Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Editors as Power Brokers?

A panel discussion titled: ‘Editors as Power Brokers?’ was organized by Foundation for Media Professionals (http://www.fmp.org.in/) along with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (http://www.fesindia.org/) at India International Centre (IIC) Auditorium on 26 November, 2010 so as to ponder on the issue of media-corporate lobbyist nexus. This is the fifteen in the series of media debates organized by the Foundation for Media Professionals to uphold media freedom and promote quality journalism.

Manoj Mitta (Senior Journalist, The Times of India, http://www.timesofindia.com/) in his introduction briefed the audience that some of the editors like Manu Joseph (http://www.openthemagazine.com/) and Krishna Prasad (http://www.outlookindia.com/) have broken the silence pertaining to the Niira Radia tapes. The media was dithering whether the tapes should be brought in the public domain. Consumers of media know how the media functions. Believers of watchdog journalism are happy that the Radia tapes have been disclosed. Proper step has been taken by some honest journalists in favour of public interest. The Radia tapes reveal how the journalists are related to corporate lobbyist. Complicity of some journalists to retain A Raja in the Telecom Ministry under the UPA 2 government is now revealed. Journalists have also played a role in the gas allocation issue involving the Ambani brothers and the Government of India. After the disclosure of the tapes in public domain, there was a long silence maintained by the mainstream Indian media. It was Sagarika Ghose (http://ibnlive.in.com/) in her show titled: Face the Nation who broke the silence about the 2G scam and the Radia tapes. Suhel Seth, Siddharth Varadarajan, Dilip Cherian and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta also spoke in that show. Thereafter, The Deccan Herald, The Business Standard and The Hindu broke their silence over the media-corporate lobbyist nexus.

Vivian Fernandes acted as the moderator of the discussion on the involvement of editors in the 2G scam. He reminded the audience that the discussion is taking place on the very date 26X11—the day terrorists killed innocent people in Mumbai two years back. He introduced the panel of speakers, namely: Amit Goel (Pioneer Media School, http://www.pioneermediaschool.com/), Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (journalist who has worked on media ethics and submitted the report on paid news to the Press Council of India, http://presscouncil.nic.in/Final%20report%20on%20Paid%20News.pdf), Krishna Prasad (Editor of Outlook, http://www.outlookindia.com/), Sunil Jain (Senior Journalist working with the Financial Express, http://www.financialexpress.com/), Shri Manu Joseph (Editor of Open the Magazine, http://www.openthemagazine.com/), Bhupendra Chaubey (TV Journalist from IBN, http://ibnlive.in.com/), BG Verghese (former editor of The Hindustan Times, http://www.hindustantimes.com/) and Shoma Chaudhary (Managing Editor, Tehelka magazine, http://www.tehelka.com/).

Vivian Fernandes informed that Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi and Shankar Aiyer were very much close to the corporate lobbyist Niira Radia. The tapes were recorded by the Income Tax (IT) department for 3 months during 2009. Radia was very much close to A Raja and not Dayanidhi Maran since the latter could not help Tata in the 2G spectrum allocation. Vir Saghvi has defended himself via his column The Counter Point (My response to the Radia transcripts, 18 November, 2010, http://www.virsanghvi.com/CounterPoint-ArticleDetail.aspx?ID=576) and the NDTV has defended Barkha Dutt (NDTV on defamatory remarks against Barkha Dutt, NDTV, 18 November, 2010, http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/ndtv-on-defamatory-remarks-against-barkha-dutt-67210). In his defense, Vir Sanghvi has said that there has been no proper sourcing of the tapes. Conversations were not properly recorded and undue publicity has been sought by the magazines who have disclosed the tapes. Privacy has been breached. Sanghvi wrote to his readers that he expected himself to be judged on the basis of his work. There was a time when ‘man bites dog’ used to become news, Fernandes added. Nowadays, dog biting dog is considered as news (referring to the fight between NDTV and Open/ Outlook on the issue of Radia-media nexus).

On the charges made by Barkha Dutt and NDTV that the Open is not sure about the authenticity of the recordings, Manu Joseph defended by saying that the allegations made were not true. He refused to agree that the recordings and transcripts do not match. In a story of this nature, privacy can be compromised, Joseph emphasized. Barkha Dutt’s statement on ‘journalistic process’ is a strange defense, he argued. Niira Radia was interested in A Raja getting Telecom Ministry but this story told by a ‘talking lizard’ was missed by Barkha so as to come out with a journalistic piece, told Manu Joseph. In fact, Barkha Dutt could have told everybody about the story of the ‘talking lizard’ if she had been following the ‘journalistic process’. Nobody has actually denied the authenticity of the tapes. It was the IT department, which passed the transcripts to the CBI a few months back. Joseph doubted whether some phone calls may have stopped a few newspapers to come out with the Radia tapes story. Journalism should not be equated with activism. Media is very powerful and it is a kind of business. India has lower moral standards vis-à-vis the US and that’s why no arrests have been made so far.

