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Posted at: Dec 16, 2018, 12:03 AM; last updated: Dec 16, 2018, 12:03 AM (IST)

Junk Aadhaar to win in 2019

Saba Naqvi
MOCKING BIRD
Saba Naqvi
By now, the BJP would have got the feedback that the Aadhaar was one of the reasons that added to the overall narrative of economic distress

Saba Naqvi

Travelling through the election-bound states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, I found two issues were repeatedly flagged by the poor: notebandi and Aadhaar. The first cannot be reversed but Aadhaar can be. 

It is cruel and arbitrary on the poor, particularly in adivasi belts that I travelled through in Bastar and across the border into Madhya Pradesh. Most compelling was the story of a Gond tribal woman in Madhya Pradesh. From her distant village, she made several trips to the Aadhaar authority in the town because first they got her name wrong. Next they had something else wrong, (illiterate, she did not know exactly what), and her problem was not yet sorted out. Meanwhile, she and her family were being denied rations and benefits for those under the poverty line. 

Aadhaar had, in fact, disempowered her even as it increased the powers of the petty bureaucracy. There are other reports I have read about families in remote parts starving because they lost their rations. 

The Aadhaar project that involves giving a card bearing the 12-digit unique identity number attached to biometric data began in the era of the Congress rule. But it has been pushed aggressively over the last few years by the BJP. 

In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, I travelled for miles in areas where there was no cell-phone connectivity. How on earth are you going to make Aadhaar work in parts where I am directed to stand under a particular tree to get cell phone connection! I have little doubt that the same reality exists in Jharkhand, and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, all currently held by the BJP or the NDA. 

By now the BJP has got the feedback that Aadhaar was one of the reasons that added up to the overall narrative of economic distress. The post-poll data shows that the party is fast losing support in Dalit and tribal-dominated seats. One of the reasons, I firmly believe, is Aadhaar. 

My unsolicited advice to all political parties is that junk the entire Aadhaar system; chuck it into the dust-bin and then announce it from the roof-tops and put this in your manifesto. It will be a popular step. Just two months ago, the Union Food Ministry issued a notification that no beneficiary’s name should be removed from lists of those eligible to get rations in case they did not get an Aadhaar number or had it but failed to link it. Earlier, the Supreme Court judgment delivered the same instructions: no one should be denied benefits for not having Aadhaar or not being able to link it.

But such instructions have not been absorbed on the ground, particularly as the Aadhaar system was being aggressively promoted till now. Ration shops in the states in the Hindi heartland simply turn away people if there is a data mismatch. Also, please understand the kind of people who are most in need of the free rations and are being turned away. Many would not be literate, but they would be bewildered by what officialdom would tell them. They can be bullied by the shopkeepers. 

The old public distribution system was imperfect; full of pilferage and corruption. But at least people knew they were dealing with: their names were in a register that would match a ration card that they possessed. What Aadhaar does is bewildering for many Indians and the bewilderment increases as we go down the economic ladder.

In the city, we have examined valid concerns about data theft and privacy issues linked to Aadhaar. What I discovered in this round of election travels is that Aadhaar is cruel and unjust for adivasis in particular. People travel from long distances, from villages in the hills only to get turned away at the ration shop. 

What happens frequently is the following: there are data-entry errors, such as that encountered by the Gond woman I interviewed whose name was entered incorrectly. Then there are failures in biometric authentication since a lot of the work has been done shoddily in our hurry to expand this ‘efficient’system across the nation. 

Finally, there are network problems and glitches. There can, in some cases, be all three problems that an individual can encounter to get a few sacks of rice. In such an event, they would not get it. Unbelievable that this should be happening; in the name of progress we are actually disempowering people. It’s an Orwellian nightmare and I hope in the run up to 2019, both the Congress and the BJP dump Aadhaar.  

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