13 Stories That Ask – Are We Really Ready for Aadhaar, India?
The Aadhaar system has a number of glaring loopholes, with the UIDAI database within the easy reach of hackers, and user data being accessible by almost anyone, with little time, money, and effort.
However, like demonetisation and the ‘Digital India’ movement, which were both very ambitious, the bigger question is this: Is the world’s largest biometric database safe? And does it serve its purpose effectively?
These are some of the most unusual instances of Aadhaar misuse, irregularities, or failure to provide the same essential services it set out to, that raise the question, “Are we really ready for Aadhaar, India?”
1. In a Delhi Slum, Aadhaar Deprives Several Families of Rations
In south Delhi’s Kusumpur Pahari slum, the Aadhaar-based distribution of rations had made life difficult for hundreds of families. When The Quint went to the ground in March, it was found that some residents were faced with ‘biometric authentication failure’. Along with that, activists also pointed out that there was pilferage of grains by ration shop owners.
“The government is saying that Aadhaar has to be made mandatory to fight corruption, and to make sure that services reach the most deserving. But if you look at what is happening on the grounds, it is far from what the government claims. Giving an Aadhaar number and linking it with the PDS is not going to help fight corruption,” said RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj, who is also a member of the Satark Nagrik Sangathan.
2. When Googling ‘Mera Aadhaar Meri Pehchan’ Gave You Access to Aadhaar Details of Random Strangers
In yet another revelation that raised worries about the privacy of our Aadhaar data, The Quint found out in March this year that a simple Google search would lead you to the Aadhaar details of several individuals. These details, including their name, address, Aadhaar number, date of birth and photograph, were made publicly accessible on the internet for no clear reason. Thankfully, the biometric details were not available.
Ironically enough, the Aadhaar tagline “Mera Aadhaar Meri Pehchan” was part of the search query that revealed the data.
3. Aadhaar’s Dirty Secret: Anyone Could Be Added as a Data Admin
Now if you thought your Aadhaar data was only in the hands of those authorised to access the official Aadhaar database, you are wrong. Following up on an investigation by The Tribune, The Quint had found in January this year that completely random people like you and me, with no official credentials, could access and become admins of the official Aadhaar database (with names, mobile numbers, addresses of every Indian linked to the UIDAI scheme).
But that was not even the worst part. Once you were an admin, you could choose anyone else as an admin of the portal. You could be an Indian, you could be a foreign national, none of it mattered – the Aadhaar database never asked.
A person of your choosing could then have access to the data of all Aadhaar cardholders.
4. Maid Denied Safe Abortion Without Aadhaar, Resorts to Illegal Abortion
In January 2018, DNA news reported an instance where a 28-year-old pregnant housemaid from Chandigarh was refused an ultrasonography by a government doctor, because she didn’t have an Aadhaar, according to a paper published in the British Medical Journal.
The 28-year-old woman, weighing 45 kilos and already a mother of three, was refused an oral abortion drug without an ultrasonography due to the non-availability of an Aadhaar card.
She was later forced to go to a quack, and due to a botched up abortion procedure, she was hospitalised and had to undergo blood transfusion.
5. Aadhaar Details Available for a Measly Sum of Rs 500
In January this year, The Tribune broke a story documenting how details under 1 billion Aadhaar numbers could be easily accessed by paying a measly sum of Rs 500 to anonymous sellers who offered their services through WhatsApp.
By entering the Aadhaar number on a portal, The Tribune reporter had access to the name, address, postal code (PIN), photo, phone number and email of any individual concerned.
6. 10-Year-Old Dalit Girl Loses Scholarship Because Aadhaar Spells Name Wrong
On 16 January 2018, the People’s Archive of Rural India reported the story of 10-year-old Indu, a Dalit student from Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh, who lost her scholarship because of a spelling error in her Aadhaar. SC/ST/OBC students in Andhra Pradesh are entitled to a government scholarship of Rs 1,200 per year.
