Aadhaar shows India’s governance is susceptible to poorly tested ideas pushed by powerful people
This series has flagged a puzzling trend. State governments are struggling to use Aadhaar-based fingerprint authentication in ration shops. At the same time, a rising number of companies are integrating Aadhaar into their databases. This is puzzling because from its inception, Aadhaar, India’s Unique Identification project, was pitched as integral to the modernisation of social… Continue reading
What happens to privacy when companies have your Aadhaar number?
Out today, the second part of my story on companies, aadhaar and privacy. As the previous story in this series reported, some companies are using Aadhaar to share customer and business partner information. This could aid the rise of data-broking companies like Acziom in the United States that hold ever more detailed profiles of people.… Continue reading
How private companies are using Aadhaar to try to deliver better services (but there’s a catch)
Aadhaar, as India’s Unique Identity Project is called, aims to give a 12-digit unique identity number to all residents by collecting their fingerprint and iris scans. As of September, its database, maintained by the Unique Identity Authority of India, held the names, addresses and biometric information of more than 105 crore people. The project was… Continue reading
why we need to talk about the companies building authentication apps off the aadhaar database
Monika Chowdhry, who heads the marketing division of Swabhimaan Distribution Services, the company that created TrustID, defended the app, saying it offers the valuable service of verifying people’s identities. “In our day to day life, we do a lot of transactions with people – like maids or plumbers. Till now, you would have to trust… Continue reading
By limiting Aadhaar, Supreme Court may have given government a way to expand its reach
By now the contours of the events are known. On Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court referred to a Constitution Bench the question of whether Indians have a fundamental right to privacy. The same afternoon, when the judges reconvened, they restricted the use of the government’s biometrics-based identity project Aadhaar to only the public distribution system… Continue reading
a big setback for aadhaar
The finance ministry has decided to limit Aadhaar’s role in its welfare scheme payments and, instead, use ATM-enabled RuPay cards for last-mile authentication to withdraw money. While it will continue to use Aadhaar for opening accounts and to eliminate ghosts and duplicates from beneficiary rolls, the ministry has decided to give RuPay ATM cards with… Continue reading
the latest question on aadhaar
…While researching this story, ET reviewed two drafts produced by the Department of Financial Services – one in June, and the second in July. The draft dated 8 July, 2014, says: “This account would be linked with the Aadhaar number of the account holder and would become the single point for receipt of Direct Benefit… Continue reading
nilekani meets modi, saves aadhaar
There is enough evidence to suggest that the crucial July 1 meeting between Nilekani, the prime minister and the FM, brought forth a volte face in the government stand on UIDAI. Only two days before this, on July 3, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Telecom, IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Planning Minister Rao… Continue reading
on aadhaar, npr and the nda
my colleague and friend vikas dhoot and i have this update on the continuing aadhaar and npr saga. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has backed the UPA’s Aadhaar programme for now, but that may not be the final word on whether it will be retained. The government has asked the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI),… Continue reading
fresh trouble for aadhaar
Agencies contracted to enroll people into the Aadhaar fold have joined hands to protest heavy penalties levied on them by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) that was steered by tech billionaire Nandan Nilekani till three months ago. The enrollment imbroglio is the latest in a series of shocks for the project in recent… Continue reading
on how the upa’s development initiatives might fare under the nda
out today, a story on the possible outlook for the upa’s major development initiatives — aadhaar, cash transfers, npr, rights-based legislations, the proposed environment authority, the land acquisition bill — once the modi government takes over. It’s a space the incoming BJP-led government will need to .. Read more at: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/35353059.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst Continue reading
should aadhaar be junked?
