[Burning Issue] Should Aadhaar be made mandatory or not?

Background

  1. Aadhaar is a 12 digit number issued by the UIDAI to the residents of India
  2. It does not confer the right of citizenship or domicile to the holder.
  3. Aadhaar is proof of identity, residence and financial address for its residents.
  4. Aadhaar has been making inroads in all spheres of life and almost all government and private services require Aadhaar linking. In this situation, there are arguments going on about whether to make Aadhaar mandatory or not

Arguments for mandatory Aadhaar

  1. As social security number is for US citizens, Aadhaar is to Indian residents. The former was successful in providing services and improved lives of Americans. Aadhaar also has the potential to do the same.
  2. Aadhaar replaces the multitude of ID proofs and documents and becomes a sole identity proof. Thus reducing delays in governance.
  3. Aadhaar also helping employers reducing the hiring process and time. Thus saving a lot of time and money.
  4. Government is planning to link Aadhaar to financial market transactions to curb practices such as the conversion of black money into white through the stock market.
  5. It will save the government hefty amount of subsidies as it is easy to identify the fake beneficiaries, better targeting and reduce leakages in the distribution.
  6. Aadhaar also acts as the financial address which enables easy remittance of benefits to intended beneficiaries (Direct benefit transfer).
  7. It enables monitoring of attendance of government employees = better governance and efficiency.
  8. Can erase the possibility of using fake IDs by terrorists.
  9. Aadhaar makes various processes easier and faster such as e-filing of income tax returns, getting passports, opening bank accounts, getting pension money, provident fund disbursement, LPG and other subsidies.
  10. Linking Aadhaar with voter card will eliminate bogus voters thus electing the right government and improve democracy.

Arguments against mandatory Aadhaar

  1. Making Aadhaar mandatory may lead to misuse of personal information and surveillance by the state thus taking away privacy.
  2. It has the potential to profile individuals such as determining the behavioural pattern of a person using big data analytics.
  3. Aadhaar law does not restrict the government to impose identification in any other context not mentioned in the law.
  4. A person whose information got breached has no remedy at his/her disposal since no court shall take cognizance of any offence except on a complaint made by the UIDAI.
  5. There is no independent oversight mechanism or limitations of surveillance.
  6. Due to connectivity and other issues, the failure rate of Aadhaar authentication stands at 30% which is quite a huge number, considering the population of the country. This leads to exclusion from availing benefits.
  7. Data is considered as new oil by companies and they want to cash in on the business and get profits.
  8. Students in government-funded schools without Aadhaar are increasingly being denied their rightful meal under Mid-day meal scheme.
  9. The supreme court directed UIDAI in 2015 that Aadhaar cannot be used anywhere except PDS and LPG distribution, NREGA, social security pension, provident fund and Jan Dhan Yojana and that too voluntary in nature.

Way forward

  1. In its enthusiasm to aggregate data in electronic form and target subsidies better, the government cannot reject its responsibility to protect citizens from the cyber threats.
  2. It is imperative for the Union Government to enact a privacy legislation that clearly defines the rights of citizens and it should be consistent with the provision of the Constitution.
  3. The government should consider the privacy risks and include procedures and systems to protect citizen information in any system of data collection.
  4. Our national cyber cell should be made well capable of promptly dealing with any cyber-attack.
  5. We need to awareness among people on the risks involved and highlight examples of ID thefts and fraud.
  6. Aadhaar is making inroads in all walks of life. Rather than just arguing whether it should be mandatory or not, we should give it an opportunity to improve the governance and service delivery of the government. However, there should be effective safeguards as well for protecting the privacy of the people enrolled in Aadhaar
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