Dec 8, 2012–A big hue and cry has been been rasied among activists
after the walkout
from the Sixth Justice VM Tarkunde Memorial Lecture because Shri Nandan Manohar Nilekani was chosen to deliver it on November 23, 2012.
When the lecture
was announced many of us were stunned at the fact that how could PUCL be associated with an event wherein Nandan Nilekani
has been given a platform to speak. All human righst activists involved in say no to uid campaign
, wrote individually to PUCL to cancel the event and PUCL came up with the following a public statement which said
We had issued a statement where we made explicit that our opposition to UDIAI has not changed nor our continuing to oppose the UID project. We had also spoken to and followed by writing to the organisers informing our stand on UIDAI
, that selection of a person like Mr. Nilekani is contradictory to the very ideals that Justice Tarkunde’s work and persona reflected, and therefore the demand for calling off the lecture as also that we did not want to be associated with the event. The organisers had also accepted our request and agreed not to associate PUCL with the event .
As event was not cancelled, but PUCL had disassociated , the civil liberteis activists at the public meeting on Nov 23rd 2012 ,decided to walk out to show their protest the Read the report here
There after, there has been many email exchanges which are reproduced below
Clarification by PUCL
I have been forwarded a news item “Why civil liberties activists walked
out from Nandan Nilekani ‘s lecture” in which it is stated that those who walked out included “N.D.Pancholi, President, People’s Union For civil liberties
” amongst others. It is entirely incorrect. I did not walk out in protest from the multipurpose hall where the lecture was being held. I had come out from the hall when I heard some noises outside and had some discussion with the protestors. I am one of the members of the Tarkunde Memorial Foundation. It is also not correct, as stated in the report, that “organisers rushed and tried to take back the papers”. It is also incorrect that the organisers termed the silent and peacerful distribution of the Statement as “trouble”. If some participants in the audience felt disturbed while the said activists were distributing statement, and made some remarks, organisers have nothing to do with it. Please make necessary corrections in your report and publish my clarification..
Usha Ramanathan who was at the meeting and walked out responded
It is indeed true that Mr Pancholi did not walk out. He came out with the organisers who also anxiously came out of the hall because of the walk out.
As for the rest, it is indeed true that the orgainsers did take back the papers that had been quietly passed around. May be Mr Pancholi did not see it happening, but others amongst us did, and Mr Riain Karanjawala, who is among the organisers, did not deny it when he was confronted, by Vrinda Grover, with this illiberal act. It is also true that it was a member of the organisers’ team that termed what had happened as `trouble’. This too was hotly contested on the steps of the multipurpose hall where the meeeting was being held. And, as Vrinda pointed out, if what had happened could be termed trouble — viz., handing out papers that would set out the dangers of a project that was being promoted on the platform that had been provided to the one marketing the project; and the walk out that was intended to indicate that this is not a compliant citizenry which has no civil liberties consciousness –the that was what Justice Tarkunde had been doing all his life!
May be Mr Pancholi objects to the young props of the organisers who acted as if we posed a threat to the meeting as being thought of as part of the `organisers’. There is, however, no question that they were acting on behalf of the organisers. There is also no question that Mr Riain Karanjawala came out to take over from his young team. Mr Pancholi was there. Mr Pancholi may also recall that he said to us to give him the papers that we said was being confiscated in the room, and that he would ensure that they were distributed; and Mr Karanjawala silenced him with unwonted vigour. It is also a fact that Mr Karanjawala made disgruntled murmurs that he had never wanted PUCL as part of the Tarkunde lecture but that Justcie Sachar had prevailed on him, and, his tone made unmistakable, he, Mr Karanjawala regretted the error.
Mr Pancholi was part of the meeting that decided to invite Mr Nandan Nilekani. We know that Mr Pancholi is a member of the PUCL, and that he has been opposed to the UID project. However, it seems he may not have been fully cognisant of Mr Nilekani’s connection with the UID project. So, he ended up being a part of the inviting team. That he walked out of the hall of course does not mean that he was part of our walk out. He was walking out to see what was happening; and something certainly was, outside the hall, on the steps. And that included words exchanged about `trouble’, about PUCL, about taking back papers that had been circulated, about free expression, and about Justice Tarkunde not belonging to any particular set of people, not his family, not PUCL, but the wider community of people who have held him in high esteem through these years of his work and beyond.
