All Eyes On Govt Vs Vedanta Case


| Jan 22, 2013 | Forbes

The government versus Vedanta case has the entire mining industry interested in the outcome, in the hope of getting more clarity on mining permissions
All Eyes On Govt Vs Vedanta Case
Image: Getty Images
Vedanta’s aluminium refinery at Lanjigarh in Orissa remains shut due to nonavailability of bauxite

The Supreme Court is hearing a petition filed by the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) against the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ decision to withdraw the permission given to mine bauxite reserves on the Niyamgiri hill range. A joint venture between OMC and the local unit of the Anil Agarwal-owned Vedanta Resources, wants to develop the mines in Orissa and supply bauxite to the alumina refinery run by the London-based company. 
Though the Supreme Court had cleared the mining proposal in 2008, three years later the environment ministry withdrew its clearance. A committee set up by the then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh alleged that provisions of the Forest Rights Act had been violated.

The apex court’s ruling will decide the fate of Agarwal’s aluminium project in Orissa that has till now coughed up losses of Rs 2,500 crore. The refinery is right now shut down for want of bauxite supply.

But the whole mining industry is interested in the outcome of the case. Some of the biggest companies, from SAIL to ArcelorMittal and Posco have applied for mines that fall in forest areas, and one of the most important aspects discussed by the Supreme Court is the scope of the Forest Rights Act. In a hearing on December 6, the court had asked the Central government to make its stand clear on whether a local gram sabha has the final right over mine reserves.

In a 2009 directive, the environment ministry had said that any project that intends to use forest land will need to first settle the rights, including taking consent of tribals and other traditional forest dwellers, through a gram sabha before the land is taken from them.

While companies like Vedanta claim to have held gram sabhas for land-owing tribals, bringing “other traditional forest dwellers” under the purview of the Forest Rights Act would “increase expenditure”, said a senior executive of a leading private Indian mining company.

Interestingly, there might be a re-think happening at the Centre. This prompted Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo to warn in his letter in early December to Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, “This order is extremely significant… any dilution of the above mentioned circular of 2009 will have an adverse impact on the Vedanta case which is sub-judice,” a newspaper report quoted him.

The biggest concern though is whether this will further increase the uncertainty around mining project permissions. “A balance is needed as neither environment nor industrial development should suffer. Any clarification from the government should help reduce the confusion on what is and what is not allowed to be mined. Overall, government policies should be aimed at reducing the uncertainties for project proponents who put risk capital on large infrastructure projects,” says Gurpreet Singh Chugh, director, Natural Resources, Crisil Infrastructure Advisory.

Read more: http://forbesindia.com/article/special/all-eyes-on-govt-vs-vedanta-case/34539/1#ixzz2Ii3WE9rq

Aadhaar Card, Now Mandatory for School Students? #WTFnews #UID #illegal


Posted by Arun Prabhudesai on Jan 22, 2013, trak.in

While discussing with a friend in regards to the Aadhar poll that we posted yesterday on trak.in, I came across something quite interesting. It seems that some of the primary and secondary schools are making it mandatory for students to apply for a Aadhar card.

Here is one of the circulars that was released by the school on their website for parents informing them about applying for Aadhar cards for students.

http://www.vpmspune.org/Documents/AadharCardForStudents.pdf

uidpune

It includes schemes that involve payments to service providers providing supplies and services to consumers like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) program which promotes universal primary education for children; program covers funding for school infrastructure, teacher salaries,books, and uniforms.

So, essentially it is important to schools as they will henceforth receive SSA funding based on number of students that may be authenticated using Aadhar Cards.

Have you come across any other schools who are making Aadhar card mandatory?

PLEASE COMMENT WITH DETAILS

 

 

ATTN MUMBAI -Nobel Laureate, John Byrne on Jaitapur nuclear project @Jan23


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Greenpeace is organizing a press conference where John Byrne, noted Nobel Laureate, along with Pradeep Indulkar of Konkan Vinashkari Prakalp Virodhi Samiti, will talk about the Jaitapur nuclear project and dangers of Nuclear Energy.  Byrne is Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP) and Distinguished Professor of Energy and Climate Policy at the University of Delaware.

