Undefined identity of UPA and state of atrophy

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by nrj, Dec 11, 2011.

  1. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    The irony is unmistakable. Aadhaar: the phrase with a Hindi/Sanskrit etymology could be deployed to mean basis, foundation, support or cornerstone. It is also the identity, the name of the UPA’s most ambitious programme that promised to empower individuals and deliver institutional reforms. This week Aadhaar found itself niradhaar! The Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Finance Ministry wrecked the very basis of the idea; the ministries of home and finance questioned the very foundation of the Unique Identification Authority of India; the political leadership virtually withdrew its support and the programme peddled as the base for reforms in social sector spending has been reduced into another cornerstone in the altar of failures. The UPA has yet again produced a spectacular display of its ability to convert a promise into a compromise.

    The failure of the Government lies in the definition of the idea of identity. There is no disputing the fact that India and Indians require a national identity card—for economic, social and political reasons. What does the UIDAI seek to achieve? The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 (which was rejected by the Yashwant Sinha-led Standing Committee) states that the NIAI was being set up with the “purpose of issuing identification numbers to individuals residing in India” and to authenticate individuals identities so as to allow them access to entitlements of subsidies. In short, like the NDA before it, the Congress-led UPA too sought to skirt the critical issue of identifying and issuing cards to citizens.

    It has escaped the intelligence of all these worthies that any document with the stamp of Ashoka’s lions is enough to convert a resident into a citizen. And that this has been exploited by citizens of friendly and unfriendly neighbours cannot be a secret to those in government. Yet, the UPA II agreed to circumvent the stamp of citizenship by deploying the semantics of resident-ship. More critical are the issues of due diligence and process. The UIDAI was formed in the summer of 2009. The Government very well knew that the Census would be underway in less than six months. The Government would also have been aware that the National Population Register (NPR) had plans to do exactly what was being proposed for UIDAI—that is enumerate and authenticate all those residing in India using biometrics. So why were two institutions of the Government engaged in duplicating work? Significantly, the Cabinet—despite the objections raised by P Chidambaram and the home ministry—cleared the idea and the budget twice—first for 10 crore registrations and again for an additional 10 crore.

    Now after the UIDAI has issued over 59 million numbers, the Government is faced with a problem. The Registrar General of India (RGI) is registering residents for the NPR. The question is what happens to the registrations done by Nandan Nilekani’s UIDAI? Can the RGI which is tasked with a statutory obligation accept biometric registrations done by third-party agencies? The UIDAI wants the RGI to accept the biometric registrations and allow it to enumerate beyond the limit of 20 crore. The home ministry has shot down both ideas and wants the non-RGI registrars to stop enrolment.

    In 2011, 30 months after its birth, the UIDAI is facing an existential crisis. The NIAI bill has been shot down by the parliamentary committee. The committee has found there was “no feasibility study” and has raised issues of “duplication, data security, cost benefit analysis, the reliability of technology, and lack of coordination”. It has dubbed the exercise as “directionless”. It is faced with a surfeit of objections and opposition within the Government. The finance ministry has raised concerns about coordination and about expenditure. The Planning Commission has raised issues about the administrative structure, checks and balances and audit procedures.

    Mind you, this was not just any idea! In his Budget speeches in 2009, 2010 and 2011, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee invoked the UID scheme to promise good governance. In his Budget speech of 2011-12, he said: “The stage is now set for realising the potential of Aadhaar for improving service delivery, accountability and transparency in governance of various schemes.” The Prime Minister too has chanted the UID mantra. As late as in June 2011, he told editors of newspapers: “We need systemic reforms. If the UIDAI can give unique ID numbers to all residents, we would have discovered a pathway to eliminate the scope for corruption and leakages.” Even Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi has voted in favour of the UID, stating it was the solution to “diversion of funds”, even asking UID chief Nandan Nilekani to speak about it at the Youth Congress jamboree recently.

    Indeed, the first meeting of the UIDAI was held at 7 Race Course Road residence of the Prime Minister. In attendance were the Prime Minister, the finance minister, the law minister, the rural development minister, the HRD Minister and Montek Singh Ahluwalia along with the cabinet secretary and other secretaries. And there were no murmurs about process or propriety.

    How did governance come to such a passé? The debate has unfortunately got knotted into the personalities and there is an air of schadenfreude about the poster boy being shown his place. Forget the celebrities and personalities for a moment and think about the message going out. This Government cannot implement or back even the most celebrated of ideas.

    In just one week, four major initiatives—the proposal for FDI in retail, the move to hike FDI in insurance, banking reforms and UID—have been shown the door. Spin doctors would have us believe this is the result of the rift between the party and the Government. Fact is, both are united in their lack of identity, what they stand for. That alone can explain the state of atrophy.

    The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own. Shankkar Aiyar is a senior journalist who specialises in the politics of economics
     
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  3. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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  4. agentperry

    agentperry Senior Member Senior Member

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    adhaar isnt coming. i knew that. thats why i didnt went to adhaar kendra fo registration.
     

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