Statement condemning the Targeting and Vilification of Harsh Mander by Narendra Modi

Statement condemning the Targeting and Vilification of

Harsh Mander by Narendra Modi

N Delhi,

12th, June, 2013


With great pride we would like to put on record that the work of our colleague and friend Harsh Mander, for the last several years, both inside the Government as a civil servant, as well as outside the Government as a policy maker, researcher and activist has been, that of promoting in the most ethical way, non-violent ways of ensuring justice to survivors of violence due to their gender, class, caste, religious group, ethnicity or nationality. The most prominent violence which Harsh’s work has highlighted has been the one committed on the vulnerable by both the State and Society due to their invisibility, whether they be the homeless, the destitute, the old or street people.

It is shocking that the “aspirant PM” Narendra Modi has been targetting Harsh for the last week calling him a Maoist. Thus trying to belittle his work, raising doubts about him and villifying his name in public. This targetting of individuals and organisations and vilifying them is not new, earlier too he had spewed venom against Syeda Hammed, Teesta Setalvad and Shabnam Hashni amongst the several and now the new whipping boys are Harsh Mander and Dr. Binayak Sen.

The hiring of Padma, a single poor woman, estranged from her husband, as a care giver in one of the 45 Institutions for street and abandoned children run by Aman Biradari, is being twisted and used by Modi to prove that Harsh is a Maoist sympathiser. The latest spin that Harsh Mander is in any way involved with the Maoists and that he may have had anything to do at all with the abduction of Vineel Krishna, the then District Collector of Malkangiri is patently false, concocted and the figment of a very perverted imagination.

This absolutely absurd claim and false connection being made by Modi only exposes his brand of politics which is seeped, in his parent organisation the RSS from where Mr. Modi has learnt to distort facts and spread hate. His anger against Harsh also clearly goes back to the latter’s work in Gujarat struggling over ten years to ensure justice to those affected by the 2002 communal genocide. It maybe recalled that Harsh had left the prestigious civil services in 2002 and plunged himself in Gujarat and other parts of India in order to quell communal fire from spreading and working towards justice and rehabilitation of the survivors.

It goes without saying that this vilification of Harsh for partisan electoral politics be stopped. It is vital for all to understand that the perils of allowing such politics to take centre stage where democratic rights of people are attacked, impacting their right to work as they choose, amounts to an attack on the very basis of our country’s plural existence. We hope that such politics will not be promoted by political parties and the media so that people can continue to work freely for public good.

We are,

All names are in Alphabetical order



  1. Abhay Kumar, Right to Food Campaign Karnataka
  2. Akhila Sivadas, Centre for Advocacy and Research, N Delhi
  3. Ankita Agarwal, Researcher, N Delhi
  4. Annie Raja, National Federation for Indian Women, N Delhi
  5. Anuradha Talwar, New Trade Union Initiative, N Delhi
  6. Anjali Bharadwaj, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, NDelhi
  7. Apoorvanand, Prof. University of Delhi
  8. Arun Gupta and Radha Holla, Breast Feeding Promotion Network of India),
  9. Arundhati Dhuru and Ulka Mahajan, National Alliance of People’s Movements,
  10. Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shanker Singh,  Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan
  11. Asha Mishra, Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti, N.Delhi
  12. Ashok Bharti, National Conference of Dalit Organizations, N Delhi
  13. Ashok Khandelwal, Rozi Roti Sandharbh Kendra, Rajasthan
  14. Balram, Gurjeet Singh and James Herenj (Jharkhand)
  15. Bhanwar Singh, Astha, Udaipur
  16. Bidyut Mohanty, SPREAD, Orissa
  17. Bindu Singh, Right to food Campaign, Uttar Pradesh, 
  18. Biraj Patnaik, Centre Equity Studies, NDelhi
  19. Chingmak Chang, ECS, Nagaland
  20. Clifton, Alternative law forum, Bangalore
  21. Colin Gonsalves, Human Rights Law Network, Delhi
  22. Dheeraj, Coordinator Right to Food Campaign, N Delhi
  23. Dipa Sinha, Ph.D Scholar, JNU
  24. Fr. Jothi SJ and Mr. Saradindu Biswas, Right to Food and work campaign, West Bengal
  25. Gangabhai, Social Activist, Chhattisgarh
  26. G V Ramanjaneyulu, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture,
  27. Himanshu, Associate Professor,  JNU
  28. Jean Dreze, Economist, Allahabad University
  29. Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Human rights activist, Mumbai
  30. Kavitha Kurughanti, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture
  31. Kavita Srivastava, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan
  32. M Kodandram,  Academic, Central University, Hyderabad
  33. Madhuresh, NAPM
  34. Madhuri Krishnaswamy, Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan
  35. Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Badwani
  36. Mira Shiva, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, N Delhi
  37. Mukta Srivastava, Anna Adhikar Abhiyan, Maharashtra
  38. Nishat Hussein, National Muslim Women’s Welfare Society, Jaipur
  39. Paul Divakar and Asha Kowtal, National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights,
  40. 40. Pushpa, Dharmender, Ramendra, Yogesh, Vimla and Sarita (Delhi),
  41. Prof. Mohammed Hasan, Independent Scholar, Jaipur
  42. Prem Krishan Sharma, PUCL, Rajasthan
  43. Radha Kant Saxena, PUCL, Rajasthan
  44. 44. Raj Kishore Mishra, Rupantar, Orissa
  45. Rama Melkote, Prof. Central University, Hyderabad
  46. 46. Reetika Khera, Economist, N Delhi
  47. Rupesh, Koshish, Bihar,
  48. 48. Sachin Jain, Vikas Smawad, Madhya Pradesh,
  49. 49. Sameer Garg, Chaupal, Chhattisgarh
  50. Saito Basumaatary, People’s Rights Forum, Guwahati
  51. Sejal Dand and Sumitra Thakkar, Anna Adhikar Suraksha Abhiyan, Gujarat
  52. Shabnam Hashmi, Anhad
  53. Swapan Ganguly, Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti, WB
  54. Subhash Bhatnagar, National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector workers
  55. Sunil Kaul, The Ant, Assam,
  56. Suresh Sawant, Rationing Kruti Samiti, Maharashtra,
  57. Tarun Bharatiya, Film Maker, Meghalaya,
  58. V Suresh, PUCL, Tamil Nadu,
  59. Veena Shatrugna, Nutritionist expert, Hyderabad
  60. 60. Vidhya Das, Agragamee, Orissa
  61. Vijay Lakshmi, RTI Manch, Rajasthan, Jaipur
  62. Vinod Raina, Educationist, NDelhi
  63. Vipul Mudgal, Senior Fellow, CSDS