Admiral (retired) Laxminarayan Ramdas and Lalita Ramdas will also be present. Lalita Ramdas was one of the “1000 Peace Women” nominated collectively for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

 

Details are as follow:

                                Date  : 23rdJanuary 2013  Time  : 12:30pm-2pm

Venue: Conference Room,

     Press Club of Mumbai,

                                              Near Azad Maidan

 

John Byrne: Byrne has published extensively in his field and is a co-editor of the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society and general editor of Energy and Environmental Policy book series. His most recent books are Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice. Byrne is a contributing author to Working Group III, which made contributions to the fourth assessment report, produced special reports on aviation, emission scenarios, technology transfer, ozone and climate, carbon dioxide capture and storage, as well as the third assessment report.

Pradeep Indulkar: Worked at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre from 1983 to 1994 as a Scientific Officer. Presently, he’s working in environment education. He is an anti-nuclear activist and has been working in people’s movement against Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant for past 3 years.

The press conference will be facilitated by Karuna Raina, nuclear campaigner, Greenpeace India.
For more information, please contact:

Nitya Kaushik, media officer, nitya.kaushik@greenpeace.org, +91 9819902763

Shuchita Mehta, media officer, shuchita.mehta@greenpeace.org,  +91 9560990606 

#India- 61-year-old gets UID card with teen’s pic #WTFnews #Aadhaar


TNN Jan 20, 2013, 03.12AM IST

MUMBAI: A 61-year-old citizen in Kalyan recently received his unique identification card (UID), popularly known as Aadhar card, carrying the photograph of a 13-year-old boy against his name and details.

Sharad Gajre, a resident of Tilak Nagar, alleged that he had submitted relevant documents at the UID center in tehsildar’s office with hope that very soon he will get his UID card.

 

Assam: Armyman gets lenient punishment of 3-months imprisonment for #sexualharassment #Vaw


Assam: Armyman accused of molestation sentenced to 3-months imprisonment

PTI / Monday, January 21, 2013 22:43 IST

An army personnel, accused of molesting a teenaged girl in Sibsagar, has been sentenced to three months imprisonment by an army court.

Lance Naik Anil Kumar Upadhaya was tried by an army court and has been sentenced to three months imprisonment, the army informed Sibsagar Deputy Commissioner JN Lahkar in a communication, official sources said on Monday.

Upadhaya has also been demoted to a lower post from his current post of Lance Naik, the communique added.

The teenager was allegedly molested by Army jawans on patrolling duty near a forest in Dolopa area of the district on July 13 last year.

The girl who had gone to collect firewood from the forest was accosted by the armymen, posted in Nitaipukhuri camp, but she raised an alarm following which villagers rushed to the spot and saved her.

The incident led to wide protests in Assam with people demanding that the accused be handed over to police but army maintained that it would first conduct trial in its court.

 

Prisoner of an Image-Abdul Nasser Madani #fabricated


26 January 2013

Why no one speaks for , the ailing politician who has been kept behind bars for years on evidence that is suspect, and how reporting on him made me a target of the Karnataka police
BY Shahina KK EMAIL AUTHOR(S), The Open Magazine
TAGGED UNDER | Karnataka | prisoner | Abdul Nasser Madani
FRAMED
BETWEEN ARRESTS Madani meets the media after his acquittal in the 1998 Coimbatore blasts case; with his sons (in white) on the same day

BETWEEN ARRESTS Madani meets the media after his acquittal in the 1998 Coimbatore blasts case; with his sons (in white) on the same day

Two years ago, I did a story in Tehelka titled ‘Why is this man still in prison?’ It is a question that has still not been answered. Abdul Nasser Madani, a political leader in Kerala and the thirty-first accused in the 2008 Bangalore blast case, remains in jail without bail even though he is a wheelchair-bound chronic diabetic and there are strong indications that the evidence against him is fabricated. Two of the prosecution witnesses, quoted by the police as having witnessed Madani conspiring with a Lashkar-e-Toiba commander to carry out the blast, had told me that they had not seen Madani ever.

It was towards the end of the 1980s that Madani became a dramatic figure in the public life of Kerala. He was a charismatic religious scholar with an extraordinary oratorial flair. He became a crowd puller at a very young age, and had a huge fan following among Muslims. In 1991, he formed the Islamic Seva Sangh (ISS) in response to the riots that took place in Bhagalpur and Kerala following LK Advani’s rathyathra. Among secularists, Madani had no legitimacy and was perceived as just a reactionary counterpoint to the RSS.

