People are not rushing to get enrolled because of Aadhaar’s promise but because of the threat of the inability to access entitlements or regular services. Instead, enrolment figures are being trumpeted as proof of public enthusiasm.

Claiming system efficacy based on a National Institute of Public Finance and Policy study is questionable since the UIDAI financed the study.

The poor are obliged to operate bank accounts for direct cash transfer benefits. Nano-balance accounts provide no individual creditworthiness but millions of nano-balances benefit the credit economy, making use of the poor without empowering them. The requirement of Aadhaar biometric authentication for the application process — each time benefit is due — and its complicated procedures are a burden to poor beneficiaries in current pilot schemes. Expansion to large schemes like MGNREGA cannot reduce the burden. Beneficiaries are not receiving anything new through direct benefit transfers. System glitches result in beneficiaries losing entitlements.

The UIDAI itself claims that it intends to reach benefits to the poor against systemic corruption. The “robust identification and authentication infrastructure” to “especially the indigent and the marginalized” isn’t working. Mr. Sharma himself acknowledged, in a November 2011 Frontline interview, that fingerprint-authentication will be problematic. In Ajmer district, of approximately 20,000 potential beneficiaries, only 220 have so far received Aadhaar-based money in the bank, but none through a biometric identification system.

L-1 Identity Solutions’ “best IT technology” can compromise data security due to its known links with the CIA. The UIDAI has no legality, but only the technical legitimacy of an executive order.

(Major General S.G. Vombatkere, who retired as Additional Director General, Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi, writes on strategic and development-related issues.)


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