The again on Dec 3rd 2012, Mr Pancholi responded
This is with reference to the comments made by Usha on my clarification which I sent in reply to a news item “Why civil liberties activists walked out from Nandan Nilekani’s lecture” published on a website ‘Kractivist’.
When I said to Vrinda to hand me over the pamphlets
so that I could ensure that the same were properly distributed, she replied that she had no pamphlets as the same were distributed and were in turn snatched away from the participants by some youngmen. I told her that the civil liberties activists should have informed the organisers or me beforehand of their intentions of distributing the pamphlets. Had they disclosed such intention, some way could have been found out without disturbing the lecture. It is her misconception to say that Mr. Karanjwala silenced me.
Earlier Shri Sandeep Singh (of Citizens Forum For Civil Liberties
) had come alongwith some activists at the auditorium almost one hour before the start of the lecture and on my enquiry he had assured me that to his knowledge there was no plan of making any protest or disturbing the lecture.
During the midst of the lecture when the audience is attentive to the speaker, if some activists, suddenly and without informing the organizers, start distributing the pamphlets, the same certainly cannot be called peaceful and silent distribution. It disturbs the speaker as well as the listeners. I stick to my statement made in my clarification that organizers of the lecture are not involved as alleged for taking back the said pamphlets or making any remark ‘trouble’ as alleged.
I am doubtful of UID project but I am not averse to listening opposite point of view. Listening other point s of views helps me in making my perceptions clearer, and enables me to correct myself if I am in error.
The moment Tarkunde Memorial Foundation announced the lecture, the demands were being made from a section of the civil liberties activists that lecture should be ‘called off’. This demand was continued to be made even after PUCL declared its non-association with the event. Statements made by Usha and PUCL also emphasized this demand. I am at a loss to understand as to how civil liberties activists can ask any other organization to call off the lecture simply because they do not agree with the views of the speaker! Is there any place in the ‘civil liberties consciousness’ for tolerance and to listen to opposite point of view peacefully?
The finaly reply by Usha Ramanathan and Vrinda Grover, both who were at the meeting, received today is below
There is little point that i can see in going round and round our memories of 23rd November. I think what had to be said has been said.
Except — Mr Pancholi now considers those who had a problem with Mr Nilekani being given a civil liberties platform undemocratic! That seems somewhat naive and ingenuous.
Since November 2009, we have been trying to get Mr Nilekani to answer some basic questions, and we have met with surliness as a response, each time. On 28 September, 2010, a statement issued by 17 eminent citizens raised questions that remain unanswered till today. (I am attaching the statement with this mail; this is the `pamphlet’ to which Mr Pancholi alludes.) Among the signatories are Kannabiran and Kavita and Aruna Roy, all members of PUCL. Kannabiran had also been advocating civil disobedience, if that was the only way to stop this project. The UID project, and its implications for civil liberties, was presented at the PUCL National Convention last year (2011), as was the problem with the sullen silence that had been the consistent response to our questions. Read the Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the Bill that was to give stautory status to the UIDAI, and it is peppered with evidence of recalcitrance on the part of Mr Nilekani and his team to answer questions. There has been overt hostility towards those raising the questions.
Mr Nilekani has had more than his share of talks and lectures where he has marketed the project. He has been heard — many times — and it is a consequence of this that we are now aware that the project projection is full of half-truths and lies.
We have no desire to storm around preventing Mr Nilekani from speaking; in fact, some of us have gone to hear him speak many times, seeking information, and clarity. That we have been disappointed each time is another matter; and that, needless to say, is an extreme understatement.