Listening to his speeches and spotting his images in newspapers was suffocating and scary to me in the early 1990s. He demanded women cover their bodies. As a Muslim woman, I found it intimidating though I had distanced myself from religion. In course of time, I witnessed Madani metamorphose into the role of a wise politician who called for the emancipation of marginalised and oppressed communities like Dalits and Other Back- ward Communities, besides Muslims. The ISS was banned in 1992. When the Babri Masjid was demolished and unrest spread, Madani did not wait for the ban to be lifted. He disbanded the organisation and formed a political party called the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It was something new to the state, which had traditionally had the limited option of oscillating between the Left Demo- cratic Front and the United Democratic Front. In the November 1993 by-election to the Ottappalam Lok Sabha constituency (the seat had been vacated by KR Narayanan, who moved to become President of India), the PDP supported the Left. Madani’s public life came to a temporary end in 1998 with his arrest by the Tamil Nadu police for his alleged involvement in the Coimbatore bomb blasts the same year.

None of the charges against him were proved and he was acquitted in 2007. But spending nine-and-a-half years in jail as a trial prisoner changed him. The old Madani who delivered belligerent public speeches was gone and the new one turned out to be serenely democratic, non-violent and peaceful in his political discourse. Madani was embraced by the CPM, and a new alliance was born, which would later prove costly for both. Madani could never live down his image of a man who misguided Muslim youth through inflammatory speeches.

In 2009, the Malayalam media was flooded with stories about the complicity of Madani and his wife Soofiya in a few cases that allegedly had terror links. The stories had the typical characteristics of crime reporting with information based largely on ‘highly placed sources’ with no substantiating evidence. This display of antagonism by the media was later interpreted by Kerala’s Left intellectuals as an expression of discontent towards the CPM for allying with the PDP in the 2009 parliamentary polls. Their telling defeat in that election made the CPM believe that the PDP factor had been ruinous to the party. From then on, they kept a distance from Madani. When the Karnataka police arrested him in August 2011, the CPM was in power but it chose to maintain a strategic silence.

The charge against Madani was that he had conspired with T Naseer, reportedly LeT’s south Indian commander, to carry out the 2008 Bangalore blasts. Even before the arrest, Jose Verghese, one of the prosecution witnesses against Madani, had filed a complaint in the National Investigation Agency court claiming that his testimony was forged. He was the owner of the house in Ernakulam that Madani had got on rent after his return from Coimbatore jail. In an interview given to me in 2010, Verghese disclosed why he had gone to court disclaiming his testimony. The police arrived at his house in Kochi (the one rented to Madani, though he had moved out by then) and he was asked to be present. They had brought along a man whose eyes were covered with a piece of cloth. The police told Verghese that the man was LeT commander T Naseer. He was asked to sign a document written in Kannada and told that it was just a statement of their visit and examination of the place. Later, Verghese learnt from the media what the document said—that he had seen Madani and Naseer at that house ‘conspiring to carry out the blast’. Another witness, MM Majeed, a former PDP worker who had testified that he had seen Madani with Naseer, had terminal cancer and was on his death bed on the day the police claimed to have recorded his statement. Another witness was Madani’s brother, Jamal Ahmed, who also moved a complaint in court against the Karnataka police for cooking up a witness statement supposedly made by him.

Till recently, the media and political parties in Kerala had kept mum about these obvious holes in the police charges, and Madani remained a taboo topic for years. Public memory of the case was revived largely through the efforts of the few who continued to argue for the human rights of prisoners. According to his lawyers, his bail pleas have been rejected more than a couple of times on insufficient grounds. According to people who visited him in jail, Madani’s health deteriorates day by day. He moves in a wheelchair ever since he lost one of his legs in the 1993 bomb blast at a public meeting, carried out allegedly by the RSS. The accused in that case were acquitted in 2009 after Madani refused to identify them in court declaring that he did not believe in revenge.

Repeated pleas from his relatives and lawyers to facilitate his treatment had till recently got no result. A recent medical report said Madani has almost completely lost his eyesight. In an open letter to the media, sent from jail, Madani said the authorities had refused to take him to hospital even on producing a medical report that stated he was suffering from acute diabetic retinopathy. The doctors had advised continuous medication and weekly check-ups, but he was only taken to a doctor after a lag of seven months. “His health is critically bad. He has swellings on his legs and face, which is a typical symptom of kidney trouble. One surgery has been conducted on his nose, which has developed an acute infection due to high blood sugar. His nose is plastered. He told me that he has terrible pain in the amputated leg,” says MA Baby, CPM Politburo member and former minister of Kerala who recently visited Madani in jail.