Why civil Liberties activists walked out from Nandan Nilekani’s lecture #mustread #UID

Dear Fellow Citizens,

This is to inform you about why the civil Liberties activists walked out from the Sixth Justice VM Tarkunde Memorial Lecture because Shri Nandan Manohar Nilekani was chosen to deliver it on November 23, 2012.

While delivering his welcome address while introducing the legacy of Justice Tarkunde, the stalwart of civil liberties, Kuldip Nayar, veteran journalist and former ambassador underlined that the democratic space is shrinking and had Justice Tarkunde been alive he would have opposed centralized databases like Union Home Ministry’s National Population Register (NPR) and Centralized Identities Data Register (CIDR) because it is an assault on civil liberties and human rights.

It is noteworthy that Shri Ashok Desai, a Senior Advocate who was on the dais to introduce the Speaker also raised the issue of the fear of an emerging Orwellian situation where a Big Brother watch on everybody drawing from George Orwell‘s book 1984 that taught us that an all-knowing corrupt government is a terrifying situation.

We wish to inform you that as soon as Shri Nilekani started speaking, a significant section of the audience comprising of civil liberties activists walked out in protest from the Multi-purpose Hall of India International Centre, New Delhi. Those who walked out included Vrinda Grover, a well known lawyer, Dr Usha Ramanathan, noted jurist, Kalyani Menon Sen, a reputed feminist writer and researcher, , students of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students, former Presidents of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU), Sandeep Singh and Sucheta De, Gopal Krishna, Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL) and several others.

The walk out was a protest against Shri Nilekani being invited to deliver the lecture in memory of the stalwart of human rights and civil liberties, Justice Tarkunde. The UID project has been challenged since its inception. The activists who walked out of the lecture have repeatedly tried to engage with Shri Nilekani at various public platforms but he has consistently declined to answer their questions or enter into any discussion with them.

The civil liberties activists circulated a Statement of Concern on UID-Aadhaar which included demands like “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 and a public, informed debate be conducted before any such major change be brought in.”  This statement was issued by Justice VR Krishna Iyer, Retired Judge, Supreme Court of India, Prof Romila Thapar, Historian, Late K.G.Kannabiran, Senior Civil Liberties Lawyer, Kavita Srivastava, PUCL Aruna Roy, MKKS, Nikhil Dey, MKKS, Late S.R.Sankaran, Retired Secretary, Government of India, Deep Joshi, Independent Consultant, Prof. 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, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and Association for Democratic Reforms, Prof. Jagdish Chhokar, ex- Indian Institute of Management, Ahemdabad and Association for Democratic Rights, Shabnam Hashmi, ANHAD and Justice A.P. Shah, Retired Chief Justice of High Court of Delhi. But till date these concerns and questions remain unanswered.