The last 60 days have not been good to India’s much-feted Aadhaar project. On the 30th of January, the UPA pressed the pause button on direct benefits transfer for cooking gas. On 26 February, the Mumbai High Court directed Aadhaar to share its biometrics database with the CBI. A year earlier, a seven year old… Continue reading
the follies of rushing in…
yesterday was profoundly anomalous. i filed two stories. both, as it were, on aadhaar. one on a sting by cobrapost which flagged faulty enrolments. and the other where the supreme court said aadhaar cannot share its database with anyone without consent from the number holders. this is a significant development. over the last five years,… Continue reading
old enrolment concerns resurface re aadhaar
Investigative journalism portal Cobrapost has aired videos of sting operations that allegedly show the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) conducting a flawed enrolment process that allows people from even neighbouring countries to get an Aadhaar number after paying bribes. it is hard to escape a sense of deja vu. these complaints — about poor… Continue reading
on nandan nilekani’s stint with the upa…
out today, this quick and dirty story on nandan nilekani’s stint in upa2. it was a part of a larger package profiling some of the technocrats leaving office along with the upa — c rangarajan, montek singh ahluwalia, the member of the national advisory council, and nilekani. Continue reading
the upa puts dbt-lpg on hold
out today, this story by my colleague yogima seth and me on a surprise decision by the upa to pause its DBT programme for LPG. The government’s decision to put the Aadhaar-based direct benefit transfer (DBT) for cooking gas on hold could be a blow to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), set up… Continue reading
in october 2012, i had travelled to a tehsil in rajasthan called dudu where the congress formally announced that direct benefit transfers would be its magic bullet for the coming elections — in the state and nationally. well, i just reported for a story by my colleague akshay deshmane on the role of DBT in… Continue reading
bad for aadhaar, good for cash transfers?
What is the future of one of India’s most high profile government programmes after Monday’s Supreme Court interim ruling on Aadhaar? And is there a collateral damage on election-facing UPA’s ambitious welfare schemes? The answers are starkly different. Aadhaar, unless the Supreme Court changes its ruling in the final judgement, has received a body blow.… Continue reading
enter, contingent liability
The government’s plan to make the Aadhaar number the centrepiece of the cash-transfer system is now facing opposition from a new quarter: banks. Several banks, led by State Bank of India, have expressed reservation against jettisoning their current systems in favour of the platform created by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which issues… Continue reading
india’s payments dilemma. continued.
The Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission (FSLRC) could recommend that the Reserve Bank of India should grant limited purpose bank licences to telecom firms and other industries in order to promote financial inclusion. A working group led by Morgan Stanley India chairman PJ Nayak, tasked by the Commission to propose changes to the country’s payment… Continue reading
in which upa races towards its india shining moment
D-day is 18 days away. On January 1, the Congress-led UPA government will start migrating the delivery of welfare services to a new architecture: straight into an individual’s bank account, verified by a unique identification (UID) number called Aadhaar. It’s a soft launch. The first of the three stages will unravel in 43 districts where… Continue reading
an update on cash transfers
today’s et carries this small piece on cash transfers. the significant dataset here is a list of the 51 districts where cash transfers will be rolled out first. take a look? Continue reading
india’s developing biometrics mess
today’s ET carries a story that i had written a while ago. essentially, a rising number of government agencies and private companies are moving around collecting fingerprints and iris scans. you always had the UIDAI and NPR. now, you also have different states’ PDS departments, NREGS, banks and their banking correspondent companies, post offices, pension… Continue reading
uidai’s shiny new enrolment engine
another small online story for ET on UIDAI’s new enrolment system. this has been in the works for over four months. what do the glitches they have fixed tell you about how enrolments have been done till now? Continue reading
a friend turned foe?
Anyone watching the telecast of the 2012-13 budget would have concluded that the Finance Ministry was solidly backing Nandan Nilekani’s Unique Identification Authority of India. The budget speech mentioned Nilekani by name. It mentioned the UID programme ten-odd times. And spoke about how Aadhaar would be used to overhaul existing subsidy regimes in India —… Continue reading
uidai: bouquets, brickbats and bugbears
while i was out bobbing in the bottle green waters of lakshadweep’s lagoons — see previous post — this story on the uidai came out. Barely six months ago, UIDAI was under siege-not just from civil society activists, but also from other parts of the government. The home ministry, one of whose arms was undertaking… Continue reading
“Na Na Na”, said the government, “I Cannot Hear You Standing Committee”
A committee of MPs has questioned the budget’s endorsement of the Aadhaar project despite the panel’s rejection of a draft law which sought to give it legal backing. The 31-member Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, chaired by former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, has asked the government to explain the proposed increase in budgetary allocations to… Continue reading
haryana’s tryst with e-payments
Haryana is one of the first states in India to move towards e-payments of welfare programmes. Early last year, it began stopped disbursing its social sector pensions through sarpanches, and began using banks and banking correspondents instead. However, after six or so months, the state government called off the project and went back to the… Continue reading
UID or NPR? NPR or UID?