Leaders of the Indian Union Muslim League—a party that had never offered any comment on the false witnesses in Madani’s case—visited him in jail and are now demanding that the government safeguard his human rights. Kanthapuram AP Aboobacker, a prominent Muslim community leader in Kerala, called on the Karnataka home minister and demanded justice in Madani’s case. The CPM too has finally broken its silence. Party leaders visited Madani in jail and expressed grave concern about his health. They demanded that he be shifted to a hospital at the earliest. “We suspect that the evidence against him is fabricated,” said MA Baby to the media while exiting Bangalore’s Parappana Agrahara prison. Even Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has expressed concern. In a meeting with his Karnataka counterpart, Jagadish Shettar, Chandy urged him to ensure medical treatment for Madani. Malayalam news channels have brought back the Madani case on their primetime bulletins, and such pressure has led to some results. Earlier this month, the trial court ordered that Madani be shifted to hospital and granted permission to his wife and son to stay with him. He was finally moved to a private hospital for treatment last week.

What Madani demonstrated in politics was never a model. As a political party, the PDP was a grand failure. It is a nondescript entity full of Madani followers rather than a party with a mass base. In the absence of Madani, the party had no way of surviving or exerting any influence. However, his case is unique: the media always treated him with suspicion; he was imprisoned for a decade, later found innocent, re-arrested and imprisoned.

My own story runs parallel to Madani’s. I recorded the conversation with the fake witnesses against Madani on a hidden camera. After the story was published, I was booked for ‘intimidating the witnesses’ despite the visuals showing them voluntarily telling me everything. For a long time, I travelled to Bangalore every 15 days to present myself before the investigating officer. This was the condition on which I had been granted anticipatory bail by the Karnataka High Court.

When I was framed by the Karnataka police, a couple of newspapers reported the police version as is, without even attributing it to a source, making it look like the charges against me were genuine. Many fellow journalists from my previous stint as a television reporter stopped calling me. Contrary to the conspicuous silence maintained by newspapers, Malayalam weekly magazines came up with cover stories, correctly identifying it as a violation of freedom of the press. A few days ago, a chargesheet was submitted in my case and phase two of the legal battle has begun. I am back to giving interviews to news channels, delivering speeches at public meetings, talking about how people are being framed and how bleak the prospects are for a truly free press in the country.

 

 

#India – Extrajudicial killing in Assam , sparks protests


The Telegraph

Jorhat, Jan. 20: The death of a 20-year-old youth, Lalit Moran, in alleged army firing inside a reserve forest under Digboi police station in Tinsukia district today has created a furore, with locals blocking NH38 claiming that he was innocent.

The Tinsukia district administration ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident this evening and Tinsukia deputy commissioner S.S. Meenakshi Sundaram said over phone that he had asked Margherita sub-divisional magistrate Palash Ranjan Gharphalia to conduct the probe. He said senior police and administration officials were trying to negotiate with the protesters at Tingrai on the highway to withdraw the blockade.

Sundaram said no “clear information” was available about the youth’s death, as police had informed him that an army team was conducting an operation inside the Kakajan-Duarmora reserve forest, where Lalit was allegedly killed. “We are awaiting a report on the incident from the army,” he said.

Sources said Lalit was allegedly killed in the crossfire during a gun battle between army and suspected rebels.

Locals, however, alleged that Moran, a resident of Tingrai Tamuli village near the forest, was shot dead by the army on suspicion of being an Ulfa cadre, which he was not. He had allegedly gone to the forest to collect firewood.

Police sources said there was no information or record available with the department about the youth being associated with any militant outfit.

Tinsukia superintendent of police P.P. Singh, while acknowledging that an army team was carrying out an operation inside the forest, said so far, no information on Lalit’s involvement with any rebel outfit had been established.

He said he, too, was awaiting a report from the army.

Earlier in the day, security forces recovered two IEDs buried in the backyard of one Biswajit Moran’s house at Hahkhati Pathargaon under Kakopathar police station in the district. Moran was subsequently arrested.

The police said about 8kg of powder suspected to be RDX was recovered along with the explosives.

In another incident, two bottle grenades were recovered late last night during a police checking at Bokapara Tinali under Doomdooma police station from two motorcycle-borne youths coming Filobari towards Doomdooma town.