Sunil Jain informed that the 2G scam took place in 2007-08 and not in 2009. He said that the Times of India sells news and also indulged in paid news phenomenon. He was against putting the gas story alongside the 2G story on the Outlook website. Scarce natural resources should be auctioned. Reportage in the local channels (though coloured) is better than the ones at the national channels.

Krishna Prasad said that embedded journalism is presently happening in the corporate world in India unlike the same that happened during the war in Iraq. This is a nationwide phenomenon. This kind of monetization of editorial positions is not new. Journalistic corruption is rampant. Thus, one should not be sidetracked only by Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi as the stories on them are quite juicy. One should frown at the existence of 17 local news channels in Andhra Pradesh. He said that some conversations available on the Outlook website sound innocuous. All such conversations pertaining to 2G spectrum allocation, appointment of A Raja in the Telecom Ministry and gas row between the Ambani brothers have been made available on the Outlook website as a part of editorial judgment. Due to the story being sensitive, Barkha Dutt was not contacted prior to its publication. Prasad also referred to the close relationship between Ramoji Rao (of ETV) and NTR.

Shoma Chaudhary told that Prabhu Chawla is unforgiveable. Earlier Chawla’s son was involved in a Corporate Affairs scam. The shortcoming of the tapes is that we still don’t know whether Vir Sanghvi spoke to Ahmed Patel. The tapes provided on the websites are selective and they have been edited. Some of the conversations available on the website of the Outlook and Open are just fragments. There is no framing essay. She asked whether the media is free to report on corporate India. Indian media needs structural changes. The television media is entirely dependent on advertisements. She informed that the Tehelka magazine is running on losses. People take salary cuts to join the Tehelka. One has to understand the economics of how the media operates. There is a need to change the contours of business journalism. Legal and media transparency are vital, she added. Media may be good at exposing corporate corruption. Peer pressure on editor can work.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta agreed to what The Business Standard wrote that the Lakhman Rekha (line of ethics) has been crossed by a few journalists. He said that journalists in India suffer from delusions of grandeur. However, media has played the role to expose this journalistic scam. We in the media are at best bid (/bit) players, he said. It was the Income Tax (IT) department, which sought the permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs to tap the conversations. Media in India does not have the clout to influence ministerial appointments. The ‘journalistic process’ did not lead to a story that Maran does not want Raja. Paranjoy questioned why it is so important to influence the media. Minority voices in the media do get blacked out but this is not always successful. It is the CMOs who run the media. The Press Council of India has got no teeth. It is not the counterpart of Federal Communications Commission (FCC, http://www.fcc.gov/) in the US. There are all kinds of ‘dogs’: watch dogs, lap dogs and sniffer dogs having various functions. ‘Dog bites man’ does not become news but ‘man bites dog’ certainly becomes news. But ‘dog bites Sonia Gandhi’ can become news too, Paranjoy told. The future of media is not so bleak. Competition has not led to improvement in quality because this has not happened for television channels (despite increase in their numbers).

Amit Goel said that when evidence comes out in the open, then this kind of discussion is essential. Journalists are not sharing information when they are actually seeking information. When J Gopikrishnan broke A Raja’s 2G scam, he came under a lot of pressure (http://www.dailypioneer.com/296854/The-man-who-felled-a-king.html). The Pioneer group fortunately did not take money to shut him. The hidden agenda of the editor/s is not known when reporters work under them. Competition can lead to improvement in quality.

BG Verghese told the audience that journalists do keep contacts with various sections of the society and this is not strange. But there is a Lakhman Rekha (line of ethics). He shared his experience that when he joined journalism in 1949, there used to be the license-permit Raj. Governments used to provide housing facilities to the journalists. Media played into the hands of corporates after the opening up of the economy in the late eighties. Due to technological breakthroughs, multiple editions of newspapers started coming out. A phenomenon called ‘breaking news’ is nothing but sensalization and is devoid of quality content. Managers have taken over the editors in media. Press is now used as a multiplier and magnifier by the political and business classes. Media is the custodian of freedom of speech. However, the public service broadcaster has been killed by the media. Indian media is the most unregulated. He said that had he been the editor of either Outlook or the Open, he would have contacted Barkha and Vir to cross check the story (prior to its publication) as a part of media ethics.

Bhupendra Chaubey said that Krishna Prasad from Outlook wanted everybody to believe that their story is not entirely based on Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt. But the faces of these journalists were printed on the Outlook magazine issue. He questioned how journalists can influence policy by talking over the telephone. Finally, he questioned whether Barkha and Vir met the leaders of the Congress Party.