The organizers rushed and tried to take back the papers but several members of the audience refused to hand over the papers. As the activists walked out, the organizers termed the peaceful and silent distribution of the Statement of Concern on UID as ‘trouble’. After the program, many members of the audience who came out after hearing the lecture revealed that it was not at all convincing.

Most respectfully, we are submitting ten questions for your consideration:

1.   Why do we need Unique Identification (UID)-Aadhaar Number as a 16th identity proof which in fact is an identifier and not an identity proof. Hasn’t linking of cash transfer with UID made it mandatory contrary to its continued claim that it is voluntary? 

In the beginning, it was said that the UID would be voluntary. Now, it is creeping into becoming mandatory, with the threat that those who don’t have a UID cannot access services of many kinds, including rations and bank accounts. How does NN see the implications of this creep for civil liberties and the rights of the people?

2. Why present and future Indian citizens should be allowed profiled based on biometric data? Are citizens worse than prisoners? The indiscriminate collection of biometrics of prisoners is not allowed as per Identification of Prisoners Act.

3. Why have countries like UK, Australia, the Philippines rejected UID like projects?

Countries such as the UK, Australia, the Philippines have rejected identity projects that closely resemble the UID project because of its civil liberty implications, the prohibitive cost, the untested technology and because it will make the people subservient to the state. What is the reason for thinking that Indian citizens can bear these risks and costs?

4.  How can UIDAI and UID project be deemed legitimate if it has been disapproved as violation of the prerogative of the Parliament by Parliamentary Committee on Finance

The Parliamentary Committee on Finance, in December 2011, roundly disapproved of the proposed Bill and the project. The government has not come up with a revised law, and there is in fact no law that, today, governs the project. Isn’t the protection of the citizen by law important?

5. Who will be held accountable for violation of citizen’s privacy law and data protection?

The UID project poses a threat to the privacy rights of citizens, and Shri Nandan Nilekani has acknowledged that many times over. Yet, the project is steaming ahead without any law on privacy in place, and is believed to be breaching many privacy principles. How is Shri Nandan Nilekani addressing this in his project as project leader?

6. If violation of confidentiality promised in the Census Act is done with impunity, how can census like UID exercise be trusted? 

7. What is the guarantee that whosoever controls Centralized Database of Indians will not become autocrat like Hosni Mubarak who handed over citizens’ database to US Government?

8. Isn’t the entire UID related exercise meant to provide market for biometric and surveillance technology companies and World Bank’s partners like International Business Machines (IBM), Gemalto, Intel, Safran Group, Microsoft, and Pfizer, France and South Korea?

There is an extraordinary dependence on corporations, many of them companies with close links with foreign intelligence agencies. How are the implications of this factor being dealt with?

9. Isn’t linking of UID with voter id, land titles, National Intelligence Grid, National Population Register (NPR), National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) etc an assault to rights of citizens? 

The ubiquity that the UIDAI is trying to get for the UID — where it will be linked with the National Population Register, and service such set ups as the CCTNS, the NCTC, the NATGRID– where are the protections for the citizen from an invasive state?

10. Who will guarantee that the centralized database of UID, NPR will not be used for holocaust, genocide, communal and ethnic riots, targeting of minorities and political dissidents?          

Why is technology treated as if it has no politics, or no civil liberties implications, when we know that it most certainly does?

As a background to the goings on around UID related developments, we wish to draw your attention towards what Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance said about the Unique Identification (UID)-Aadhaar number project of Shri Nandan Manohar Nilekani, Chairman, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) who is helping create a Database and a Surveillance State based on illegal and illegitimate collection of biometric data despite explicit legislative disapproval.

In its report to the Parliament, the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance has taken on board studies done in the UK on the identity scheme that was begun and later withdrawn in May 2010 when the proponents of ID project were defeated in the elections. The Committee took note of the problems like “(a) huge cost involved and possible cost overruns; (b) too complex; (c) untested, unreliable and unsafe technology; (d) possibility of risk to the safety and security of citizens; and (e) requirement of high standard security measures, which would result in escalating the estimated operational costs” in undertaking such projects.

We submit that the Parliamentary Committee has noted that the Central Government has “admitted that (a) no committee has been constituted to study the financial implications of the UID scheme; and (b) comparative costs of the aadhaar number and various existing ID documents are also not available.” In view of such glaring omissions, the Parliamentary Committee denounced the UID/aadhaar project as `unethical and violative of Parliament’s prerogatives’ and as akin to an ordinance when the Parliament is in session.