The government’s indecision on which of its two arms should capture the biometrics of all 1.2 billion Indians is causing collateral damage. Frustrated by the issue not being resolved quickly and difficulties in the business, Wipro, one of the largest enrolment agencies empanelled with the Unique Identification Authority of India, is considering quitting the business. It’s… Continue reading
A cynical, instrumental use of Law
Cast your mind back to the days when Kapil Sibal and others were negotiating with Team Anna about the Jan Lokpal Bill. Team Anna, at one point, wanted its version of Lokpal Bill to be passed by the Parliament by a particular date. Fail to pass the bill, the team members said, and Anna would… Continue reading
The Parliamentarians put their hand up
In perhaps its most serious setback so far, a Parliamentary Committee has rejected the Bill that governs the project to assign unique IDs to all Indians. Worse, the Standing Committee on Finance has advised the government to “reconsider and review the UID scheme” itself. Its report was placed in Parliament on Tuesday. The questions that… Continue reading
What I talk about when I talk about Jharkhand
Watch Jharkhand. It is the testing ground for two pilot projects that challenge the historical templates for delivery of welfare services and banking services. Jharkhand is trying to use technology to retool the delivery of these services so that every citizen in the state can access them – easily, efficiently and corruption-free . What it… Continue reading
On the draft privacy bill…
There is some good news for those who are worried about the impact of UID on privacy. A senior bureaucrat in the department of personnel and training told ET that the draft bill on privacy, currently being drafted by the DoPT, makes it clear that no institution can share a person’s data with a third… Continue reading
Why the Banking Correspondent companies are unhappy with the UIDAI
Today’s ET carries this story about the ongoing tussle between the UIDAI, the body tasked with developing the architecture for delivering cash transfers, and the banking correspondent companies, which will have to do a part of the actual delivery. Broadly, the UIDAI thinks villagers should be able to access their bank account through any BC… Continue reading
Civil Liberties in an Age of Biometrics
Biometrics are the latest craze in Delhi’s crumbling corridors of power. The census department is capturing them. So is the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). As are a myriad others – banking correspondents, state governments, government programmes like the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, the ministry of rural development for NREGA workers, the home ministry… Continue reading
UIDAI runs into flak
as a followup to last week’s story about india’s spectacularly uncoordinated lurch towards cash transfers, my colleague vikas (dhoot) and i wrote this story about why nandan nilekani’s much-feted uidai is running into fresh opposition. opposition, interestingly, coming from an unexpected quarter — other government departments. the complete story, here. Continue reading
india’s inchoate journey towards cash transfers
and, at long last, a good combative story. A World Bank study released earlier this year enumerated the rot in Indian welfare programmes. About 91% of subsidised grain meant for the poor in Bihar never reached them. Only 32-51 % of the pensions for the elderly, destitute, widows and the disabled reached them. These are holes… Continue reading
It’s a polarised debate. Always has been. Those who make a living expanding the possibilities of technology feel it can solve many economic ills, even those of the India that lives on 20 a day under the trembling glow of a lantern. And those who engage with that very India say technology solutions are fine,… Continue reading