Shalini Singh (from The Times of India, http://www.timesofindia.com/) who was in the audience reacted by saying that the panel discussion established that the media is subject to temptations. There is disproportionate power, which has been given to the editors, she alleged.

Further Readings:

The Raja-Radia Tapes, Outlook, 18 November, 2010,


The Vir Sanghvi-Niira Radia Tapes, Outlook, 18 November, 2010,


The Power Tapes, Outlook, 18 November, 2010,


The Ratan Tata, Barkha Dutt & Other Tapes, Outlook, 18 November, 2010,


Some Telephone Conversations, Open, 20 November, 2010,


This Is Not Journalism as We Know It by Hartosh Singh Bal, Open, 27 November, 2010,


The Buck Stops Here Too by Manu Joseph, Open, 27 November, 2010,


Media ethics: why we need both panic and a pinch of salt by Shoma Chaudhury, Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 48, 4 December, 2010,


Oh what a lovely blackout by Sevanti Ninan, The Hoot, 23 November, 2010,


The spotlight is on the media now by Priscilla Jebaraj, The Hindu, 24 November, 2010,


Corruption in the neoliberal era by CP Chandrasekhar, The Hindu, 30 November, 2010,


2G Scam: ED Questions Lobbyist Nira Radia, Outllok, 24 NOvember, 2010,


What is the 2G spectrum scam about? The Economic Times, 15 November, 2010,


Govt probes tape leak, The Telegraph, 30 November, 2010,


Ratan Tata Moves SC Against Leakage of Radia Tapes, Outlook India, 29 November,

2010, http://news.outlookindia.com/item.aspx?702951

Her Sinister Ring Tone by Shantanu Guha Ray, Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 48, 4 December, 2010,


The Girl Who Was Once Nira Sharma by Sunit Arora, Outlook India, 6 December, 2010,


Lobbying charge by Arun Shourie stirs row, The Times of India, 29 November, 2010,


Media-lobbyist nexus may go to House panel, The Times of India, 27 November, 2010,


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Experience of ASER in India: Evolution, Elements and Evidence 2005-2010

A presentation on the experience and evolution of Annual Status of Education Reports (http://www.asercentre.org/) which is being brought out by Pratham (http://www.pratham.org/) was made by Ms. Rukmini Banerji at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (www.csds.in) on 22 November, 2010.

In his introduction, Shri Vipul Mudgal, Project Director of Inclusive Media for Change (www.im4change.org) informed the audience that ASER has changed the educational landscape in India. It played a crucial role in participatory democracy. Pratham has been involved since a long time in rating of public service delivery in the field of education. It is one of the first organizations to have worked in the area of rights based approach to development. ASER reports provide a comprehensive analysis and assessment of quality of education among children enrolled in elementary schools across the different Indian states.

In her presentation, Ms. Rukmini Banerji said that Pratham has been working with ‘left out’ and ‘left behind’ children since 1996. Parents and community of out-of-school children are concerned about the kind of education that has been imparted (inputs). When Pratham started with the ASER exercise, it faced lot of criticisms and apprehensions from government officials, experts and the community.

Ms. Banerji informed that learned parents often over-estimate their children’s educational and skill-level. This happened particularly when the survey was conducted in Jaunpur. School teachers too over-estimate their students. School teachers are unable to educate their students as per the standards they are enrolled. It has been found across the states that students (enrolled in a particular standard) are unable to read (in their own language) or do arithmetic pertaining to much lower standards. There exist huge gaps between expected basic level skill and current reading skill level. For example, at the all-India level only 52.8 percent of students enrolled in standard V can actually read standard II level text (see the tables 1 and 2 above). Only 3.3 percent of standard I students in India can read standard II level text.

While commenting on education policy, Ms. Rukmini Banerji informed that there is no international goal on universal learning. There is no definition or reference to children’s learning goals in the MDGs. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) goals are broad “education of satisfactory quality relevant for life…”..and “learning enhancement”.

While talking on learning environment, she informed that 50 percent of rural parents of school children have not been to school themselves or cannot read and write. Most of the rural parents do not know what it needs to support learning.

Ms. Banerji presented the chart above while explaining how data can be collected, analyzed and results can be made available to the public for influencing policy formulation.

Ms. Rukmini Banerji explained the difficulties she faced while preparing village report cards based on data collection and assessment. The expectations of the village community about the educational skill of their students were higher than the actual situation (in terms of educational outcomes). During her presentation, she said that there was a major shift in educational priorities of the Government of India in 2005 in terms of the following points:

  • Enrollment in elementary schools well-over 90 percent even in 2004-05

  • There was a new government in power at the federal level in 2004. There has been increase in social sector spending under the UPA 1.

