Over 300 civil society organisations and individuals have announced a campaign to prohibit the mandatory and compulsory use of Aadhaar and biometric validation for availing social benefits. The campaigners will make the demand an electoral issue and seek a categorical commitment from all political parties to amend the Aadhaar Act.
"We strongly believe that people should be allowed multiple forms of identity and authentication in order to be able to access their benefits. We also believe that the best possible way of fighting corruption is through decentralised, open and transparent systems that ensure transparency and accountability of the schemes and implementing agencies to local communities and the people," the organisers say.
Civil society networks like Right to Food Campaign and National Alliance of Peoples Movement are steering the campaign.
"As members of various campaigns working with vulnerable groups, we were hoping and expecting that the Supreme Court would decisively prohibit the mandatory use of Aadhaar for social benefits. A large body of evidence, provided to the court, shows that the mandatory use of Aadhaar and biometrics for this purpose is leading to large-scale exclusion, new forms of corruption, and extra delays and hardship for people in accessing their entitlements," the campaigners say, adding that they were 'extremely disappointed with the decision of the court to uphold the constitutionality of section 7 of the Aadhaar Act (which allows the state to make the use of Aadhaar and biometric authentication mandatory for citizens to receive social benefits).
"We have been a witness to thousands of cases of extreme distress being faced by people who have to use their biometrics to authenticate themselves to receive essential benefits. We have documented many of these cases, and the numbers are far too big to ignore. In places like Rajasthan and Jharkhand, where biometric authentication has been made mandatory for accessing NFSA benefits, these numbers are in lakhs," they say.
According to the campaigners, the total numbers of people negatively affected by the mandatory use of Aadhaar runs into the hundreds of thousands.
"We intend to ask people on the ground, who have been the victims of this huge experiment to make it clear during the elections that they will target parties who have thrust the mandatory use of Aadhaar upon them. We intend to go to all political parties with a single agenda on Aadhaar, demanding that the Aadhaar Act be amended so that the mandatory or compulsory use of Aadhaar is clearly prohibited," they say.
The group accuses that the figures of "savings" due to Aadhaar presented by the government stand no scrutiny. "If this system has really stopped billions of dollars in corruption as is being claimed, many criminal cases should have been filed, fraudsters should have been prosecuted, and recoveries made. Instead, undistributed entitlements due to exclusion are being passed off as savings. We demand accountability and compensation for those who have been excluded due to Aadhaar, including those who have been denied their wages, food or pensions, and had to run around to be able to access their basic entitlements," they point out.
The campaigners also expressed concern over 'issues of commercial exploitation of data and surveillance due to Aadhaar', though they consider the exclusion problems caused by the mandatory use of Aadhaar amount to an emergency. "That is why we call upon people to come together to pressurise all parties to amend the Aadhaar Act immediately, so that the mandatory use of Aadhaar for accessing basic entitlements is completely prohibited."