The police said the duo fled the site on seeing the police team, shooting at the policemen as they ran. The two grenades might have fallen off while they were escaping.

Leafing over the past- Feminist Archiving


KAMAYANI BALI MAHABAL, The Hindu, 22/02/2012

  • Fire and grace:Kalpana Dutt Joshi.Photo: Gargi Chakravartty
    Fire and grace:Kalpana Dutt Joshi.Photo: Gargi Chakravartty
  • Family portraits:(Above) Kalpana with her elder son Suraj; (Below) With husband P.C. Joshi.Photos courtesy Joshi family
    Family portraits:(Above) Kalpana with her elder son Suraj; (Below) With husband P.C. Joshi.Photos courtesy Joshi family
  • Free spirit:A woman of many facets.
    Free spirit:A woman of many facets.

This year’s CWDS calendar archives the life and work of revolutionary Kalpana Dutt Joshi through photographs

“Feminist archiving is all about loss and recovery. It is about the celebration of history.” That was Dr. Malavika Karlekar, editor of the Indian Journal of Gender Studies and a fellow at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), Delhi. She was speaking at a national seminar on ‘Feminist Archiving: Possibilities and Challenges’, organised by Dr. Avabai Wadia and Dr. Bomanji Khursehdji Wadia Archives for Women, Research Centre for Women’s Studies and University Library and SNDT Women’s University in association with the Indian Association of Women Studies (IWAS).

While tracing the history of archiving in India, Ms. Karlekar stressed that a major body of historical and archival material needed to be recovered. They exist in various forms, including ballads, texts, pamphlets, postcards, posters and photographs, but they have not been collated or given a social or historical context.

The photographic image, for instance, has not received the kind of attention here, especially when compared to the West. Ms. Karlekar herself got drawn to it almost by accident. It was in 2002 when CWDS mounted an exhibition conceived as a visual documentary to celebrate the metamorphosis of women over 72 years. As curators of that exhibition, she — along with Leela Kasturi and Indrani Majumdar of CWDS — began putting up photographs, some from family, friends, colleagues and institutions. The intention was to recreate the history of Indian women, interwoven into the history of the nation.

Thus began a journey of exploration. The initial collections were mostly studio portraits, with informative annotations on the details of garments and jewellery. They framed women with husbands and children, underlining the attitude that prevailed towards women, especially upper class women, in the late 19th century. Slowly, the postures have relaxed as thought processes got liberated.

As education for women became increasingly emphasised, photographs of indigenous schools showing children from various castes and classes mingling together for the first time, emerged. Soon there were snapshots of women in college — with pioneers like Parvati Kunvar, Emmeline da Cunha, Phulrenu Dutta and Tarabai Nabar seeking higher education.

There is definitely a class issue here. The tricky thing about feminist archiving is ‘who’ gets to represent Indian women. Since photograph was an elite pastime, these archives largely capture upper class lives and, later, those of the emerging middle classes. There is an in-built narcissism discernible, with the ‘other’ (the working class) emerging as figures that provoke curiosity but remain firmly on the margins.

Photo documentation of the early history of the Indian labour force, whether wage labour or bonded labour, is largely absent. Women, in particular, did not leave behind much by way of writings, nor were the early movements of working class women documented in any detail. Explains Ms. Karlekar, “In 1921, the year after women joined Gandhi in his non-cooperation movement, it was estimated that a third of the female population was in the workforce. While a handful became professionals, the majority joined mills, factories and plantations.”

Interestingly, the national movement in which innumerable women participated provided a new visibility to them in the public space. Women like Aruna Asaf Ali, Kasturba Gandhi, Mridula Sarabhai and Kalpana Joshi surfaced as national icons.

From the exhibition that CWDS mounted emerged an interesting concept: “We came up with the idea of having the annual CWDS calendar as a form of a feminist archive. So every year, thereafter, we have had a different theme for our calendars, but they were all forms of feminist archiving,” reveals Ms. Karlekar. Each calendar merges texts with visuals to provide a platform that is easily accessible. It has the ‘every day’ quality of being a calendar, while at the same, through its visuals and captions, reminding people of the richness of India’s feminist history.

