At paragraph 118 of his Budget Speech, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently said, “Aadhaar has provided an identity to every Indian. Aadhaar has eased delivery of so many public services to our people. Every enterprise, major or small, also needs a unique ID. The government will evolve a scheme to assign every individual enterprise in India a unique ID.” There are three claims made in these four sentences. They do not present a factual picture. The claims about Aadhaar are factually incorrect but the third claim merits greater attention.
Claim: Every enterprise, major or small, also needs a unique ID. The government will evolve a scheme to assign every individual enterprise in India a unique ID.
Fact: The minister did not inform the Parliament and the citizens about the conceptual, structural and functional link between UIDAI and goods and services tax network (GSTN) from the very outset. Notably, chief executive officer of UIDAI, A.B. Pandey is also the chairman of the GSTN since September 8, 2017. The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 came into force in toto on September 12, 2016, and Central Goods and Services Tax Act 2017, came into effect on July 1, 2017. The fact is that Unique Identity Number, the unique ID to which the minister is referring to, already finds mention in the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017. It has been effectively been mentioned nine times in the Act. Section 25 of the Act deals with the procedure for registration wherein under Section 25 (9) (b) it is stated that “any other person or class of persons, as may be notified by the Commissioner, shall be granted a Unique Identity Number in such manner and for such purposes, including refund of taxes on the notified supplies of goods or services or both received by them, as may be prescribed”. Section 150 (1) (o) states that any person under the Act “refers to a person to whom a Unique Identity Number has been granted under sub-section (9) of Section 25” as well. Such a person “is responsible for maintaining record of registration or statement of accounts or any periodic return or document containing details of payment of tax and other details of transaction of goods or services or both or transactions related to a bank account or consumption of electricity or transaction of purchase, sale or exchange of goods or property or right or interest in a property under any law for the time being in force, shall furnish an information return of the same in respect of such periods, within such time, in such form and manner and to such authority or agency as may be prescribed”. Notably, the Central Consumer Protection Authority under the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018, is empowered to mandate the use of unique and universal goods identifiers. The Bill is pending in the Lok Sabha since on January 5, 2018, after its introduction by Ram Vilas Paswan, the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. This law in conjunction with Aadhaar is all set to provide 360-degree surveillance of citizens.
A presentation of J Satyanarayana, chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), on People Hub: …the Core of DBT dated July 22, 2016, revealed the purpose of People’s Hub is to have “Getting a 360 degree view of Citizens” that alters the relationships between citizens, government and the business enterprises. As per IBM, a “Single View of a Citizen” is required because it “provides authorized access to citizen master data as a service”. It “supports security and privacy requirements for the access and control of data”. It “provides data quality management to establish an “enterprise” record for a party”. It “performs as a synchronization point to control the distribution of citizen master data in a standardized way”. It “increases service and accuracy, and decreases the cost of serving the public”. It provides “flexible platform capable of supporting multiple data formats and allowing for new sources to be readily added as requirements change. It also “provides analysis and discovery services to resolve identities and discover relationships”.
It may be recalled that Edwin Black’s book IBM and the Holocaust revealed IBM's strategic alliance with Nazi Germany. IBM and its subsidiaries helped create enabling technologies, “step-by-step, from the identification and cataloging programs of the 1930s to the selections of the 1940s”. Notably, IBM was in the census business. The book reveals that IBM technology was used to organize nearly everything in Germany and then Nazi Europe, from the identification of the Jews in censuses, registrations, and ancestral tracing programs to the running of railroads and organizing of concentration camp slave labor. Coincidentally, IBM is involved in UID/Aadhaar project as well. Coincidentally, Pramod Varma, who is currently a 'volunteer' chief architect at UIDAI, has been with a company which is now part of IBM. He joined UIDAI in July 2009 and leads the overall technology and application architecture and application development within UIDAI technology unit and is based in Bangalore. His role “has been pivotal in ensuring an open, scalable, and secure architecture is built to meet the needs of aadhaar project”. If Varma is only a volunteer as per UIDAI Volunteers Guidelines, 2011 then it implies that he is likely to have continued as the Chief Technology Architect and Vice-President of Research at Sterling Commerce, which is now part of IBM because as per this guideline, a “volunteer” is a person who wants to give services to the authority, either on a part-time basis or on a full-time basis, without any remuneration from the authority. The related UIDAI’s guidelines for recruitment of personnel on sabbatical/secondment refer to “conflict of interest from private sector members moving from one category of employment to another”. This guideline defines “applicant on sabbatical/ secondment or applicant” as “a person who wants to give services to and work with the authority, on a full-time or part-timee basis while on sabbatical from a parent organisation, without seeking any remuneration from the authority.” Given the fact that the presentation of UIDAI’s chairman makes it clear that he wants a “360 degree view of Citizens” for a single view as per the attached presentation which was available on the website of Cabinet Secretariat till January 14, 2018 (now it has been removed) and IBM also wants to have “Single View of a Citizen”. The conflict of interest of UIDAI’s chief architect is conclusively established.
It may be recalled that UIDAI extended “undue favour” to Wipro Ltd as well. As a consequence, UIDAI incurred an avoidable expenditure of Rs. 4.92 crore on an annual maintenance contract, according to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India presented to the Parliament.
The conflict of interest-ridden entrepreneurial involvement of IBM and Wipro in UID/Aadhaar initiatives is aimed at ensuring that every person is being “profiled to the nth extent for all and sundry to know” in the words of Supreme Court’s verdict on right to privacy using both demographic and biometric information. It emerges that unique ID for Indians and their enterprises is being pursued to ensure guaranteed revenue flow to these transnational business enterprises through monetization of citizen’s personal data.
The marriage between biometric surveillance and financial surveillance of citizens is breaching the social contract between the state and the citizens wherein the former is making the latter subordinate to commercial interests of all ilk amidst blitzkrieg of advertisements and misinformation campaigns. It is evident that the state in collaboration with non-state actors is unleashing structural violence by feigning ignorance of history to dispossess people of their inherent natural rights and make itself immune from accountability towards its injustice against citizens with impunity. The state’s institutional memory has an active and a passive side. The former includes active forgetting of intentional acts of deprivation and exclusion. The latter includes canonization of the remote past as well as recent by which interpretation of the memory is fixed in a way that it uses a moment in history as a point of reference to the exclusion of other moments and interpretations. But no amount of state-sponsored propaganda and engineering of embedded media by commercial czars can obliterate the fact that citizens of the country already had identity and identity proof prior to the illegitimate and immoral bulldozing of biometric identification exercise. It is clear that as a consequence of some Faustian bargain, the Finance Minister is speaking with a forked tongue.
The author had appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance that examined the Aadhaar Bill, 2010 and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution that examined the Consumer Protection Bill. He is editor of www.toxicswatch.org