I am an Indian journalist with interests in energy, environment, climate and India’s ongoing slide into right-wing authoritarianism. My book, Despite the State, an examination of pervasive state failure and democratic decay in India, was published by Westland Publications, India, in January 2021. My work has won the Bala Kailasam Memorial Award; the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award; and five Shriram Awards for Excellence in Financial Journalism. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“…une plongée dans les failles béantes de la démocratie indienne, un compte rendu implacable du dysfonctionnement des Etats fédérés, minés par la corruption, le clientélisme, le culte de la personnalité des élus et le capitalisme de connivence. (…a dive into the gaping holes in Indian democracy, a relentless account of the dysfunction of the federated states, undermined by corruption, clientelism, the cult of the personality of elected officials and crony capitalism).” Le Monde
“…a critical enquiry into why representative government in India is flagging.” Biblio
“…strives for an understanding of the factors that enable governments and political parties to function in a way that is seemingly hostile to the interests of the very public they have been elected to serve, a gross anomaly in an electoral democracy.” Scroll.in
“M. Rajshekhar’s deeply researched book… holds a mirror to Indian democracy, and finds several cracks.” The Hindu
“…excels at connecting the local to the national.” Open
“…refreshingly new writing on the play between India’s dysfunctional democracy and its development challenges…” Seminar
“A patient mapping and thorough analysis of the Indian system’s horrific flaws…” Business Standard (Image here)
“33 മാസം, 6 സംസ്ഥാനങ്ങൾ, 120 റിപ്പോർട്ടുകൾ: ജനാധിപത്യം തേടി മഹത്തായ ഇന്ത്യൻ യാത്ര… (33 months, 6 states, 120 reports: Great Indian journey in search of democracy…)” Malayala Manorama
“Hindustan ki maujooda siyasi wa maaashi soorat e hal.” QindeelOnline
“What emerges is the image of a state that is extractive, dominant, casteist and clientelist.” Tribune
“…reporting at its best. The picture that emerges is of a democracy that has been hijacked by vested interests, interested only in power and pelf.” Moneycontrol.com
“Ten best non-fiction books of the year“, The Hindu.
“Twenty-One Notable Books From 2021“, The Wire.
“What has South Asia been reading: 2021 edition“, Himal Southasian
“Journalism is a social enterprise…,” Booksfirst.in.
“Democratic decay at state level: Journalist M Rajshekhar on book ‘Despite the State’,” The News Minute.
“Covid-19 en Inde : “des décès de masse” dont un “État obscurantiste est responsable,” Asialyst.
“JP to BJP: The Unanswered Questions“.
Mahtab Alam’s review of “JP to BJP: Bihar After Lalu and Nitish”.
“Urban History of Atmospheric Modernity in Colonial India“. Mohammad Sajjad’s review of “Dust and Smoke: Air Pollution and Colonial Urbanism, India, c1860-c1940”.
“Westland closure: Titles that are selling fast and a few personal recommendations,” by Chetana Divya Vasudev, Moneycontrol. (Because this happened too. In February, a year after DtS was released, Amazon decided to shutter Westland, which published the book. The announcement saw folks rushing to buy copies of Westland books before stocks run out.)
“Time to change tack on counterinsurgency” by TK Arun, The Federal.
“All Things Policy: The Challenges of Governing States” by Suman Joshi and Sarthak Pradhan, Takshashila Institute (podcast).
“The Future of Entertainment“, Kaveree Bamzai in Open.
“On What India’s Watching“, Prathyush Parasuraman on Substack.
“The puppeteers around us“, Karthik Venkatesh in Deccan Herald.
“Will TN election manifestos continue ‘populist’ welfare schemes?“, Anna Isaac for The News Minute.
“Why wages-for-housework won’t help women“, V Geetha in Indian Express.
“The poor state of the Indian state“, Arun Maira in The Hindu.
26 December, 2021: Rangashankara, Bangalore, a discussion with Dhanya Rajendran.
16 November: Rachna Books, Gangtok, a discussion with Pema Wangchuk.
29 August: Books In The Time of Chaos, with Ujwal Kumar.
21 May: Hyderabad Lit Fest with Kaveree Bamzai and Aniruddha Bahal.
28 March: Paalam Books, Salem, Tamil Nadu.
19 March: The News Minute, “Citizens, the State, and the idea of India“
6 March: Pen@Prithvi, with Suhit Kelkar
20 February: A discussion between scholars Usha Ramanathan, Tridip Suhrud, MS Sriram and me to formally launch Despite the State.
6 February: DogEars Bookshop, Margoa.
5 February: The Polis Project, Dispatches with Suchitra Vijayan.
30 January: Founding Fuel, “Systems Thinking, State Capacity and Grassroots Development“.
25 January: Miranda House Literary Society