Ms. Banerji informed that ASER reports between 2005 and 2009 provide a citizen’s view of schooling and learning. The ASER reports provides one with district level estimates of reading and arithmetic (which the Government does not have). The 2009 ASER report covered 3,20,000 households and 7,00,000 children in the age group 3-16 years. Schools have been observed for basics such as teachers, rooms, textbooks, water etc. The operational aspects of ASER included: sampling design, basic tools (for floor test), simple and fast analysis and ‘digestible’ results.

Participation of students from district level colleges during the ASER surveys has been good from the North East, Himachal Pradesh and Orissa. It is relatively difficult to conduct surveys in West Bengal since one has to get permission from Ward members. The ASER 2009 study shows that Manipur is performing better than Tamil Nadu in terms of children solving arithmetical problems. It has been difficult to test children’s reading skill because in certain states, children communicate (and learn) in various languages apart from their own mother language.

Pratham is planning to put a few more innovative questions in the questionnaire so as to assess the quality of education (like asking children whether they know how to read a calendar). It is also partnering with various organizations for similar exercises in countries from Africa.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

NREGA activists protest against the inefficient functioning of MoRD and CEGC

A note circulated by Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze at a meeting of the Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC) during August, 2010 led to outburst from some leaders of the ruling UPA 2. The note provided a critique on various aspects of implementation of NREGA. The Ministry of Rural Development rejected an increase in the minimum wages or linking it to prices (Consumer Price Index), as demanded by activists like Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze. It has been felt by the activists that the Government is keen to raise the salaries of the elites instead of the manual labourers who are employed under NREGA.

Ms. Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey were also unhappy with the way Rajasthan Government refused registration of NREGS workers' unions in the state, despite such unions functioning in other states like UP and Gujarat. Rajasthan has also been the state in news recently, where sarpanches were protesting against conducting of social audits. The sarpanches in Rajasthan have been openly violating rules by giving material supply contracts to their favorites. At many places purchase records were fudged and the wage to material ratio (i.e. 60:40) was distorted by using JCB machines instead of employing manual labourers. The NREGA activists protested against a clause in MGNREGA where sarpanches who spend the money are also authorized to conduct social audit.

It is in this context that a press conference titled ‘Crisis in MGNREGA Implementation’ was held at Indian Women Press Corps, Ashoka Road, New Delhi on 27 September, 2010. During a short interview, Nikhil Dey informed Inclusive Media team that the press conference has been called for informing the media on certain issues:

  1. Poor implementation of NREGA could be observed at various places. There has been open flouting of rules under this scheme in Rajasthan and various parts of the country.
  2. Ninety nine NREGA workers of Gudlia Gaon under Rupbas Panchayat of Tonk district in Rajasthan were paid wage at the rate of Rs. 1 a day. The same amount was shown in the muster rolls (as wages paid) and transferred to the respective bank accounts of these workers.
  3. No compensation has been paid for delayed payments of wages and there has been no payment of unemployment compensation in many places.

Prof. Jean Dreze paid homage to Prof. Arjun Sengupta who recently passed away. This was followed by 1 minute silence. In his condolence message, Prof, Dreze informed that Dr. Sengupta would be known for his role in the Right to Development movement and his reports when he was the Chairperson of National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (www.nceus.gov.in). It was his claim that nearly 77 percent of the Indian population live below the poverty line of Rs. 20 per day.

MKSS activist Nikhil Dey informed that the press conference was held to discuss the following issues:

  1. Range of entitlement-Right to get 100 days of job and minimum wages

Wage aspects-Central Government ignoring the payment of minimum wages

Linking the wage to Consumer Price Index (CPI)

Payment of wages within 15 days of work being done-Delay in payment

  1. Social Audit

Undermining of social audit

Benefits of social audit in Andhra Pradesh

  1. Unionization of labour

Nikhil Dey told that 99 labourers from Tonk district received Rs. 11/- each for 11 days of hard labour i.e. they were paid at the rate of Re. 1/- per day. Their hard labour was not paid justly. JCB machines were employed at various places. Work done was neither estimated properly by the Junior Engineers so that wages could be paid according to piece rate system nor was minimum wages (flat wages) paid to the labourers employed under MGNREGA. Hence, a Mazdoor Satyagraha would be organized in Jaipur, Rajasthan on 2 October, 2010 where the underpaid 99 labourers’ wage amount would be deposited with the Chief Minister's Relief Fund with the request that the amount be paid as Dearness Allowance to the State government employees, “for whom alone the government cares.” Due to the power and autonomy given to the panchayats, they have started acting like khap panchayats. The panchayats are not accountable to the public anymore. The Government is maintaining anti-labour attitude towards the NREGA. He said that NREGA pushed up agricultural wages in the initial stage but this process is being reversed now due to delayed payment and lower wages. There exists low density of post offices and banks in rural areas. These are poorly equipped. Post offices generally have no computers and are single employee branches. There exists inadequate staff at the Gram Panchayat and Block-levels, which means that crucial record-keeping, including measurement is delayed.

