The following is the text of a note released by 208 scholars, activists and concerned citizens on the United Progressive Alliance government’s plan to introduce cash transfers linked to the Aadhaar (UID) numbers of beneficiaries:
We support cash transfers such as old age pensions, widow pensions, maternity entitlements and scholarships. However, we oppose the government’s plan for accelerated mass conversion of welfare schemes to UID-driven cash transfers. This plan could cause havoc and massive social exclusion. We demand the following:
1. No replacement of food with cash under the Public Distribution System (PDS).
The PDS is a vital source of economic security and nutrition support for millions of people. It should be expanded and consolidated, not dismantled.
2. Immediate enactment of a comprehensive National Food Security Act, including universal PDS.
Instead of diverting the public’s attention with promises of mass cash transfers before the 2014 elections, the government should redeem its promise to enact a National Food Security Act (NFSA).
3. Cash transfers should not be a substitute for public services.
While some cash transfer schemes are useful, they should complement, not be a substitute for the provision of public services such as health care, school education, water supply, basic amenities, and the PDS. These services remain grossly underfunded.
4. Expand and improve appropriate cash transfers without waiting for UID.
There is no need to wait for UID to expand and improve positive cash transfer schemes such as pensions, scholarships and maternity entitlements. For instance, social security pensions should be increased and universalised.
5. No UID enrolment without a legal framework.
Millions of people are being enrolled for UID without any legal safeguards. The UIDAI’s draft bill has been rejected by a parliamentary standing committee. UID enrolment should be halted until a sound legal framework is in place.
6. All UID applications should be voluntary, not compulsory.
UID should never be a condition for anyone to access any entitlements or public services. A convenient alternative should always be available.
7. UID should be kept out of the PDS, NREGA and other essential entitlement programmes for the time being.
Essential services are not a suitable field of experimentation for a highly centralised and uncertain technology. Other applications (e.g. to tax evasion) should be tried first.
List of signatories: Sunil Abraham, Centre for Internet and Society; Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Vice-Chancellor, Tripura University; Kiran Bhatty, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research; Nikhil Dey, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan; Jean Drèze, Visiting Professor, Allahabad University; S.S. Gill, Director General, CRRID, Chandigarh; Reetika Khera, Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi; A.K. Shiva Kumar, Economist; Lawrence Liang, Alternative Law Forum; Nivedita Menon, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University; R. Nagaraj, Professor, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research; Farah Naqvi, Writer and Activist; Dr. K. Srinath Reddy; Shantha Sinha, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights; M.S. Swaminathan, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha; Sharmila Tagore; Vamsi Vakulabharanam, Reader, University of Hyderabad; Bezwada Wilson, Safai Karamchari Andolan and 190 others.