November 27, 2011

My first impressions about the Adhar card

We just received our Adhar cards. I now have five sets of photo ID's, each issued for different purpose. Excepting for one of these, the others show my correct present address (with slight variations).

What does this additional ID mean to  anyone? What benefits if any does the holder get? The answers are far from clear.

The arguments in favor of Adhar appear impressive at a first glance. For instance, everyone gets an ID irrespective of age and whether he intends to drive/vote etc. It is sometimes claimed that lack of an ID prevents the rural poor from opening a bank account or obtaining a loan.

I am not convinced. Why does a minor child need an ID? Why can't the bank open an account on the strength of a voter ID or a ration card?

There are dark hints that soon Adhar will replace all other forms of identification. This argument looks specious as it can never prove current address or the host of parameters linked to the other ID's. Of course, children & others who live outside cash economy will still not be impacted in anyway.

There is a claim that Adhar will somehow lead to a huge seamlessly integrated database of the 100+ million Indians. This is impossible to maintain unless there is a framework of recording billions of physical movements and financial transactions. The hype that Adhar will eliminate money laundering & black money is vastly exaggerated. Adhar can't eliminate benamis, can it?

What did we get for the crores spent on the project? One more ID that adds very little value.

I am particularly concerned with the way the Adhar campaign succeeded in collecting biometric data without any overt coercion. The prospect of "big brother" using finger print database from Adhar to track petty theft or traffic violation allegations can't be ruled out. Given my distrust of the powers that be, I suspect this will be the main "benefit" of this huge scheme (perhaps a "scam", not a scheme). The big fish will almost certainly continue to evade the law enforcement net.