Prof. Jean Dreze said that there has been violation of NREGA under which fundamental entitlements are promised to be provided to the workers. Bharat Nirman Rajiv Gandhi Seva Kendra is a wrong priority under NREGA, which has been emphasized by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD). Almost 90 percent of the expenditure would be made on material, if Rajiv Gandhi Seva Kendras are constructed. This would allow backdoor entry of contractors in the NREGS. If there is no provision made for Rajiv Gandhi Seva Kendras by the panchayats, then the second installment would be delayed. This new rule of the MoRD has resulted in delayed payments. The role of the MoRD has been disappointing. The real value of wage is going down because the wage rates were frozen and prices increased enormously. Wages must get linked to Consumer Price Index (CPI), said Dreze. If the wage rate is linked to the CPI, then minimum wages would go upto Rs.125/- per day from Rs. 100/- per day. The minimum wages must be fixed by the states and paid by the Centre. The MoRD’s response to the recommendations of the Working Group on Wages (WGW) has been to delay the matter further by referring it to other committees like Dr. Pronab Sen Committee. The WGW recommended that NREGA wages should be immediately indexed to the price level, using the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labourers (CPIAL), with 1 April, 2009 as the ‘base’ so that real value of wage is at least Rs. 100 per day at April, 2009 prices. Prof. Dreze said that violation of Minimum Wage Act, 1948 is not acceptable to the NREGA workers. Article 23 mandates that no person shall be required or permitted to provide labour or service to another on payment of anything less than the minimum wages. The provisions of the MGNREGA must be respected. Compensation for delayed payments must be provided. Why the workers should work if they are not paid in time, he asked. The Government must be proactive in paying minimum wages and compensation for delayed payments. The Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC) is functioning like the MoRD because of the way it has been constituted. Delays in payment of wages is a deliberate attempt to harass the workers as the scope of corruption got reduced due to opening up of bank accounts for the NREGA workers. There is no accountability measure to stop unemployment compensation not being paid. Without the provision and payment of unemployment compensation, the scheme cannot be called Employment Guaranty Act.

Dr. Ritika Khera said that in almost every state like Jharkhand, Chattisgarh etc. delay in payment of wages could be observed. Workers cannot work with an empty stomach. If payments are not made properly at the right time then migration would rise. Junior Engineers are engaged in harassing of workers as they are not held accountable. If measurement is not done by the Junior Engineers, then workers must be paid a flat wage (equivalent to minimum wage).

Ms. Aruna Roy informed that social auditing is mandatory under NREGA, which shall be done by the panchayats. At present, corruption is affecting a scheme, which is meant for the poor. Physical verification of work by the public is of utmost importance. In the past 5 years, social auditing in Andhra Pradesh has led to positive outcomes. Presently, sarpanches (gram sabhas) are given the authority for conducting social audits under an order of 2008. But such social audits are neither social nor audits. It is just a symbolic gesture. Bureaucracy and outsiders cannot be a part of such social audits. She said that the conditional cash transfer mechanism cannot reduce corruption and if brought in lieu of NREGA, it would undermine the dignity of labour and the poor. She informed that the Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC) does not have enough time to consult and attend meetings. There must be constitution of an Executive Committee. The MoRD must give more autonomy to the CEGC.

Shri Satya Bose from People’s Monitoring Committee, Andhra Pradesh informed that NREGA is a demand driven programme. In the name of rural connectivity, panchayats are diverting funds away from NREGA. Biometric cards are helping people to access wages from banks and post-offices. Shrama Shakti Sanghams-union of NREGA workers is empowering the poor. Andhra Pradesh has the best social audit system as compared to the other states. The Andhra Pradesh government has a separate fund for social auditing. Three rounds of social audit have been done in most villages. More than 10,000 deviations have been brought out by the social audit resulting in dismissal of nearly 4,000 implementing staff and more than 600 criminal cases on the culprits. Since its formation in 2009, Society for Social Audit, Accountability & Transparency (SSAAT) has succeeded in creating a massive social capital by identifying and training more than 60,000 educated youth in the villages in conducting social audit. The Andhra model of social auditing can be replicated elsewhere. In AP, workers receive their payments within a week, which has been possible due to the computerization of the payment process.

Ms. Annie Raja of National Federation of Indian Women said that the primary objective of the NREGA is to provide livelihood security to the needy people. However, in a recent survey of around 1000 workers, it has been found that 62 percent of them did not get their minimum wages. Nearly, 60 percent got their wages after a delay of 3 months. The CEGC’s performance has not been upto the mark. The Government is scuttling the powers of CEGC. The CEGC must be constituted properly. There is no Executive Committee. The CEGC must place a report to the Parliament. The Rajasthan Government has refused registration of NREGS workers' unions. Delay in wage payment can increase the rate of migration.