However, Indu’s name was spelled wrong on her Aadhaar card as ‘Hindu,’ and she was told to rectify the error. However, despite her parents and school seeking a new card and re-registering their daughter’s information, her name was spelled ‘Hindu’ in the new Aadhaar as well. Her date of birth and photograph were updated though.
7. No Network At Ration Shop, Biometrics Machine Hung from Tree to Get Network
Twitter handle @HumansofAadhaar shared a video from a ration shop in Delhi that copes with connectivity issues by hanging the biometric reader machine at a nearby tree, where it receives network.
In Delhi’s East Mehram Nagar, a ration shop falls in an area with little internet network. But Aadhaar officials have directed the ration shopkeeper to ensure the biometric machine works effectively. To resolve this issue, the biometrics machine is hung from a nearby Jamun tree to access the network to be able to ensure people get their rations.
8. Woman’s Aadhaar Linked to Nine SIM Cards Without Her Knowledge
Twitter user @PRIYARD took to social media platform to express her shock and outrage regarding a peculiar matter. When she went to link her Aadhaar to her mobile phone number, she discovered that her Aadhaar had been linked to not one or two, but NINE SIM cards already. After the worried citizen took to social media to air her concern, the UIDAI’s response was a statement on Twitter – that at least she knows how many others had illegally linked their SIM cards to her Aadhaar.
In response to this story by The Quint, Bharti Airtel responded that the issue has since been resolved, and provided this clarification.
9. Man’s Bank Account Linked to Aadhaar Without Permission
Gaurav Pandhi, a Congress leader and former banker, complained that his bank account had been linked to his Aadhaar without his permission. In a Mumbai Mirror report, Pandhi said he received a message from ICICI bank’s Paschim Vihar branch in New Delhi on 15 January, which said his Aadhaar linking request had been received, and that it would be completed in a few days.
Decidedly upset, he took to Twitter to call out the unsolicited linking of his biometric data to his bank account.
10. Man Uses Fake Aadhaar to Lure and Assault Young Girls
In October 2015, The Hindu reported about a 33-year-old man who was arrested by the Hyderabad Police for luring and assaulting young girls under the pretext of being an education counsellor. The accused, Kalakanda Madhu, a former manager at the Food Corporation of India, purchased copies of strangers’ Aadhaar cards, and would get SIM cards issued by furnishing copies of strangers’ Aadhaar as proof of address and ID.
After his arrest, police said that he had access to over 5,000 young girls’s data and would call them from different phone numbers he’d received by furnishing proof from strangers’ Aadhaar IDs.
11. Biometrics Machine Doesn't Read Fingerprints in Winter
In another instance reported by @HumansofAadhaar on 22 January 2018, a woman complained about how they had trouble getting their food and other rations, because the biometrics machine fails in the winter. When the skin on their fingertips cracks in the the cold season, the machine reportedly fails to accurately read their fingerprints. As a result, they’re denied access to their rations.
12. Woman Dies After Being Denied Treatment Without Aadhaar
A woman died in Sonipat, Haryana after reportedly being denied treatment for not having an Aadhaar card. The woman, Shakuntala – the wife of a Kargil martyr – was accompanied by her son to a private hospital on 28 December 2017, for treatment.
The hospital authorities reportedly insisted that her Aadhaar card be submitted for her to receive treatment.
The report adds that hospital authorities did not relent despite the patient's son Pawan Kumar showing the copy of the Aadhaar card, including the number, on his mobile phone.
13. When a Govt Hospital in Bhopal Made Aadhaar Mandatory for Newborns
A renowned government hospital in Bhopal had come up with a rule in April 2017, making it mandatory for parents to make an Aadhaar card for their newborn before being discharged, reported Hindustan Times.
The rule was apparently made after an order from the district administration, but the parents did not take it too kindly, especially because the names of the babies are often changed after birth.
(The Quint is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Just go to TheQuint.com/WhatsApp and hit the Subscribe button.)