Aadhaar anxieties

By NT Bureau Published on Oct 31, 2017 03:07 PM IST

At one level, the Modi Government's insistence on linking Aadhaar card to more and more services and schemes, including bank accounts, property transactions, may be justified due to the endemic dishonesty and fraud prevalent in the economic sphere.

The argument that those who have nothing to hide can have no objection if Aadhaar is linked to an increasing number of private and public services resonates with a huge section of the public.

After all, the existence of a parallel economy fuelled by cash is a reality which despite demonetisation and GST cannot be denied.

Aadhaar can make benami transactions difficult, if not eliminate them altogether. Yet, there is a clear downside to linking the unique identification number to an ever expanding list of services and schemes. In a predominantly poor and economically illiterate country, insistence on Aadhaar causes avoidable harassment, especially to the weaker sections. How and why linking Aadhaar to birth and death registration serves the larger public purpose remains vague.

Quite aside from the increasing number of Aadhaar-linked services, there still remains the question of citizen privacy. Again, the concept of privacy may well be alien to a large majority of the people, and is being overblown out of all proportion by the metro-based media. It is undeniable that ordinary people have little to hide, and, of course, the State is not planning to pry into anyone's bedroom, yet at an academic level the issue has gained primacy.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee might often act perversely but the objections on Aadhaar she has raised ought to be addressed. Her churlish announcement that she will neither link her own mobile phone nor allow anyone in West Bengal to link their phones to Aadhaar reflects poorly on her style of functioning (and has been rightly called out by the SC). Yet, the Centre must remove her misgivings to ensure the overall success of its digitisation effort.

Modi's relentless crusade against the parallel economy, against benami transactions, against the use of black money in everyday life, seems to be crucially underpinned by the ever-increasing reliance of Aadhaar.

He is not wrong in believing the worst of business and industry, especially the abysmally low numbers who actually pay their share to the public purse. Yet, care will have to be taken that ordinary, honest, tax-paying citizens are not harassed and given a runaround for want of Aadhaar. Striking a balance between the need to prevent fraud and dishonesty and the right of the aam aadmi to be insulated against an intrusive State is necessary.