February 20, 2017 -
The Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL) has complained that despite repeated reminders from Indian courts that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory, government violations continue.
According to an article by The Wire, the organization has determined that “in blatant disregard of the Supreme Court’s directions, the finance ministry has communicated a ‘common strategy’ to be adopted by banks to achieve specific targets under Aadhaar” despite the fact that Aadhaar enrolment is supposed to be “free and voluntary”.
Aadhaar is the 12-digit unique identification number issued by the Indian government to every individual resident of India. The Aadhaar project aims to provide a single, unique identifier which captures all the demographic and biometric details of every Indian resident. Currently, Aadhaar has issued over 900 million Aadhaar numbers. Over one billion people have now been enrolled for the project, which initially was only used for the provision of social services. The Indian government’s next intention is to extend Aadhaar to the majority of consumer financial transactions.
The Wire story notes that “the department of financial services has fixed timelines for achieving 100% Aadhaar seeding” and “that Aadhaar will be used as an identifier for all centrally-funded scholarship schemes” to be linked directly to Aadhaar associated bank accounts.
Though Aadhaar is non-mandatory, according to the government’s own submissions to Indian high courts, the Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties worries that government policies concerning resident adoption of new financial and social services has made registration a de facto requirement.
As an example, the Indian government recently announced its intention to link food ration cards to Aadhaar in an effort to eliminate fraud. While the government does not indicate that using the biometric registration scheme is mandatory in this instance, its stated goal is to eliminate the current card-based system in order to reduce fraud. The only way to efficiently achieve this objective is to effectively register everyone using the program, making the use of Aadhaar mandatory, in practice, for food ration users.
While the courts and the government itself has said that Aadhaar is voluntary, Prime Minister Modi is intent to register all Indian residents, in order to implement his scheme of expanded social services, which includes a new universal healthcare scheme, along with universal financial services. The government also wants to expand the use of the Aadhaar biometric system for national security and crime-related surveillance.
As a consequence, analysts expect a continuing tension between the official, voluntary definition of the scheme and the nature of its actual implementation by the national government