Aadhaar: Public Data, Private Ownership.

Usha Ramanathan has written an excellent article in two parts on the subject matter titled Aadhaar: Private ownership of UID data and Aadhaar: Who owns the UID  database? She is  an independent law researcher on jurisprudence, poverty and rights.
 It was in a meeting of TAG-UP held over two years back and chaired by Nandan Nilkeni, She tells, the framework of how the databases constructed out of Aadhaar (आधार) data would be privately owned was explained. “These were about databases constructed out of data that is given to the government to hold in a fiduciary capacity, and expected to be used for specified, and limited, purposes. The Nilekani Committee report directly dealt with five projects—Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN), Tax Information Network (TIN), Expenditure Information Network (EIN), National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) and the New Pension System (NPS). It recommended that the suggested framework “be more generally applicable to the complex IT-intensive systems, which are increasingly coming to prominence in the craft of Indian public administration”“. How Nilkeni committee artfully argued why “Public Data-Private Ownership” model is not an option but an imperative is seen from the following snippet. “the government has two major tasks: policymaking and implementation. Implementation is fettered by absence of leadership and active ownership of projects, outdated recruitment processes and methodology, inability to pay market salaries for specialised skills, lack of avenues for continued enhancement of professional skills and career growth, non-conducive work environment, outdated performance evaluation and preference for seniority over merit, and untimely transfer of officers. Rather than expend time on finding correctives to the system, the Nilekani committee found in this an opportunity for private business interest. Without further ado, and without considering, for instance the capacities and deficiencies in privatising databases, and what this means for citizens and residents, the Nilekani committee found its answer in National Information Utilities (NIUs)“. These NIUs would be created to act as “service providers” to the Center, State Governments, and later may be to Panchayati Raj institutions, for, of course, fees. Once Parliament has passed laws and bills, and Executive has framed policies, the implementation would be carried out by the IT infrastructure created, maintained, and owned privately. That means “Governance” would be taken out of “Governments” and would be placed in the IT-Hands of Private Capital. The unelected, shadowy “service providers” would de facto run the government behind the veneer of de jure government. Nilkeni has virtually pulled out a palace coup in public.  Such report of Nilkeni committee may have been treated as fanciful and wishful thinking had not the budget 2012 presented by Pranab Mukherjee announced that GSTN (Goods and Sales Tax Network) will be set up as a National Information Utility.
The brazenness of the above charter is made galling by the fact that UIDAI is functioning without sanction of any law merely through Executive blessings. This blatant illegality was further compounded when the Bill to give statutory status to the UIDAI was roundly rejected by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance and recommended that both the Bill and the UID project be sent back to the drawing board.
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