It may noted that Supreme Court of Republic of the Philippines July 23, 1998 rejected the National ID program initiated by President Fidel V. Ramos on December 12, 1996 through “Adoption of a National Computerized Identification Reference System” in its 60 page judgment on two important constitutional grounds, viz: one, it is a usurpation of the power of Congress to legislate, and two, it impermissibly intrudes on our citizenry’s protected zone of privacy. In India, High Courts of Madras, Mumbai and now the Supreme Court are seized with the matter.

We submit that among many questions that have emerged, one is: Has Shri Nilekani, in rank of the Cabinet Minister taken the oath on Constitution of India to abide by its provisions?

It must be remembered that even Mahatma Gandhi opposed a law similar to UID as a Black Act in South Africa from 1906 to 1914 saying,”…I have never known legislation of this nature being directed against free men in any part of the world. I know that indentured Indians in Natal are subject to a drastic system of passes, but these poor fellows can hardly be classed as free men” and “…giving of finger prints, required by the Ordinance, was quite a novelty in South Africa. With a view to seeing some literature on the subject, I read a volume on finger impressions by Mr. Henry, a police officer, from which I gathered that finger prints were required by law only from criminals.”

In August 1906 the Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance became law in the Transvaal. Any Indian who did not register by a certain date would no longer be allowed to stay in the Transvaal. This law stated that every Indian man, woman or child older than 8 years must register with a government official called the registrar of Asiatics. This registrar was to also take the fingerprints of the people he registered and issue them with registration certificates, which they had to show to any policeman who asked to see them. Notably, UID scheme too is based on biometric data like finger prints and iris scan.

It is noteworthy that PUCL had already disassociated itself from the Sixth Justice VM Tarkunde Memorial Lecture program because of wrong choice of speaker. In a letter dated November 21, 2012 to the human rights community, V Suresh, National General Secretary (Elect), People’s Union for Civil liberties (PUCL) 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.”

In view of the massive opposition to the proposed databases as the structural basis being laid out for future authoritarianism through despotic projects like UID, NPR, National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), Human DNA Profiling, National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), Land Titling Bill, 2011 and Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations, we invite the urgent intervention of the fellow citizens to boycott and oppose such illegitimate advances of the State at the behest of the ungovernable and unregulated foreign biometric and surveillance technology companies.

We submit that the collection of biometric data supports the ideology of biological determinism with its implicit and explicit faith in the biometric technologies. There are dangers of trusting such technological advances for determining social policies.

On behalf of the groups working on civil liberties we request you to consider the merit of the opposition to biometric identification exercises and the assault on civil liberties and examine the ramifications of the unfolding automatic identification regime being facilitated by Shri Nilekani, and others in the face of corporate media unquestionably promoting identification and surveillance technology companies.

We submit that rewriting and engineering the electoral ecosystem with the unconstitutional and illegal use of biometric technology in a context where electoral finance has become source of corruption and black money in the country. This would lead to linking of UID, Election ID and Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) which is not as innocent and as politically neutral as it has been made out to be. It is noteworthy that all EVMs have a UID as well.

We submit that the Parliamentary Committee on Finance on National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 (UID Bill) has already rejected the idea of biometric data based identification scheme for mankind’s biggest database ever and the UID Bill.

In the face of such attack on citizen’s sovereignty despite explicit legislative disapproval, support of informed citizens is urgently needed to safeguard civil liberties and human rights of present and future generations.

We will be happy to share relevant documents and information in this regard.

civil liberties activists


People’s Power Challenges State Power; Refuses to Bow Down to State Terror


Medha Patkar, Dayamani Barla, and others Bail Plea Not Heard Today


Chindwada / Narmada Valley / Jobat / Pune / Mumbai, November 5 : In a series of incidents various movements affiliated with National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) stood up to administration and state terror today. Bowing under the pressure from people and various quarters they have resorted to further illegalities and arrests. They have no answer to the truthful and peaceful struggles of people for their rights and justice.


Medha Patkar, National Convener was arrested late last night in Chindwara in Madhya Pradesh along with Mukesh Bhagoriya of Narmada Bachao Andolan, Rakesh, Devi Singh and others of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, who were forcefully evicted from Satyagraha site. Against this illegal arrest and administration’s refusal to allow any meeting with her lawyer or others Medha Patkar started hunger strike in the jail itself. She has slip disc and is in pain, a doctor was called for medical check up but she needs medical attention. Later in evening, City Magistrate K B Tripathi refused to accept bail application of Medha and ors citing administration pressure. When pressed to give in writing by layer D K Prajapati, Judge left the court. Lawyers have faxed a complaint with the bail application to the Chief Justice of Jabalpur High Court. As we write Collector Mahesh Choudhri has called for a dialogue with the activists. See details of the yesterday’s happenings here


Bail plea for Aradhana Bhargava was also filed today in Chaurai Court. Dr. Sunilam’s bail plea in Jabalpur High Court is yet to be filed. Preprations are ongoing at the moment. Situation in Chindwara continues to be tensed with police terrorising farmers and not allowing their entry in town or meeting with arrested activists.


