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Audit report queries deficiencies in Aadhaar system, questions issuance for children below 5

 

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An audit conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the activities of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) between 2015 and 2019 has pointed out a number of irregularities with the Aadhaar biometric identification system including some negligent practices, as chronicled in an article by Hindustan Times (HT).

According to the outlet, the CAG audit found, among other things, that UIDAI within the period under review, issued Aadhaar numbers to applicants without the complete required documents. The identification authority, according to the auditors, also failed to verify that some of those to who the IDs were issued met residency requirements for issuance. The problem of duplicate entries, and late levy of fees for Aadhaar issuance by the UIDAI which caused the government to lose revenue, were also raised in the audit.

The UIDAI has deleted roughly 470,000 Aadhaar accounts found to be duplicates, according to the Times of India. The CAG suggested that their discovery indicates flaws in the biometric de-duplication process.

Another issue pointed out in the audit report, recently tabled in the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament, is the fact that the biometrics of some applicants were poorly collected by UIDAI contractors, causing many of the card holders to later spend money correcting the poorly recorded details, writes HT.

Privacy issues are also highlighted in the report as UIDAI is criticized for its failure to ensure that applications used by identification ecosystem partners (which include agencies such as banks and telecommunication operators) were able to safely store the personal information of applicants, and that no efforts were made by the identification authority to verify if there was data security compliance, among other negligent attitudes.

The deficiencies notwithstanding, the audit recognized that UIDAI’s ability to issue identity documents to a large number of Indians was a positive step as it helped governments and other private entities properly check the identity of citizens before offering services. By March last year, there were 1.29 billion holders of Aadhaar, per the report.

HT writes that the chief executive office of UIDAI, Saurabh Garg, refused to comment when contacted, saying he had not yet seen the CAG report. The report also mentions that the UIDAI had in a meeting in 2020 agreed to take into account the recommendations of the audit in order to ameliorate its operations.

Audit suggests Aadhaar for children below five be reviewed

One of the issues that come out strongly in the audit, as reported by Business Standard, is the recommendation that the Aadhaar for children below the age of five, dubbed Baal Aadhaar, be reviewed by UIDAI.

The CAG audit suggests that instead of depending on the biometrics of their parents, UIDAI should study the possibility of using alternative methods to collect the biometric features of these children since biometrics are the hallmark of the Aadhaar system.

“Issue of Aadhaar numbers to minor children below the age of five, based on the biometrics of their parents, without confirming uniqueness of biometric identity goes against the basic tenet of the Aadhaar Act,” a portion of the report cited by Business Standard reads.

“UIDAI needs to review the issue of Aadhaar to minor children below five years and find alternate ways to establish their unique identity, especially since the Supreme Court has stated that no benefit will be denied to any child for want of Aadhaar document,” the report adds.

Collecting children’s biometrics for Aadhaar has been a subject under debate by the UIDAI and it has spoken in the past about reducing the eligible age for biometric capture from the current five to three.

Indian state to commence Aadhaar enrollment for newborns

While the debate about the age for biometric capture continues, the State of Odisha says it is beginning Aadhaar enrollment, at the level of hospitals, for newborn children, while waiting that they turn five and 15 respectively for their fingerprint, iris and face biometrics to be collected, writes The New Indian Express.

According to the report, the enrollment at hospitals is a strategy by state authorities to increase the number of newborns to five-year-old registrants for Aadhaar, which is currently at about 36.76 percent and remains an issue of concern.

The outlet quotes a health department official who said the idea is also to integrate birth and death enrollments: “We intend to deploy 549 CELC kits in PHCs, CHCs, SDHs, DHHs and medical colleges besides AIIMS for Aadhaar enrollment. Initially, the drive will start in around 300 hospitals reporting maximum number of institutional deliveries.”

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