The 2013 calendar, titled ‘Fire and Grace: Kalpana Dutt Joshi’, focuses on a revolutionary from the national movement. Joshi was born into a middle class family at Sripur, Chittagong district, which falls in today’s Bangladesh. After she completed her matriculate in 1929, she joined the Chhatri Sangha, a student body. Nationalist leader, Purnendu Dastidar, drew her into the revolutionary activities of Mastarda Surya Sen.

On May 19, 1933, Joshi, along with some comrades, was arrested. In the second supplementary trial of the Chittagong Armory Raid case, Surya Sen and Tarakeswar Dastidar were sentenced to death, and Joshi was sentenced to transportation for life — she was just 20 years. After being released in 1939, she graduated from Calcutta University in 1940. She soon joined the Communist Party of India (CPI) and resumed her battle against British rule.

In 1943, she married P.C. Joshi, a CPI leader. She was back in Chittagong, organising the peasants’ and women’s fronts of the party. In 1946, she contested, though unsuccessfully, in elections to the Bengal Legislative Assembly. After India gained Independence and the sub-continent was partitioned, Kalpana migrated to India and withdrew from active politics. She died on February 8, 1995, in Kolkata.

The 2013 calendar on her reflects the various aspects and problems of archiving — most obviously the lack of material. The first photograph is a mug shot of Joshi kept in prison records and subsequently recovered by the family. There is a significant gap of years between the first and second photograph featured, which was taken after she married P.C. Joshi at a simple wedding ceremony in 1943. The newly-married couple is shown on the terrace of the CPI headquarters in Bombay (now Mumbai). Interestingly, the original photograph had its top corner chopped off near the flag. “Since it was very important to show the flag, we used digital technology to restore it,” explains Ms. Karlekar.

Joshi with her first-born, Suraj, at Balraj Sahni’s Juhu residence in 1946, makes another heart-warming visual. “The problem we faced was the lack of choice, since the photographs we had were limited and could hardly capture the many facets of a revolutionary woman like Kalpana. If you have read the life of Kalpana Joshi, you would know that she lived in a commune. To come across this typical ‘mother and child’ image is something of a surprise, but it is important,” adds Ms. Karlekar.

Another photograph in the calendar was taken nine years later. It shows Joshi with her two sons, Suraj and Chand, in Calcutta, 1949. Ms. Karlekar says, “We had two or three photographs but we chose this utterly delightful one — not only for the look in Kalpana’s eyes but the way the children are obviously attracted to something outside the frame.”

A family photograph follows. The image that opens the calendar is a montage — the photograph of Joshi taken by famous photographer, Sunil Janah, in 1945. It was also featured on the cover of her book, Story Retold . At the insistence of her daughter-in-law, senior journalist Manini Chatterjee, Joshi recounted the fierce Chittagong Uprising — its plan, execution and the martyrdom of Surya Sen.

Feminist archiving is a still at a nascent stage in India. With new technology emerging at a frenetic pace, the curator is left perplexed. As Ms. Karlekar puts it, “How we choose to document or not document a movement is something we need to pay attention to. If we are now documenting and archiving our every move – or so it would appear – what does this say about our relationship to history at that particular moment?”

(Women’s Feature Service)

 

Could India’s Biometric Database Work in the US? #AAdhaar #UID


By Francie Diep, TechNewsDaily Staff Writer

Published January 18, 2013

TechNewsDaily

  • digital-fingerprint

    Could U.S. residents get a biometrics-based ID like India’s? (From Homeland Security)

In the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, those visiting government-subsidized shops have a new way to pay. Jharkhand is testing hand-held machines called micro-ATMs, which scan people’s fingerprints to verify their identity before they do some basic banking, such as depositing or withdrawing cash.

Many micro-ATM users have never held a bank account before, or owned a smartphone or a computer. The technology is part of Aadhaar, a government-run project that has now scanned and saved data from the irises and fingerprints of more than 255 million Indians.

Aadhaar works much like U.S. Social Security numbers do. It gives every enrollee a unique 12-digit identification number and an easy way to prove his identity — basic functions that U.S. residents may take for granted, but that have been a problem in India, especially for its poorest citizens.  Officials and supporters hope Aadhaar will help India’s poor gain benefits while curbing theft and fraud. The country has never had such a widespread ID.

As the number of Aadhaar’s enrollees approaches the population of the United States, which is just under 312 million, we at TechNewsDaily wondered if the U.S. could ever get a biometrics-based ID program. [SEE ALSO: 7 Biometric Technologies on the Horizon]

Not likely, said the experts we contacted. The United States doesn’t have the same need for it that India does, and Americans are warier of privacy issues. Yet that doesn’t mean U.S. agencies aren’t watching Aadhaar’s historic growth, gleaning lessons that they might apply to homeland security schemes in the future.