Meanwhile, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Swami Agnivesh, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, Jan Sangharsh Morcha, National Forum of Forest People and Forest People, INSAF and other movement groups condemned the illegal arrest and high handedness of the police and MP government. People’s Union for Civil Liberties also apporached National Human Rights Commission seeking their immediate intervention in the matter.

Delhi Solidarity Group, AISA, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, NAPM and other groups have called for a demonstration infront of the Madhya Pradesh Bhawan in Delhi tomorrow, November 7th at 2:30pm.


Dayamani Barla’s Bail Plea Not Heard Today in Ranchi


Meanwhile, today Dayamani Barla’s bail application came for hearing but the Magistrate could not appear due to sickness. The matter has now been listed for November 8th hearing. Ranchi police has also now charged her with another case related to resistance against land acquisition for IIM Ranchi in Nangdi village, near Ranchi. Earlier in morning Dr. Sandeep Pandey, National Convener, NAPM went and met Dayamani Barla in jail and extended solidarity.


200 projects affected people arrested and produced in Court in Pune


In Pune, today 200 affected people from Wang Marathwadi dam, Lavasa Hill city project and 100 year old Tata dam in Pune district were arrested by police after they finished an hour and half long meeting with Divisional Commissioner, Prabhakar Deshmukh at his office. They had gathered infront of the DC office after giving adequate notice, but the DC refused to meet them. Later he met them after much persistence and gave assurances to take action on the issues pertaining to resettlement and rehabilitation for the Wang Marathwadi dam affected people who faced submergence in August and organised jal satyagraha against illegal submergence. DC also promised to provide the caste certificate to the tribals living in Lavasa hill city area whose land has been illegally acquired for the project. Activists also demanded action against the Lavasa corporation which is carrying on the construction in violation of the High Court and MoEF‘s stop work order. They also demanded that administration take action for regularization of 80 years settlements of the project affected people of Tata Dam in Lonavala area, since they have received eviction notices from the Municipal Corporation. It needs to be noted that Tata is holding 27,000 acres of extra land acquired from farmers but is not making available land for the projects affected families, who are now living in upper reaches of hills next to reservoir. However,, Tata’s have sold land to film stars and resorts for their profit, but district administration has refused to take action against this after many representations.


Suniti S R, National Convener, NAPM said that they will not seek bail from the Court and would rather go to jail. Activists continue to be in the Court as we write this.


Sion Koliwada, Mumbai Slum Rehabilitation Scheme Update

In a separate incidence, in Sion Kolidwada, Mumbai, Sahana group (Sudhakar Reddy’s) developer for the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme came under heavy police protection to fence the land including six houses which could not be demolished in May earlier this year. It needs to be noted that in May – June, Sion Koliwada faced demolitions and Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao activists were in jail for more than 10 days. Builders came today citing a court order and police provided them security on the same ground. “But what about other court order which says builder illegally got the deal in first place itself, why are you not taking action on that”, asks Madhuri Shivakar, GBGB activist who was herself in jail at that time. See NAPM’s earlier update on this issue and


Narmada Bachao Andolan Reaps the Harvest at the Occupied Farm Land in Jobat

Today, nearly 400 quintal of Jowar and Maize produce was distributed amongst the adivasis affected by the Jobat and Sardar Sarovar dams. They have been collectively farming on the land occupied by the Narmada Bachao Andolan for more than a year now. NBA resorted to Zameen Haq Satyagraha in Jobat on the government agriculture farm since the adminsitration has failed to provide for resettlement and rehabilitation of the project affected people, inspite of several court orders and Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal. “We will continue to occupy the land and grow food on it until we get our due rights. Adivasis and farmers are being robbed of their possession and MP government is giving land tocompanies in investors meet. We will continue our struggle for rights of the people affected by dams on Narmada,” said Shrikanth of Narmada Bachao Andolan.


