We are grateful to the busy Minister and his associates for taking the trouble of reading our article and responding to it. But we are concerned that in spite of all the wise talk, the bottom line remains an article of faith — “Aadhaar is a must.”
The purpose of our article was to point out, first, that ground realities loom large in this matter, and second, that the role of Unique Identity (UID) in NREGA must be submitted to rigorous experimentation. What we saw in Ratu was just a public relations exercise.
The perils of ignoring ground realities are evident from the authors’ claim that Aadhaar-enabled payment of old-age pensions is a “low-hanging fruit.”
In fact, this UID application is also problematic, for three reasons. First, fingerprint recognition is particularly difficult with the elderly. Second, the formalities of switching to a new system can also be very forbidding for them. Third, many old people are too frail to collect their pension in person, and normally send a relative — the Aadhaar system makes that impossible. In Ratu, we saw an old man literally crawling for several kilometres to collect his pension from the Aadhaar system, instead of sending his son as he used to do.
Our assessment remains that making UID compulsory for NREGA workers is a recipe for chaos. Making it available to them as an optional facility is another matter, but that would require a very different approach from what is happening today under pressure from the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the biometrics industry, and other vested interests.
Finally we are not clear as to what “giant leap” we are supposed to have taken with this article. We stand by our earlier writings on the general dangers of UID. This does not prevent us from taking interest in the experiment and being open to persuasion.