Why not in the U.S.?

One of the major goals of Aadhaar is to bring basic banking to more Indian adults. Only 35 percent of Indians age 15 and older have an account at a formal financial institution, according to the World Bank. Poorer people and women are less likely to have an account, which means they’re unable earn interest and are at risk for theft.

Aadhaar’s first steps toward banking won’t be big. “I’m basically talking about depositing money, just taking out cash,” said Ravi Bapna, a professor in the school of management at the University of Minnesota. Bapna spoke with TechNewsDaily over Skype from India, where he had taken his graduate students to meet Aadhaar chairman Nandan Nilekani and learn about the program.

“We’re not talking about loans, we’re not talking about mortgages, we’re not talking about insurance products,” Bapna said. Such services will come in the future, he added.

In addition, the Indian government hopes that Aadhaar-enabled bank accounts will allow for the direct deposit of benefits, such as scholarships and food subsidies. Right now, such benefits reach people through middlemen who often take cuts illegally. Many experts have called India’s benefits programs “broken.”

The United States doesn’t have problems of comparable severity. Eighty-eight percent of Americans ages 15 and older have bank accounts, the vast majority of Americans of all ages have Social Security numbers, and benefits fraud isn’t as widespread.

Privacy worries

Bapna and Rajesh Mashruwala, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who previously volunteered as a consultant to Aadhaar, also think that a program like Aadhaar would be politically impossible in the United States.

“The sense of privacy [that the United States has] is different compared to the sense of privacy that emerging countries have,” Mashruwala said.

One way to think of it is that Indians have decided that this type of development is more important than privacy, Bapna said. “That’s the tradeoff that the general populace has made.”

Not everyone in India agrees that it’s a worthwhile tradeoff. Economist R. Ramakumar has been a vocal opponent, publishing op-eds criticizing the project in national newspapers since 2009. He sees Aadhaar as a violation of civil liberties because Indian states — including Maharashta, home of Mumbai, where he lives — have passed orders that make enrolling in Aadhaar virtually compulsory. He cited orders that those without Aadhaar ID numbers can’t draw their salaries or receive their government scholarships.

Aadhaar is supposed to be voluntary, according to the Indian government. “It’s a violation of a promise that the government gave to its people,” Ramakumar told TechNewsDaily during a Skype call.

In addition, there are no laws in place that specify who may get Aadhaar data and under what circumstances. A recent bill with a provision for oversight to Aadhaar access did not pass parliament. “There is no regulation which allows or prevents sharing of this database with police or other agencies. It’s a completely unregulated area,” Ramakumar said.

There’s even a black market that’s sprung up in Mumbai, where poor vendors sell people’s Aadhaar-gathered biometric data, Ramakumar said.

Lessons for the United States

While it may not have an Aadhaar, the United States does have a digital database of fingerprints and machine-recognizable photos for tens of thousands of people. The database is called US-VISIT, short for the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology. US-VISIT tracks immigrants, foreign visitors and naturalized citizens. Aadhaar actually uses specifications for fingerprint technology provided by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

US-VISIT was once the world’s largest biometrics database, but Aadhaar has now overtaken it in size and sophistication, as Aadhaar includes iris scans, a more modern technology.

In some U.S. states, those applying for driver’s licenses must submit digital fingerprints, though no one’s done anything with that data yet, Mashruwala said. Biometrics technology is also creeping into privately made products in the U.S., such as cellphones and tablets that recognize owners’ fingerprints.

So biometrics in the U.S. won’t look quite like biometrics in India, but it’s still coming. And U.S. agencies are talking with their Indian counterparts to learn how to gather and process so many people so quickly, Mashruwala said. US-VISIT collected data from about 70 million people over the course of 13 years, he said. Aadhaar did the same in less than one year.

American agencies are also interested in seeing how Aadhaar’s iris scans work out.

“The U.S. is waiting for someone else to be the first,” Mashruwala said.

You can follow TechNewsDaily staff writer Francie Diep on Twitter @franciediep. Follow TechNewsDaily on Twitter @TechNewsDaily, or on Facebook.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/01/18/could-india-biometric-database-work-in-us/#ixzz2IffP7x82

 

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