In a country like ours, wherein the citizens face plethora of problems in getting the benefits to which they are entitled to, Unique Identification Authority of India which was first introduced in January 2009, as an attached office of the Planning Commission, was a whiff of relief to such uneducated people from the laborious task of bringing new documents and materials every time for verification. It is seen generally, that for every small activity either from State agency or private agency, identification of person as being bonafide person.
Presently UIDAI is working under an executive order issued by Government in 2009, however after the flurry of activities for the upcoming Winter Session of 2013, the Government is soon going to introduce the National Identification Authority of India (NIAI) Bill which has made provision to make the UIDAI as a statutory authority, so that the developmental work of the Planning Commission can be effected in a more methodical manner.
CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE BILL
The preamble of the Bill is the essence for which the Bill is appreciated by critics. It is very vocal in laying down what is intended to be done by this Bill, that is “facilitate access to benefits and services to such individuals to which they are entitled to”. This shows what the immediate purpose of the Bill is, and if passed it will be obligatory for the Government to give people their share in the progress of the country, being an Aadhaar card holder. This is further strengthened by Section 3 of the Bill which lays down that every resident shall be entitled to obtain Aadhaar number on providing demographic information to concerned authority, which shows the mandatory nature of this provision. This makes people confident that their identity will be preserved by this Aadhaar card, since they are entitled to it as a matter of right.
Section 4(3) makes the Aadhaar card as a proof of identity for an individual. This reiterates the very idea that those who do not have any other documents to prove their identity, can prove their identity by one single card, accepted everywhere. There is more to this bill, than the logistics which are required for such mammoth task of issuing these numbers to every resident of India. Section 9 would definitely get a brownie point for advocates of egalitarian society, since it prohibits having any information pertaining to religion, race, caste, ethnicity, language, income or health. This bill attempts to make one neutral and unified system for identification purposes for all, irrespective of their religious affiliations, so that a person’s caste or his social status does not hinder him/her to gain the benefits provided by the Government.
Keeping in mind the characteristic conditions of India society, Section 10, has devolved a duty on National Identification Authority of India (NIAI) to issues these identification numbers to women, children, senior citizens, migrant unskilled laborers, unorganized workers and nomadic tribes who do not have a permanent home, which would ensure that all categories of people come under the ambit of this centralized system.
One of the problems which have arisen is about the confidentiality of the holder’s information. This is solved by laying down in Chapter VI of Bill that NIAI is responsible for all the information of the holders and has the duty to protect their information. All the date will be stored in Central Identities Data Repositories, and this will ensure that such huge information of million number holders is kept in one system. Secondly, connected to this concept of storing data, is the concept of maintaining secrecy of the user, which prohibits not only NIAI but any other agency which deals with these data depositories to give out information about the holders. However there are four exception to the rule of maintaining confidentiality, and overall which deal with enlarging the smooth public administration. These four exceptions are:
- An individual can ask for his own information from NIAI
- NIAI can give the information of users to agencies engaged in activities of public benefits and services only on a written consent
- NIAI is bound under this bill to provide information pursuant to a court order.
- NIAI is again bound to give information of any user, for national security purpose, if asked for by an authorized official of the rank of Joint Secretary or above in the Central Government.
The bill shows a well thought of approach, so that the needs of the confidentiality of the card holders, and their apprehensions about lack of privacy are also dealt with along with certain genuine reasons wherein, this privacy can be done away with. When it comes to handing over personal information to government officials, human tendency is always skeptical, and therefore necessary safeguards have been given in this Bill so that people are motivated on their own to come forward without any fear of their information being accessed illegally by any government official.
There are certain offences which have been made punishable under this Act, which have been provided in Chapter VII of the Bill, making it an all inclusive Act. The offences include unauthorized collection of information, impersonation, manipulation of biometric information, unauthorized access or damage to Data Repository, and the penalties have been spread over a wide spectrum according to the degree of the offence from Rs.1000/- (impersonation) to Rs.1 crore (for unauthorized access to Data Repository). However, imposing such large monetary penalty is going to be futile and counter-productive also, since Courts are always reluctant to burden the wring-doer with magnanimous penalties, and notwithstanding the fact that such unauthorized access to Data repository would be used for more sinister agendas however, its enforceability is still a big question mark.
Moreover one of the biggest lacunae of the bill is the fact that it does not make registration of people for this number compulsory, going back to square one, since illiterate people would again not be aware enough of what the benefits this number has to offer to them. There would also be certain class of people who would be misguided by intermediate agencies for their own profits, and which render these people helpless and without an Aadhaar card.
Also another anticipated issue which the Government will have to tackle is, that this Bill does not prohibit State or Central intelligence agencies from collaborating with NIAI for frisking out details, so as to tackle potential offences, and also to simultaneously spot potential offenders. This is in turn going to boil down to harassment of innocent individuals, who would have nothing to do with any crime, but due to wrong detection, would make them the suspect of such agencies. The issue, does not stop here, as all this would make people challenge the Act (if passed) contending that it gives unfettered discretion to the intelligence agencies to take help from NIAI under the garb of national security. However, before passing, if substantial steps are taken to restrict the role of such agencies, would definitely re-ignite the faith in the people. One more issue which is bound to pinch people is Clause 46(1) of the Bill, for the simple reason that it lays down that no Court shall take cognizance of any offence under this Bill, till it has complaint is filed by NIAI. There are two-fold repercussions of this:
- Firstly, it makes mandatory for NIAI to be complainant party in all offences which are committed under this Act, and the actual aggrieved party will have to wait for NIAI to take action, and to move the Court.
- Secondly, people will not be able to take immediate relief from the Court, not only making people helpless, but even Courts powerless, since no specific provision has been made for Court’s power to take cognizance directly, except upon the NIAI’s complaint.
This would give rise to transparency issues, since NIAI also is not accountable to aggrieved party why the Complaint has not been filed. Even compensation by NIAI is also not incorporated in this Bill, if a person’s personal information is lost due to any of the offence mentioned. This shows the lackadaisical way in which certain essential features of Redressal have been given a amiss.
Concluding, one can only hope that this Bill proves to be boon to all classes of people, and makes a step forward in ensuring that everyone is empowered enough to know their rights and is guided properly in their journey to demand the benefits from the Government.