Our objection was to providing Mr Nilekani a civil liberties platform. After all, when someone is to be invited to speak at the Justice Tarkunde Memorial Lecture, the least we are entitled to expect is that the speaker should not be heading, and marketing, a project that poses a threat to civil liberties! I would have thought that we need to make sure that the platform is not used for promoting anti-civil liberties policies and action! If those inviting him had not studied the project, or had not heard him, or were not aware that he had anything to do with the project, it was, doubtless, irresponsibility on their part to have invited him in ignorance of his policy and his politics.
What made it worse was that this was a `lecture’. If it had been a debate, Mr Nilekani could have been asked to answer all those questions he has been sidestepping and refusing to answer through these three years. Of course, it can safely be hypothesised that Mr Nilekani may then have turned down the invitation, for he has not shown a penchant to being challenged.
This is a project that is not governed by law; and, literally, lawless. It is a project that was marketed as `voluntary’ and has now become mandatory, immediately for the poor to be extended over time to everyone. It is intended to converge data, facilitating tagging, tracking, profiling,and placing people under surveillance. It is a project that demands that that state and corporations be allowed to use biometrics as markers of identity; so, fingerprints and iris scans are to be the norm, and we are to be rendered choiceless in this use of the bosy as a marker. The individual is to be transparent to the state and to the corporation. Biometrics was used in the defence industry, but it was through its expansion into civilian spaces that its profit-through-proliferation is sought to be achieved. The companies involved in the project, including such ones as L1 Identity Solutions and Accenture have relationships with Homeland Security and the CIA. All this, and more, is known. Mr Nilekani’s task is to make this universal and ubiquitous. And he is to be given a civil liberties platform to sell the project, and those who object are undemocratic? These are strange times indeed.
The right to free expression does not require anyone to take permission to exercise the right. Isn’t that the civil liberties perspective? This was a silent and peacable passing around of a statement that would help people understand what the issues are. It is the snatching back of the papers that constitute an act of disruption, surely!!
Thanks for providing the space to have this exchange. With this, i rest my case. It is plain that what time there is needs to be dedicated to spreading understanding about the UID project. Clearly, what has been done has not been quite enough.
Usha ramanathan and Vrinda Grover
BELOW IS THE STATEMENT BY EMINENT PEOPLE ON WHY WE OPPOSE UID
(issued by17 eminent persons (list appended) at a press conference held in Delhi on 28 September, 2010)
The project that proposes to give every resident a `unique identity number’ is a matter of great concern for those working on issues of food security, NREGA, migration, technology, decentralisation, constitutionalism, civil liberties and human rights. The process of setting up the Authority has resulted in very little, if any, discussion about this project and its effects and fallout. The documents on the UIDAI website, and a recent draft law (the National Identification Authority Bill, which is also on the website) do not provide answers to the many questions that are being raised in the public domain. This project is intended to collect demographic data about all residents in the country. It is said that it will impact on the PDS and NREGA programmes, and plug leakages and save the government large sums of money. It would, however, seem that even basic procedures have not been followed before launching on such a massive project.
Before it goes any further, we consider it imperative that the following be done:
- Do a feasibility study: There are claims made in relation to the project, about what it can do for PDS and NREGA, for instance, which does not reflect any understanding of the situation of the situation on the ground. The project documents do not say what other effects the project may have, including its potential to be intrusive and violative of privacy, who may handle the data (there will be multiple persons involved in entering, maintaining and using the data), who may be able to have access to the data and similar other questions.
- Do a cost-benefit analysis: It is reported that the UIDAI estimates the project will costs Rs 45,000 crores to the exchequer in the next 4 years. This does not seem to include the costs that will be incurred by Registrars, Enrollers, internal systems costs that the PDs system will have to budget if it is to be able to use the UID, the estimated cost to the end user and to the number holder.
- In a system such as this, a mere statement that the UIDAI will deal with the security of the data is obviously insufficient. How does the UIDAI propose to deal with data theft? If this security cannot be reasonably guaranteed, the wisdom of holding such data in a central registry may need to be reviewed.
- The involvement of firms such as Ernst & Young and Accenture raise further questions about who will have access to the data, and what that means to the people of India.