For more information, kindly click the following links:

Cong, activists at loggerheads over NREGA by Sreelatha Menon, The Business Standard, 23 September, 2010, http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/cong-activists-at-loggerheads-over-nrega/408892

'Systemic reform to root out corruption still needed' by Bharat Dogra, The Times of India, 13 September, 2010, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Systemic-reform-to-root-out-corruption-still-needed/articleshow/6541296.cms

NAC members blast execution of NREGA, call it 'anti-labour', The Financial Express, 28 September, 2010,


MNREGA workers peeved at being paid Re. 1 by K Balchand, The Hindu, 28 September, 2010, http://www.hindu.com/2010/09/28/stories/2010092862850800.htm

States fail on dole for jobless-Unemployment allowance to handful, The Telegraph, 28 September, 2010,


Rajasthan refuses to recognise NREGA workers' union by Sreelatha Menon, Sify News, 30 September, 2010, http://sify.com/finance/rajasthan-refuses-to-recognise-nrega-workers-union-news-news-kj4bOWhfahh.html

Let’s build on the positives, The Hindustan Times, 29 September, 2010,


A Campaign for No UID-Till Complete Transparency, Accountability and People’s Participation*

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI, http://uidai.gov.in/) was constituted by the Central Government (via notification) in February, 2009 to give each Indian resident a UID number. UID will be a unique 12-digit number, which will store basic demographic and identity information of an individual along with his/ her biometrics (10 fingerprints, iris scan and photo). As per the Government, UID numbers will enable efficient delivery of Government services by plugging leakages, and facilitate inclusive development through improved targeting.

However, the project was met with widespread concern on grounds of privacy and potential for misuse by elements of the State. Various representatives have been made to the Authority through civil society meetings, op-eds and open discussions. In response the Government has set up a Group of Officers under the Secretary, DoPT to develop a framework for data protection, security and privacy. Simultaneously, the UIDAI has circulated a draft National Identification Authority of India Bill aimed primarily at achieving statutory status while resisting both regulation and accountability.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the first Bill introduced by the new Conservatives and Liberal Democrat Government was the Identity Documents Bill so as to cancel the similar National ID Project. UIDAI was set-up via a GoI notification as an attached office of the Planning Commission without any discussion or debate in the Parliament or civil society.

A press conference to protest against the Unique Identity Card (UID) project of the Government of India was arranged at Press Club of India, New Delhi on 28 September, 2010. The panel comprised of Justice AP Shah, Upendra Baxi, Nikhil Dey, Uma Chakravarthi, Shohini Ghosh, Prof. Jagdeep S. Chhokar, Amar Kanwar, Reetika Khera, Praful Bidwai and Bezwada Wilson so as to discuss a project that has the potential to transform the state-citizen relationship and affect every resident.

Ms. Usha Ramanathan informed that there has been little debate on the UID project. The first draft of the UIDAI Bill that was put on the website was defective. The Union Cabinet on 24 September, 2010 approved the proposed National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, which envisages the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) as a statutory body. The Bill will now be introduced in Parliament for approval. The UID is like a project, which is done privately by some individuals. The UID project can affect the relationship between State and citizens. There are people in the public sphere who are concerned about this project. Seventeen eminent signatories, Justice VR Krishna Iyer, Retired Judge, Supreme Court of India, Prof Romila Thapar, Historian, KG Kannabiran, Senior Civil Liberties Lawyer, Kavita Srivastava, PUCL and Right to Food Campaign, Aruna Roy, MKSS, Rajasthan, Nikhil Dey, MKSS, Rajasthan, SR Sankaran, Retired Secretary, Government of India, Deep Joshi, Independent Consultant, Upendra Baxi, Jurist and ex-Vice Chancellor of Universities of Surat and Delhi, Uma Chakravarthi, Historian, Shohini Ghosh, Teacher and Film Maker, Amar Kanwar, Film Maker, Bezwada Wilson, Safai Karamchari Andolan, Trilochan Sastry, IIMB, and Association for Democratic Reforms, Prof. Jagdeep S. Chhokar , ex- IIMA, and Association for Democratic Reforms, Shabnam Hashmi, ANHAD, Justice AP Shah, Retired Chief Justice of High Court of Delhi, have asked that: a. The project be halted; b. A feasibility study be done covering all aspects of this issue; c. Experts be tasked with studying its constitutionality; d. The law on privacy be urgently worked on (this will affect matters way beyond the UID project); e. A cost-benefit analysis be done; and, f. A public, informed debate is conducted before any such major change is brought in. Ms. Ramanathan asked that such a major project cannot be allowed to happen without public consent and debate. The entire cost of UIDAI is unknown to most of us. The Government must go for a public consultation on UID project. The Apollo Hospitals group has offered to manage health records through the UIDAI. There is a marketing agenda behind this project, she added.

