Digitisation: An Act of Underrated Development
The Modi Government settled in its high seats since the 2014 elections with an aim of sweeping away the nation with a wave digitisation. The implementation of demonetization was the flag bearer commencing the march towards the much-sought idea of the present NDA’s Digital India.
On October 22, the Central Bank released a statement making the linkage of Aadhaar number to bank account mandatory under the Prevention of Money-laundering (Maintenance of Records) Second Amendment Rules, 2017 published in the Official Gazette on June 1, 2017.
With an aim to enhance the authentication of a citizen ration cards, mobile numbers, driving licence, PAN etc. now have a deadline with dire consequences in the coming future to be linked with the Aadhar.
The basic question that now comes is how does the data that Aadhar captures affect our lives?
Right To Food
Santoshi Kumar, an 11-year-old girl in Simdega district of Jharkhand, died because of starving for nearly 8 days.
The family had been struck off government welfare schemes and had not received ration since eight months because they had not linked Aadhar, the biometrics-based 12-digit unique identification number that the centre wants all Indian residents to have with their ration card.
The official response to this incident verged on denial. However, on independent surveys, it was found that this case was not an aberration.
Around 11 lakh ration cards have allegedly being cancelled because the cardholders had not furnished their Aadhar numbers.
Aadhar-based biometric authentication (ABBA) on the public distribution system hasn’t contributed towards smoothing the irregularities in the system. On probing in this case, by various activists, journalists and independent surveys, it was discovered that there many rendered unable to authenticate their Aadhar because of old age, illegible biometric scanners and faulty authentication one-time password servers.
This excluded a significant minority for whom the system did not work. According to Jharkhand website, around 10% families have been denied ration because of lack of Aadhar which accounts for a total of 2.5 million people.
Reduction in Pension Beneficiaries
The Gandhi Jayanti, this year was marked by another step towards the progress of Digital India as the government announced the ‘E-Mitra Kendra’ or licensed private sector operators for the submission of pension forms.
Social security pension, a sole livelihood of many elderly made many suffer through the now tedious end-to-end digital transformation of applying for monthly pensions. The cost increased from Rs. 11 to 100.
The inability to open and use bank accounts, seed them with Aadhaar and Bhamashah, and then withdraw pension payments from their accounts using biometric authentication every month which is now the process as opposed to submitting a pension form in Panchayats resulted in sanctioned beneficiaries being removed from pension lists.
What Digital India has built up to now as a part of progress is a structure with a framework lacking with transparency, empathy and accountability.
The fundamental Right to Privacy stands on the brink of being breached as the all-round information of a person is now linked with Aadhar with a relatively weak Aadhar Act to protect the data of the citizens.
Aadhaar’s fundamental power as a tool for mining personal information is bound to be hard to restrain.
There is a need to educate people on the risks involved in proliferation and misuse of identity information in a mass surveillance technology that is Aadhar.
Along with the linkage of Aadhar, there comes a call for modernized IT laws for data protection and privacy.
What lingers in the present is to dissolve the barriers that digitisation is causing in bulldozing the poor to make them bereft of their entitled services by law. In an ideal world, the solution would have been to call for a stronger corrupt-free framework. In the real world, we are still a long where the strengthening and empowering of the poor is realised through a supposed technological breakthrough in the system.