAI will maintain the authentication record, this may act as an obstacle since in case the information from the aadhaar database does not match, the person would not be able to open a bank account and would only receive a yes/no as a response to the request.

  3. Further, there is a concern that the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System being implemented by the National Payment Corporation of India (NCPI) would allow effectively hiding of source and destination of money flow, leading to money laundering and cases of bribery. This possible as NCPI maintains a mapper where each bank account is linked (only the latest one). However, Aadhaar number can be linked with multiple bank accounts of an individual. So when a transaction is made, the mapper records the transaction only from that 1 account. But if another transaction takes place with another bank account, that record is not maintained by the mapper at NCPI since it records only transactions of the latest account seeded in that. This makes money laundering easy as the money moves from aadhaar number to aadhaar number now rather than bank account to bank account.

Endnotes

[1] See: http://cis-india.org/internet-governance/events/uidai-and-welfare-services-exclusion-and-countermeasures-aug-27.

[2] See: http://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/report-on-understanding-aadhaar-and-its-new-challenges.

[3] See: https://uidai.gov.in/beta/images/the_aadhaar_act_2016.pdf.

[4] See: http://scroll.in/latest/816343/aadhaar-numbers-may-soon-be-compulsory-to-book-railway-tickets.

[5] See: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/linking-bpl-ration-card-with-aadhaar-made-mandatory/article9094935.ece.

[6] See: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/After-scam-Bihar-to-link-exams-to-Aadhaar/articleshow/54000108.cms.

[7] See: http://www.dailypioneer.com/state-editions/cs-calls-for-early-steps-to-link-aadhaar-to-ac.html.

[8] See: http://www.cag.gov.in/sites/default/files/audit_report_files/Union_Commercial_Compliance_Full_Report_25_2016_English.pdf.

[9] See: http://petroleum.nic.in/docs/lpg/LPG%20Control%20Order%20GSR%20718%20dated%2026.09.2011.pdf.

[10] See: http://judis.nic.in/temp/494201232392013p.txt.

[11] Section 8(4) of the Aadhaar Act, 2016 states that "The Authority shall respond to an authentication query with a positive, negative or any other appropriate response sharing such identity information excluding any core biometric information."

 

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