Baseless Aadhaar and its many flaws: When the poor lose their thumb prints

When machines don’t recognise their thumb prints, Aadhaar turns into a device of exclusion

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Wardi Devi, a senior citizen, hails from a remote town of Rajasthan. She’s tried to enrol for the Aadhaar thrice and even paid Rs. 150 and Rs. 50 to agents while making the first two attempts. Tired of coughing out her hard earned money from her meagre wages, she refused to pay anything the third time. Despite having visited the Aadhaar centre on multiple occasions, she is yet to receive her UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India). Since she is not an Aadhaar Card holder, she is not entitled to subsidised food grains under the public distribution system (PDS). In the absence of an Aadhaar Card, she is also deprived of various other government entitlements, including the right to work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

Ninety-year-old Fefi Devi and her husband Nathu Singh haven’t received ration from the local Fair Price Shop (FPS) ever since Aadhaar-based biometric authentication was introduced in their village, Kukerkheda in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan, in 2014. The Point-of-Sale (PoS) machine doesn’t recognise their thumb impressions since the lines on their thumbs have disappeared due to rigorous manual labour — their source of daily wages.

UIDAI — more commonly known as Aadhaar — which was introduced in 2009 is “essentially a paperless online anytime-anywhere identity assigned to a resident to cover his/her entire lifetime”. The project “assures” inclusion of the entire Indian population into various government entitlements and programmes from which citizen were often “wrongly excluded”. The project aims at making the downtrodden and underserved independent by removing the middlemen, thereby reducing corruption and challenges related to implementation. However, as is evident from the cases above, a number of people are losing out on their basic rights such as food and work.

Citizens are still in search of their identity

The Constitution guarantees both Fefi Devi and Wardi Devi the Right to Life and, hence, right to be included in government welfare schemes. However, a mandate like Aadhaar, for accessing these schemes, does not. If we dig a little deeper, we realise that the project’s initial claims were based on a basic misunderstanding of the causes for exclusion. Worse, the experience of the past eight years of the project suggests that nothing has changed, except the project itself has become a source of exclusion from government programmes for thousands. (READ FULL STORY)

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