There is a lot of push back and negative news around Aadhaar at this moment, and it is easy for any Aadhaar related discussion to take a political colour. Keeping the “breaking news” kind of noise aside, we need to look a little deeper to know if it is really good for India.
I can think of 5 reasons as to why Aadhaar can be good for India.
- Aadhaar is not a surveillance system. Aadhaar is just a citizen identifier system. It is a single ID number instead of a bunch of details like Name, Father’s Name, Address, etc. Every citizen has a single ID (no duplicates) and it can be verified live (not just a colour laminated card that can be easily tampered). We need to be more worried about the digital infrastructure providers like the telecom companies who can basically trace your (phone) physical location and its data at any given point, and also companies like Google, Facebook, Whatsapp, etc who might know your entire online behaviour every second. The personal data stored in Aadhaar is trivial compared to these, and more importantly it is not a tracking system.
- Aadhaar is not a super repository of all your data. Linking other systems like Bank, SIM Card, Investments, Property, etc does not mean the details of those assets are stored in Aadhaar. It is just an ID number that can link to other systems. Just like your name, but better because names can be duplicate, but ID is (supposed to be) unique. Linking your bank account to Aadhaar does not mean that all your bank transactions are stored in Aadhaar. It will remain in the banking systems with all its security and checks. Same with SIM card. Your call records stays with the telecom company. It only becomes easier to search because now there is a unique ID vs. 10000s of Anupams.
- Yes. Everything is Hack-able. Of-course. Aadhaar is no different. Information Security is a big deal, and there is nothing in this world that is not hackable. It is only a matter of time/effort it takes. It is the degree of ease with which someone (with or without a malicious) can steal the data, and more importantly how to minimise the damage. Aadhaar being a critical infrastructure of national security, would logically have much higher standards of information security. In-fact it would be better than the private companies because the hacker that we are trying to safeguard against would typically be state-sponsored actors (from China, Pakistan, Russia, North Korea, US, etc), who have much larger and better capabilities than the Nigerian fraud kind of groups who are trying to make a quick buck with basic tricks.
- Income Tax base needs to widen. We have a pathetic 1-2% of the population who pay income tax. it is the poor “salaried” person. If you look around you – you will notice that there are lot of people around you who are not poor, but magically their income does not fall under the taxable slab. The main reason being that their income does not come from a “formal” economy. It is not traceable. Linking everything with Aadhaar helps track such transactions with ease. 10/10 people will be unhappy if asked to pay tax, which they were avoiding till date, so there is bound to be unhappiness, but that does not mean it is bad. Expansion of the tax base is good for everyone. It is bloody unfair for 1% of us poor tax payers to subsidise the nation of 1.3Billion.
- Direct to Beneficiary bypasses the middle-man. In almost all government schemes aimed at benefitting the poor, the person who benefits is the middle man. be it the politician or the innumerable people involved in the money chain. Be it the case of PDS or free housing or LPG subsidy or skilling or any other social schemes. The reason being there is no way to easily track the end beneficiary. if you take any of the above government schemes – it is common to see a high % of “ghost” beneficiaries. They only exist in the books. A single verifiable ID system like Aadhaar can change it. The reason being you cannot create fake entries.
This still does not address the concern that someone will steal my biometrics or iris and can use it to frame me in crimes or better still open vaults of Swiss bank accounts in a la-Jason-Bourn style heist.
But if we look at the ground reality around us, this is a risk we can live with. The benefits of Aadhaar far outnumber the concerns.