For details call : Madhuresh 9818905316 or write to


#India- Government withdraws RTI Act amendments #goodnews

New Delhi,Politics,Immigration/Law/Rights, Thu, 01 Nov 2012IANS
New Delhi, Nov 1 (IANS) Under pressure from UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the Manmohan Singh government Thursday withdrew the controversial amendments aimed at diluting the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
“The cabinet decided to withdraw the amendments to the RTI Act,” a government source told IANS after a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The campaign against the amendments was led by activist Aruna Roy, a member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council.
The withdrawal of amendments would mean it would be possible for the citizens to ask for information related to file notings, except on issues about national security, privacy and protection of commercial interest. The amendments had sought to restrict disclosure of file notings only to social and developmental issues.
“It is an important decision. The amendments would have killed the RTI Act and there would have been no transparency in governance,” Nikhil Dey, who works closely with Aruna Roy on the RTI Act, told IANS.
Roy even met Gandhi on the government’s plans to dilute the act. Chief Information Commissioner Satyanand Mishra was also not in favour of the amendments, said sources.
The RTI Act was introduced during the previous UPA government to bring more transparency in governance and fight corruption.

Intent can be reason for denying information to applicant

English: Adivasi woman and child, Chhattisgarh...

Intent can be reason for denying information to applicant

Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly hikes application fee to Rs 500, could also reject request for information

Prakhar Jain
New Delhi

In a move that is clearly against the letter and spirit of Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly will now consider an applicant’s intent before providing information. The Assembly could even reject the application if it is convinced that it has been made with mala fide intent. This clearly goes against the Act, which says that an applicant requesting for information shall not be required to give any reason.

The Assembly, which had issued a notification to this effect last month, also hiked the fee for an RTI application from Rs 10 to Rs 500. Besides, the applicant will have to pay Rs 15 per copy of any document instead of the standard fee of Rs 2 charged across the country.

Devendra Verma, Secretary, Legislative Assembly, explains, “Earlier, there were no (specific) rules for the Legislative Assembly. While framing rules, we adopted from Uttar Pradesh”. The intent clause has been derived, he says, from the Preamble of the RTI Act.

Dharam Lal Kaushik, Speaker of the house, defends the notification saying that information regarding questions raised by Assembly members is still provided at Rs 1 per copy. Higher fee would apply only to information sought about the Assembly, he says.

Activists who have fought a long battle for introduction of the RTI Act are appalled. “Imagine a person who buys a kilo of ration for Rs 5 per kg. He/she will have to sacrifice the budget for 100 kg of ration to just file an RTI application. It goes against the spirit of the Act,” says Shekhar Singh, whose NGO National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) has been instrumental in introducing the RTI Act. The NGO, which has termed the fee hike arbitrary and harsh, will issue a press note on the matter.

Shailesh Gandhi, Central Information Commissioner, couldn’t agree more. “Bad practices set precedents easily. This is disappointing. The intent clause is disrespectful of the law. The RTI Act mentions a reasonable fee and Rs 500 is not reasonable. These (legislative) bodies just don’t want to provide information,” he told TEHELKA. Gandhi has even shot off letters to the Chief Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Speaker asking them to maintain the earlier fee amounts.

This is not the first time that such a step has been initiated in the state. In 2009, the government limited the word count to 150 and number of subjects to one for every RTI application. The ‘one subject per application’ rule in turn was adopted by the Madhya Pradesh Assembly in 2010.

Nikhil Dey of NCPRI says that “restricting the subject to just one is illegal as the RTI Act clearly provides for even partial transfer of application to other public authorities if all the information is not available with one department”.

Prateek Pandey, RTI activist from Chhattisgarh Citizen Initiative, recalls his experience. “Once, I asked the ex-State Information Commissioner (SIC) to define ‘subject’ and he just smiled. If the SIC can’t answer that, how will a Public Information Officer? Everyone interprets it in his own way,” he says.

The Chhattisgarh Assembly has been feeling the heat of several RTI applications of late. An Information Commissioner of the state recently had ruled against the “Speaker’s privilege” to deny information in the case of an applicant seeking audit reports of accounts of the house and RTI applications received by it. Many legislators have also been in line of fire due to information obtained under RTI applications last year which revealed them receiving gifts like microwave ovens, washing machines, etc. bought in violation of rules by various state departments.

The way ahead is either to accept the Assembly’s decision or resort to legal means. According to Singh, confrontation can be avoided. He gives the example of Manipur, which had taken a similar decision on RTI applications. However, when activists wrote to the government expressing concerns, the application fee was reduced.

Prakhar Jain is a Correspondent with Tehelka.

Setback to UID – Usha Ramanathan

At Tembhli village in Nandurbar district, a day before the launch of the UID in 2010.The village received the first numbers under the project.

At Tembhli village in Nandurbar district, a day before the launch of the UID in 2010.The village received the first numbers under the project.

