Archive for August 2009
I have major concerns about this whole Unique Identification Number project, recently in the news in India, on three grounds :
- who is doing it?
- which problem are they trying to fix? and
- how will the proposed solution solve the stated problem?
Who is doing it?
As I posted in the comments section on Ashwin’s article at India Together, the primary issue I have with the UIDA is that is an “Authority”. One that is not directly accountable to the people.
The establishment of more and more ‘Authorities’ is very unnerving. Cities are no longer governed by elected representatives, services like water, sewage, electricity are being either contracted to fully private entities or carted out as PPPs. In spite of CAG reports that indicate that these entities are as corrupt and inefficient as the govt., we seem to be heading towards creating more such bodies to decide on a bigger slice of the ever shrinking pie of resources.
Technological solutions to governance issues are like pain killers, good till you are popping the pills. Good governance can be realized and sustained only through an aware and participative citizenry.
Which problem are they trying to fix?
According to media reports, the objectives of having a UID range from national security to govt. programs to law enforcement to access to medical records to ‘having a homogenized identification’ – something that doesn’t show one’s caste, class, religion, region, etc. The last reason being the most disturbing. It will take ages before we have a citizenry that is aware and participates in civic issues. So we might as well use technology to show that we are trying to ensure citizen rights. Especially when we are talking about contracts worth thousands of crores !
How will the proposed solution solve the stated problem?
Almost every one going ga-ga on this seem to think the challenge is purely technological and that this challenge can be easily overcome by The Great Indian IT Prowess. Well, storing a billion numbers and running a few lakh simultaneous compare operations is only one part of the challenge. One needs to look at (if and) how this solution would reach a jawan patrolling in Kashmir, or a ration shop contractor in a village in rural India let alone the lakhs of other places where we use identification.
As I see it, like the interlinking of rivers, this is yet another mega-mega project that is intended to show that we are fixing the problem. The lack of an informed and public debate on this and the structures being used do not reflect well on our much proclaimed democratic ethoes. Running after such solutions, we are loosing focus of the problem and the root causes will lie unaddressed that much longer.
http://mnic.nic.in/ is the under construction web site of the agency set up to translate the UIDAI’s UID to a card. The wikipedia page on this has some background information though it is more than a year old.
More than a thousand representatives from movements and struggles from across the country converged to Jan Mantar for a two day dharna. Objections and concerns about the amendments being introduced to the Land Acquistion Act (1894) and the draft Rehabilitation & Resettlement Bill were presented by the movements from more than 15 states. Eminent citizen and activists like Kuldip Nayyar, Jst. Rajender Sachar, among others shared their concerns about the government’s (in)actions and intentions in trying to table these bills without any public debate or consultation.
The primary demands of the dharna were:
Abolish the Land Acquisition Act of British Legacy
Issue a White paper on Land Acquisition, Displacement and Rehabilitation for the last 60 years
Shelve the two Bills and hold a national consultation on the NAC approved draft along with the displaced people and the people’s organizations and
Institute a Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee for the discussion on the two Acts
The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill was introduced by the UPA government in the last session of their previous term; however, while it was passed in the Lok Sabha, it could not go through a vote in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill endorses the view that ‘private’ purpose, implying corporate and private commercial interests, is synonymous with ‘public’ purpose. The Bill in its current form negates the process of consultation that began with the National Advisory Council (NAC) and people’s movements, where a comprehensive Development Policy was drafted, keeping in mind concerns of the people.
Speakers underlined that the interlinked nature of the two subjects, land acquisition and Rehabilitation & Resettlement was the basis on which the comprehensive Development Policy was drafted in a people centric manner following the consultations at the National Advisory Council. Voices from across the country opposed the plan to (re)introduce these two bills as regressive steps.
A people’s parliament, जन संसद, was organized on the second day of the dharna. People from different places presented their arguments on the idea of comprehensive development, land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement. Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar presided over a session of the Jan Sansad and expressed his continued support to people’s struggles for justice. Speaking from experiences of the havoc wrecked by various projects undertaken in the name of development, the shameless non compliance of current norms for land acquisition and rehabilitation was laid out in stark detail. The dharna ended with a crescendo of slogan decrying the government’s anti people action and a symbolic throwing of the draft bills in water.