Ms. Uma Chakravarthi said that the UID project reminded her of migration of indentured coolie labour in South Africa during the colonial days. During that time, every migrant labourer had a unique number and s/he was photographed along with that number. The question is how one can associate a person with a particular number. Associating a person with a number actually stigmatizes him/ her. The present ideology of the Government is that schemes meant for the poor are failing since there is no UIDAI. Accessing one’s right via a number is actually a non-starter. In Kashmir, every citizen has to keep an identity card. In the absence of identity card, ordinary Kashmiris are harassed by the authorities. The UID card has become like a passport for movement. Earlier the BJP Government tried to identify illegal migrants. Hence, a person without UID would be considered as an illegal migrant. Poor migrants are likely to suffer if the UID project comes into being. Ms. Chakravarthi asked whether the identity number changes as one changes the place of stay like it happens for ration card. The privacy of an individual is at stake due to UIDAI. This project is nothing but a façade.

Ms. Shohini Ghosh informed that privacy will be adversely affected due to UID project. She asked what purpose this massive public databank would serve under UID. Health data leakage can lead to harassment of people such as those who are HIV positive. Residents of Jamia Nagar near JMI are routinely denied credit cards. People can be harassed because the UID project would disclose one’s background. The UID document is ahistorical and it promises a utopia.

Shri Bezwada Wilson asked why a massive project like UIDAI was undertaken without any proper objective. He questioned whether such a project is really needed. He further asked whether the identity of untouchables would be revealed due to UID project. He shared his own experience when he said that the dominant entities always asked for identity of untouchables (manual scavengers). The caste biasness can affect service delivery to the poor and dalits under UID project.

Shri AP Shah informed that profiling and tracking can take place due to UIDAI. The State can come to know information about its citizens, and this could be risky in the backdrop of State-sponsored terrorism. The Maharastra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has harassed people from North India in Maharastra earlier. Countries like the United States, United Kingdom and Australia started with similar projects earlier. But soon they abandoned the idea. Privacy is an issue for the poor too. A study on the potential gains and losses of UID project never happened before the project got started. A privacy Bill has to be passed by the Parliament to deal with UID. Health information may be leaked to multi-national corporations if the UID becomes active. The cost-benefit ratio of UIDAI has not been estimated. Such projects cannot be started without public debate. Even though the UID project is unprecedented anywhere in the world both in population size and application, no feasibility study was done prior. There is a possibility of commercial exploitation of UIDAI, he added.

Ms. Ritika Khera said that one cannot be anti-technology in today’s world. But technology has to be transparent and accessible. Though it is promised that UID would lead to portability, but it must be backed by better supply chain management. The UID project needs public distribution system (PDS) and National Rural Employment Guaranty Act (NREGA) databases for its success. The project can, however, reduce re-duplication of ration cards. In total, UID’s contribution would be marginal.

Shri Nikhil Dey said that the UID project team comprises of technology experts but it lacks experts on NREGA and PDS. Corruption cannot be reduced through UID. He asked about the potential value addition due to UID project vis-à-vis localized biometric system. The security aspect of UID cannot be neglected. The Government wants to carry out conditional cash transfers via UID. UIDAI is completely opposite to the Right to Information (RTI) Act in spirit since the former will enable the Government to look at each and every act of citizens whereas the latter helps the citizens to watch each and every act of the Government. If the UID comes into being, there could be a need for a separate privacy law. If the privacy law is enacted, then it might clash with the existing RTI Act. There is a need to track the money where it is going, and not the citizens.

Shri Prof. Jagdeep S. Chhokar said that one must not forget the Manhattan Project while discussing the UID project. Though the use of technology is a good idea, it can be questioned what purpose it is going to serve. The privacy law if enacted must be protected by the judiciary. The Government has to be accountable to its people.

Shri Praful Bidwai emphasized that the UID project has a dubious origin. The origins of the project can be traced back to the controversial report of the Kargil Review Committee chaired by K Subrahmaniam, which noted that immediate steps were needed to issue ID cards to villagers in border districts, pending its extension to other parts of the country. In a report titled ‘Reforming the National Security System’, a Group of Ministers of the NDA Government conveyed that all citizens should be given a multi-purpose national identity card (MNIC) and non-citizens should be issued identity cards of a different colour and design so as to check illegal migration. He cited one study carried out by a team from London School of Economics about a similar project done by the British Government. The team found that such technology is untested and unreliable. The biometric technology is unreliable and expensive. Indian defense’s computer systems were hacked recently. He termed the UID project insane.

