Towards complexity

Complexity, thy name be Aadhaar. The unique identity number, although it is being touted as a one-stop solution to eradicate corruption in delivery of benefits, is only adding to the worries of people. The Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) is reported to be considering the additional imposition of 18 per cent Goods and Services Tax on updation of your Aadhaar details. It currently charges Rs25 for updation of demographic data, including name, address, date of birth, mobile number, gender and email of individuals. The same is charged by UIDAI for biometric updates. With the imposition of GST, the charge will go up by close to Rs5. The way things are going, it will not be a surprise if the currently free new Aadhaar enrolment and biometric update of children, too, will entail charges.

There is no denying that any service, including Aadhaar generation, requires a lot of investment in infrastructure and staffing for its smooth operation. But given the kind of devious lacunae in data security that have surfaced in recent times, there appears to be no justification in paying for the services rendered. One of the main reasons why corruption remains a problem in India is that people were being offered inferior services despite them being charged a premium in bribes for services that were in the first place meant to be offered free of cost. Even bribes often do not enthuse officials enough to ensure that they offer better services on time. Under the circumstances, any move to introduce GST at a slab that is just one rung below the highest, is questionable.

Although the Aadhaar card offers the welcome option of individuals themselves keeping their information updated, unlike other documents such as the PAN card or passport, there are problems right at the enrolment level. In many cases, Aadhaar has automated some portions of demographic updates such as the village one belongs to. While the Aadhaar website pre-selects some of the data, such information does not match with actual, on-ground data. Users are, therefore, forced to make changes in the demographic data they themselves provide during enrolment once the card is issued. If Aadhaar is issued based on user-supplied data, it must also accept data that the user provides as accurate. But when that does not happen, how can it be called a robust service? It may be surmised that poor and illiterate users may not use updation services greatly as they may normally be not quite aware of the data contained on these cards. Also, this segment will not be in frequent need of these cards to make purchases or huge monetary transaction. Issues in the Aadhaar card will invite bigger trouble only for the middle class and above as they will have to produce the unique identity during transactions at multiple levels. Given that the data of such users is of greater commercial value, they must also be provided with premium data security, which does not appear to be the case with Aadhaar.

It is true that the sum sought for updation of the data cannot, by any measure, be termed princely and is not something that will be required often. However, a bigger issue is that the UIDAI wants users to present supporting documents to make sure that information they seek to update matches what is contained in the supporting documents. But what is forgotten is that Aadhaar is the only card where the user should be able to provide accurate information pertaining to herself or himself without depending on previous identity documents that are flawed owing to data entry by third parties. By insisting on documentary proof for updation of demographic data of users, the UIDAI is defeating one of the chief benefits of Aadhaar. Besides, these updates cannot be done online. The users will have to visit an Aadhaar centre at a bank or post office to get it done. What Aadhaar is turning out to be is but another document that has opened doors to new forms of corruption.

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