14 August, 2013
In 1999, the Kargil conflict led to the setting up of the Kargil Review Committee to analyse intelligence lapses when the incursions happened. In its report, the committee suggested that "steps should be taken to issue ID cards to border villages in certain vulnerable areas on a priority basis, pending its extension to other or all parts of the state. Such a policy would also be relevant in the North East, Sikkim and parts of West Bengal." In 2003, when the Citizenship Act 1955 was amended to introduce section 14-A to create a National Register of Indian Citizens, the rhetoric had moved to illegal migration. A Multipurpose National Identity Card (MNIC) was mooted as an exercise in "border management". In 2003, pilots were run issuing MNIC in 20 districts across 12 states and Delhi. The first MNIC was issued in Narela, Delhi in 2007, and the coastal areas have largely been covered in the years since.
The pilots demonstrated a problem that the MNIC project encountered. "One of the important learning of the project," a "Compendium of mission mode projects under NeGP" (National e-Governance Plan) acknowledges, "was that determination of citizenship was a complicated and involved issue and may be tackled in a phased manner."
The National Population Register (NPR) therefore registers all "usual residents", not just citizens. The Citizenship Rules say that this should be done by "house-to-house enumeration for collection of specified particulars relating to each family and individual". These Rules specify twelve fields of information that are to be gathered in the process of enrolling people on the NPR. These include name, father’s name and mother’s name, sex, date of birth, place of birth, residential address both present and permanent, marital status, visible identification mark, date of registration of citizen, serial number of registration and a National Identity Number. The Rules prescribe penalty for refusal to give any information that the enroller is authorised by the Rules to collect. (The parent statute, viz., the Citizenship Act 1955 as amended in 2003, does not provide for penalty, and such penalty in the Rules may be challenged, but that is another discussion.) Biometrics is not in the Rules. There is no law that requires any person to give their biometrics to the NPR enroller. In any event, and at the least, no resident/citizen can be compelled to part with their biometrics as part of the NPR exercise. Refusal to give biometrics cannot, then, attract any legal consequences.
The Standing Committee on Finance had cautioned: "The collection of biometric information and its linkage with personal information of individuals without amendment to the Citizenship Act 1955 as well as the Citizenship Rules 2003, appears to be beyond the scope of subordinate legislation, which needs to be examined in detail by Parliament." This has been studiously ignored.
The Registrar General of India (RGI), who is also in charge of the Census, is tasked with building up the NPR. In March 2011, the RGI entered into an MoU with the UIDAI, by which the RGI became a "Registrar" for the UIDAI.
In January 2009, when the UIDAI was set up by executive notification, enrolment was not among the list of "responsibilities" of the UIDAI. It was to "generate and assign UID numbers", and to "take necessary steps to ensure collation of NPR with UID (as per approved strategy)". It was when Mr Nandan Nilekani became Chairperson of the UIDAI in July 2009, and a Cabinet Committee on the UID was constituted, that the UIDAI was given the mandate to enrol up to 10 crore people, which was later revised to 20 crore. Since then, there has been a push from the UIDAI and from the Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission to gain more enrolment for the UIDAI.
In contrast with the NPR, the UID project is not rooted in law. The notification by which it was set up does not specify limits, wrongs, remedies nor does it vest any authority in the UIDAI.
That is why it has had to be promoted as voluntary even when the UIDAI has worked with agencies to make it mandatory through the threat of exclusion; as collecting very limited data, only enough to generate a unique number, when it has actually expanded its fields of data to include, for instance, mobile phone number, email address, and bank account number; as performing only a "yes" or "no" verification function when it has in fact introduced a column for consent to share information.
Importantly, while the NPR is based on a house-to-house collection of data, the UID is entirely based on outsourcing, with embarrassing errors showing up, where dogs, trees and leaves have been issued UID numbers, and over 800 people have been enrolled as "biometric exceptions" in one episode in Hyderabad when they have been later found not to exist.
In November 2011, there were reports of disquiet in the Home Ministry that the biometric enrolment did not meet security criteria. Mr Nilekani’s response was surprisingly bureaucratic: that the UIDAI has been collected “as per accepted procedure”. In January 2012, the differences between the Home Ministry and the UIDAI escalated, with the Home Secretary, Mr RK Singh communicating to the Cabinet Secretary that the UIDAI’s collection of biometrics was "fraught with security risks".
There was a brief standoff between the MHA and the UIDAI that lasted for about a week till, on 27 January 2012, a perplexing compromise was reached.
Despite the security concerns raised by MHA about the UIDAI’s processes, including the extent of outsourcing, and the introducer system, it was decided in an inexplicable move that the RGI and the UIDAI would both continue doing enrolment, and that they would divide the population between them, 50:50!
On 6 August 2013, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, in answer to a parliamentary question, said: "The UIDAI issues UID numbers … based on the demographic and biometric attributes of the person residing in India through the multiple Registrar model.
The RGI is one of the Registrars." The Minister was to say in perpetuation of an exploded myth: "The enrolment for aadhaar is voluntary." Then: "The de-duplication and generation of aadhaar number by UIDAI is a part of the NPR process … (and) NPR is mandatory.”
And, representing the deliberate fogginess of the process: “… but during the course of NPR biometric enrolment, a person indicates she/he is already enrolled for aadhaar, the biometric data will not be captured for NPR. Instead the aadhaar number will be recorded in NPR and the biometric data will be sourced from the UIDAI.”
In handing over the data that it collects to the UIDAI; in enrolling biometrics as part of the NPR process; in accepting enrolment that is outsourced and which does not follow the process set out in the citizenship law; in handing over information to the UIDAI which the UIDAI will then “own” ~ these have introduced doubts about the legality of the NPR exercise.
Also, the RGI is expected to maintain the database, not hand it over and become a customer of the UIDAI; but it is in that direction that the NPR is headed. The conflation of the NPR and the UID has created opacity and suspect legalities. It is no wonder that the resident-citizen is confused!
The author is an academic activist. She has researched the UID and its
ramifications since 2009