- Constitutionality of this project, including in the matter of privacy, the relationship between the state and the people, security and other fundamental rights.
Questions have been raised which have not been addressed so far, including those about –
- Undemocratic process: 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. In the year and a half of its inception, the Authority has signed MoUs with virtually all states and UTs, LIC, Petroleum Ministry and many banks. In July, the Authority circulated the draft NIA Bill (to achieve statutory status); the window for public feedback was two weeks. Despite widespread feedback and calls for making all feedback public, the Authority has not made feedback available. Further in direct contravention to the process of public feedback, the NIA Bill was listed for introduction in the Lok Sabha 2010 monsoon session
- Privacy (It is only now that the DoPT is said to be working on a draft of a privacy law, but nothing is out for discussion even yet)
- Surveillance: where this technology, and the existence of the UID number, and its working, could result in increasing the potential for surveillance
- Convergence, by which those with access to state power, as well as companies, could collate information about each individual with the help of the UID number.
National IDs have been abandoned in the US, Australia and the newly-elected British government. The reasons have predominantly been: costs and privacy. If it is too expensive for the US with a population of 308 million, and the UK with 61 million people, and Australia with 21 million people, it is being asked why India thinks it can prioritise its spending in this direction. In the UK, the Home Secretary explained that they were abandoning the project because it would otherwise be `intrusive bullying’ by the state, and that the government intended to be the `servant’ of the people, and not their `master’. Is there a lesson in it for us? In the late nineties, the Supreme Court of Philippines struck down the President’s Executive Order A.O 308 which instituted a biometric based national ID system calling it unconstitutional on two grounds – the overreach of the executive over the legislative powers of the congress and invasion of privacy. The same is applicable in India – UIDAI has been constituted on the basis of a GoI notification and there is a fundamental risk to civil liberties with the convergence of UID, NATGRID etc.
The UIDAI is still at the stage of conducting pilot studies. The biometric pilot study has reportedly already thrown up problems especially among the poor whose fingerprints are not stable, and whose iris scans suffer from malnourishment related cataract and among whom the incidence of corneal scars is often found. The project is clearly still in its inception. The project should be halted before it goes any further and the prelude to the project be attended to, the public informed and consulted, and the wisdom of the project determined. The Draft Bill too needs to be publicly debated. This is a project that could change the status of the people in this country, with effects on our security and constitutional rights, and a consideration of all aspects of the project should be undertaken with this in mind.
We, therefore, ask that:
- The project be halted
- A feasibility study be done covering all aspects of this issue
- Experts be tasked with studying its constitutionality
- The law on privacy be urgently worked on (this will affect matters way beyond the UID project)
- A cost : benefit analysis be done
- A public, informed debate be conducted before any such major change be brought in.
This Statement was issued to the Press on 28th September, 2010 in New Delhi
List of signatories to the Statement on the UID
Justice VR Krishna Iyer, Retired Judge, Supreme Court of India firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof Romila Thapar, Historian email@example.com
K.G.Kannabiran, Senior Civil Liberties Lawyer firstname.lastname@example.org
Kavita Srivastava, PUCL and Right to Food Campaign <email@example.com>
Aruna Roy, MKKS, Rajasthan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Nikhil Dey, MKKS, Rajasthan <email@example.com>
S.R.Sankaran, Retired Secretary, Government of India
Deep Joshi, Independent Consultant <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Upendra Baxi, Jurist and ex-Vice Chancellor of Universities of Surat and Delhi BaxiUpendra@aol.com
Uma Chakravarthi, Historian <email@example.com>
Shohini Ghosh, Teacher and Film Maker <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Amar Kanwar, Film Maker <email@example.com>
Bezwada Wilson, Safai Karamchari Andolan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Trilochan Sastry, IIMB, and Association for Democratic Reforms email@example.com
Prof. Jagdeep Chhokar, ex- IIMA, and Association for Democratic Reforms <firstname.lastname@example.org
Shabnam Hashmi, ANHAD <email@example.com>
Justice A.P.Shah, Retired Chief Justice of High Court of Delhi firstname.lastname@example.org