THE Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance has dealt a body blow to the Unique Identification (UID) project.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was set up under the Planning Commission by an executive order on January 28, 2009. The scheme involves the collection of demographic and biometric information to issue ID numbers to individuals. The first numbers were handed to the tribal residents of Tembhili village in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra on September 29, 2010. The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 3, 2010. On December 10, 2010, it was referred to the Standing Committee.

Over the next year, the Standing Committee received suggestions, views and memoranda, and heard from various institutions, experts and individuals. It was briefed by representatives of the Planning Commission and the UIDAI. News reports were considered and clarifications sought from the Planning Commission. The Standing Committee adopted the report on December 8, 2011. On December 13, 2011, it was placed before Parliament.

The report is a severe indictment of the UID project. It found the project to be “conceptualised with no clarity of purpose” and “directionless” in its implementation, leading to “a lot of confusion”. The overlap between the National Population Register (NPR) and the UID is unresolved. The structure and functioning of the UIDAI had not been determined before beginning the exercise. The methodology of collection of data is built on shifting sands. There is no focussed purpose for the resident identity database.

Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the UIDAI, in his talks and interviews, calls it “open architecture”. The UID project is only about producing a number and linking an identity to the number. What could be done with that identity infrastructure will depend on who uses it and for what purpose. It leaves the field open for those who have the power to use, or abuse, the data and for those who use the number to converge on data about individuals.

Even as it is claimed that obtaining the UID number is voluntary, apprehensions have grown that services and benefits will be denied to those without the number. This is an inversion of the idea of inclusion, which is a key element in the image-building exercise done for the project.

The lack of preparation before launching a project of this dimension is striking. As the Planning Commission admitted to the Standing Committee, no committee had been constituted to study the financial implications of the project. There is no comparative analysis of costs of the UID number and the various extant ID documents. No comprehensive feasibility study was carried out at any time. In fact, the Detailed Project Report was done as late as April 2011. On September 28, 2010, a day before the launch, a group of eminent citizens, including V.R. Krishna Iyer, Romila Thapar, Upendra Baxi, A.P. Shah, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, S.R. Sankaran, Bezwada Wilson, and nine others released a statement reflecting just these concerns. This statement was later submitted to the Standing Committee. In the time that elapsed between the expression of concern by the group of eminent citizens and the report of the Standing Committee, the situation had hardly changed.

The Standing Committee has found the project to be “full of uncertainty in technology as the complex scheme is built upon untested, unreliable technology and several assumptions”. This is a serious concern given that the project is about fixing identity through the use of technology, especially biometrics. As early as December 2009, the Biometrics Standards Committee set up by the UIDAI had reported adversely on the error rate. Since then, neither the Proof of Concept studies nor any assessment studies done by the UIDAI have been able to affirm the possibility of maintaining accuracy as the database expands to accommodate 1.2 billion people. The estimated failure of biometrics is expected to be as high as 15 per cent.

Critics of the project have referred to studies such as the 2010 report of the National Research Council in the United States (cited in Frontline December 2, 2011: “How reliable is UID?”), which concluded that “human recognition systems” are “inherently probabilistic and hence inherently fallible”. In India, a report from 4G Identity Solutions, which is a consultant to the UIDAI and supplies it with biometric devices, suggested that children under 12 years and persons over 60 years would find their fingerprints to be undependable biometrics. Most damaging to the credibility of using fingerprints for authentication – which is what is proposed and currently seen as practical in terms of cost and technology – is what Ram Sevak Sharma, Director-General and Mission Director of the UIDAI said in an interview to Frontline (December 2, 2011, page 8): “Capturing fingerprints, especially of manual labourers, is a challenge. The quality of fingerprints is bad because of the rough exterior of fingers caused by hard work and this poses a challenge for later authentication…. Issuing a unique identity with iris scans to help de-duplication will not be a major problem. But authentication will be because fingerprint is the basic mode of authentication.” The Standing Committee has taken this admission on board.

Enrolment requires an individual to produce documents that the enroller accepts as sufficient proof of person and address. When documents do not exist, or they are inadequate for the purpose, a person may find a “verifier” to establish their identity. Or, especially in the case of the poor, they may be introduced to the system by approved introducers. In practice, these two methods have been shown to be irrational and prone to error. The Home Ministry had questioned this erratic method of enrolment and its implications for national security. These concerns have resonated with the Standing Committee.