Critique of UID Bill

  1. False claims: It has been said that the UID project will enable inclusive growth. However, exclusion and leakages are not caused by the inability to prove identity—they are caused by the deliberate manipulation of the system by those who have the power to control the flow of benefits. BPL families who have valid ration cards are unable to get their quota of foodgrains-not because the validity of the card is disputed but because the ration shop owners exploit them and force them to take less than their due.
  2. Violation of privacy and civil liberties: The UID scheme violates the right to privacy. International law and India’s domestic law have set clear standards to protect an individual’s privacy from unlawful invasion. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by India, an individual’s right to privacy is protected from arbitrary or unlawful interference by the State. The Supreme Court has held right to privacy to be implicit under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution (Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, 1994 and PUCL v. Union of India, 1996). Section 15 of the Census Act categorically states that information given for the Census is neither open to inspection nor admissible in evidence. However, the privacy clauses were diluted significantly by the NDA Government in 2003.
  3. “Functionality creep” and misuse of data: The centralized database where personal data will be stored can be easily linked with other databases, such as the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation and databases maintained by the police and intelligence agencies. This raises the risk of “functionality creep”. There is a serious concern that the biometric information collected as part of the UID project would be used for policing purposes. The proposed Bill does not contain any mechanism for credible and independent oversight of the UIDAI. There are several instances of the involvement of the State in mass carnage (as in Delhi in 1984 and Gujarat in 2002), and the Government’s support to and defense of the widespread use of ‘encounter killings’ and other extra-Constitutional methods of the police and armed forces.
  4. Inappropriate and unproven technology: Around 150 million people are likely to be excluded from benefits because of the UID project. Millions of Indians working in agriculture and as construction workers and other manual labourers have worn-out fingers due to a lifetime of hard labour, resulting in what is technically referred to as ‘low-quality’ fingerprints. UIDAI in its working paper states that fingerprint authentication is not foolproof (such as the degree and direction of the pressure applied while placing the finger on the sensor, excessively greasy or dry skin, and distortions caused by rendering a 3-dimensional object into a flat plane). An iris scan cannot be done on people with corneal blindness, glaucoma or corneal scars. There are an estimated 6-8 million people in Indian with corneal blindness, according to researchers of AIIMS, New Delhi. The Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar has opposed the collection of iris scans terming it as “waste of money”.
  5. Database security not assured: Several of our high-security databases have been hacked in the recent past. India has no generally established data protection law (like the US Federal Privacy Statute or the European Directive on Data Protection). A leaked document in wikileaks website tells that the UID database will be susceptible to attacks and leaks at various levels.
  6. Unjustifiable cost: The current costs are estimated at Rs. 45,000 crores. A budget provision of Rs. 1950 crores has been made for the current year, of which over 200 crores has already been spent. Operationalizing the UID project on the ground for NREGA and the PDS would require placing fingerprint readers at every panchayat office and every ration shop. The cost of a fingerprint reader at this time is nearly US$ 50. The total costs of placing a fingerprint in each PDS outlet and in each of India’s 6 lakh villages have not been taken into account in official cost calculations.
  7. Bypassing of Parliament and democratic processes: The UIDAI has been set up with considerable powers and resources, without any approval from Parliament or discussion in the public domain about the necessity of such a scheme. In the absence of a Constitutional provision or legal framework, all actions of the UIDAI are technically unconstitutional and illegal.
  8. Lessons from other countries: Several countries (including the US, UK, Australia, China, Canada and Germany) have tried such projects and have given these up as impractical, unjustified and dangerous. One of the first acts of the new government in UK after taking office in June, 2010, was to scrap the UID project in that country.

Courtesy: Campaign for No UID, Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)

* Compiled by Shambhu Ghatak from various sources.

Kindly, click the following links for further information:

“Basic procedures not followed before project was launched”, The Hindu, 29 September, 2010, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article801252.ece

Why the UID number project must be scrapped by Gopal Krishna, Rediff.com, 2 June, 2010, http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/jun/02/why-the-uid-number-project-must-be-scrapped.htm

High-cost, high-risk by R Ramakumar, Frontline, Volume 26, Issue 16, 1-14 August, 2009, http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2616/stories/20090814261604900.htm

Why Indians should fear the UID by Praful Bidwai, Rediff.com, 12 October, 2010, http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/oct/12/column-why-indians-should-fear-the-uid.htm

The personal is the personal by Usha Ramanathan, 6 January, 2010, The Indian Express, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/the-personal-is-the-personal/563920/0

Questionable link by Praful Bidwai, Frontline, Volume 27, Issue 12, 5-18 June, 2010,


Not all that unique by Reetika Khera, The Hindustan Times, 30 August, 2010,


NREGA gets 'smart' by Arvind Mayaram, The Financial Express, 24 September, 2010,


Unique ID pilot project in a week, The Telegraph, 30 July, 2010,


Govt allocates Rs 10 cr to UIDAI, The Indian Express, 22 July, 2010,


Plugging the leaks, The Business Standard, 15 July, 2010, http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/pluggingleaks/401414/

Govt slashes UIDAI budget by over 50 per cent, Yahoo.com, 11 July, 2010,