Nilekani has been talking about enrolling 600 million residents before he completes his term in 2014. However, it seems that the Cabinet Committee on UID had, in the first instance, given its approval to let him enrol 10 crore residents, which was later increased to 20 crores. The UIDAI does not currently have the mandate to enrol more than that number. To meet his target of 600 million, Nilekani entered into memorandums of understanding with a multiplicity of entities, including State governments, banks, oil companies and insurance companies, to act as registrars. This may have helped in spreading the net wider to capture residents to get their demographic and biometric data. But it also meant that the chances of duplication of work increased. The Ministry of Home Affairs also alleged that some registrars had not adhered to the procedures laid down by the UIDAI, setting the MoUs to nought. This, it was feared, was also compromising the security and confidentiality of the information gathered. The Standing Committee found that issues relating to the process of data collection, the duplication of efforts and the security of data remained unresolved.

The UIDAI says it is now developing a monitoring and evaluation framework. There are plans for periodic audits. The project has carried on so far without these essential safeguards.

There has been speculation that the dissensions within are signs of a turf war. There could be something in that. Yet, the Standing Committee report reveals that the issues have been raised by a range of agencies and they are impossible to ignore. So:

the Ministry of Finance (Department of Expenditure) has been concerned about the duplication of effort and expenditure among at least six agencies that collect information – the NPR, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS), the BPL (below poverty line) Census, the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) and bank smartcards.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has raised security concerns about “introducers”, the involvement of private agencies which could also have security implications, and the uncertainties in the revenue model of the UIDAI which proposes that a fee be imposed once a separate pricing policy is in place.

The NIC has pointed out that privacy and security of UID data may be better handled if they were stored in a government data centre.

The Planning Commission has voiced its reservations about the merits and functioning of the UIDAI. It has also questioned the necessity of collecting iris images, which has resulted in a steep escalation of costs.

Further, there is the matter of the number of government agencies collecting biometrics as part of different schemes that ought to give one pause.

Setting a refreshing precedent, the Standing Committee has drawn on the research around the United Kingdom’s Identity Project anchored at the London School of Economics and Political Science. While acknowledging that there are likely to be differences between one jurisdiction and another, it found it relevant to draw lessons regarding the factors of complexity; untested, unreliable and unsafe technology; possibility of risk to the safety and security of citizens; and requirement of security measures of a high standard, which is likely to result in escalating operational costs.

In the UID project, every resident is entitled to a UID number. It is not a marker of citizenship. The Standing Committee’s concern is that even illegal migrants can get the UID number. It favours restricting the scheme to citizens for the reason that this entails numerous benefits proposed by the government.

What upset the Standing Committee most was the disdain shown to Parliament in proceeding with the project, on the premise that the “powers of the executive are coextensive with legislative power of the government”. What would happen if Parliament rejected the project and the law?

In the Attorney-General’s opinion: “If the Bill is not passed for any reason and if Parliament is of the view that the authority should not function and expresses its will to that effect, the exercise would have to be discontinued. This contingency does not arise.” This anticipation has been belied by the rejection of the project and of the Bill by the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee also considered “unethical and violation of Parliament’s prerogatives” the continuance of the project while the framing of the law is under way.

The government, as the Standing Committee records, had recognised the need for a law to deal with the security and confidentiality of information, imposition of obligation of disclosure of information in certain cases, impersonation at the time of enrolment, investigation of acts that constitute offences, and unauthorised disclosure of information. Yet the project was rolled out with no protections in place.

The Standing Committee recognised the legitimacy of concerns raised about issues, including access and misuse of personal information, surveillance, profiling, linking and matching databases in securing confidentiality of information. A data protection law has to be debated and enacted before large-scale collection of information from individuals and its linkage across separate databases can be contemplated.

The “concerns and apprehensions” voiced by the Standing Committee have led to its categorical rejection of the Bill. In conclusion, the committee has said that it will “urge the government to reconsider and review the UID scheme as also the proposals contained in the Bill in all its ramifications and bring forth a fresh legislation before Parliament”.

The data already collected may be transferred to the NPR, if the government so chooses.

That, however, is not all. The NPR, which came in for scrutiny because of its link with the UID project, has embarked on the collection of biometric data which is authorised neither by the Citizenship Act, 1955, nor by the Citizenship Rules of 2003. This, the report says, has to be examined by Parliament. Until then it is reasonable to assume that it should be suspended.

The UID project has raised many questions about data convergence, imperfect technology, national and personal security, extraordinary expenditure, exclusion and inclusion, and the source of power to gather, hold and use data about individuals. This report raises unanswered questions about the biometric and data-gathering ambitions of the state. The association of the project with a corporate icon has tended to lull many into complacency. Yet, as is reflected in the Standing Committee report, the process, the technology and the consequences are deeply problematic. The report leaves no room for doubt that the UID project will have to be revisited and the NPR re-examined.

Usha Ramanathan works on the jurisprudence of law, poverty and rights. in Frontline Volume 29 – Issue 01 :: Jan. 14-27, 2012


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