No poor should be excluded from subsidies due to Aadhaar: R Chandrasekhar

You claim to represent urban Bengaluru. In your view, what needs to be done to improve the lot of those who live in Bengaluru? Especially women? 

Members of Parliament (MPs) that are elected to Rajya Sabha (Council of States) primarily represent the state that elects them i.e. in my case, Karnataka. In addition, MPs can choose a district and so I represent Bengaluru — a responsibility that I take very seriously — a city where I have lived most of my life.

Bengaluru in the last five years has taken a serious beating. Dying and polluted lakes, crumbling infrastructure, potholed roads, garbage and public health crises, traffic and transportation chaos, record number of citizens filing PILs against goverment “projects” that no one but contractors seem to want and a general unsafe atmosphere for children and women created by out of control commercialisation of residential areas. Topped off by a city governance that seemed to have been captured by vested interests and hence the hope that these elections would create a change in the city. I have made it my business to fight and help citizens in their fight to reclaim Bengaluru and hope that this would end in electing 28 MLAs representing Bengaluru in May 2018 committed to cleaning up our city.

Karnataka is riven by rural distress. The damage done by demonetisation is yet to end. What is your economic blueprint for Karnataka as a state?

Karnataka’s rural distress and farmer financial crisis have very little  to do with demonetisation. Its a combination of lack of any serious reforms in agricultural and farming economy and the water/irrigation crisis caused by Karnataka government’s terrible handling of river water dispute legal cases in the Mahadayi/Mandovi and Cauvery tribunals. The high farmer suicide is a tragic testimony to a failure of the state government in the agricultural economy. 

You are a Malayali representing Karnataka. Are there times when you feel conflicted ? What is your contribution to the BJP’s efforts to build coalitions in Kerala? 

As a son of an Air Force officer — I was born in one place away from home (Ahmedabad) —  and having lived all over the country. I saw myself as an Indian and not as this or that till I entered politics when this became a frequent question. I am a Bengalurean and represent and serve the city and state proudly. In Parliament, I have represented Bengaluru and Karnataka as a state with unflinching and unambiguous commitment. I take my duty to the people,    who send me to the Parliament, seriously.

I was also given a responsibility to expand the footprint of the NDA in Kerala and I believe 2016 assembly election expansion from 5.5 per cent to almost 15 per cent was consistent with that. Of course, this was a result of many factors including BJP’s growth and entrants of parties like Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) into NDA. I have enjoyed that challenge and that I have made an impact seems obvious by the recent vicious attacks on me by the Left and their mobs including attempts to arrest me for tweeting recently. I am very confident that in the general elections 2019 non-NDA parties will have to demonstrate significant political results in Kerala. 

Your other area of interest is the defence forces. You put great  effort in pushing for One Rank One Pension (OROP). But there has hardly been any progress in the other part of defence, that is the Make in India programme. Given the nature of the global defence industry, does this even have a future?

A robust defence industry and technology eco-system is vital for India. In that way, the vision and goal of Make in India is a good one and must succeed. The only different suggestion I have been making repeatedly is that Make In India must include defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) as well as private companies. Creating companies with these kind of capabilities and knowhow isn’t trivial and I have always believed that the quickest option is to reform and boost DPSUs and give them an equal opportunity to modernise and become cutting-edge companies like ISRO in India or IAI in Israel etc. This could, in addition, encourage private companies to also build and grow. 

You gave a remarkably cogent speech on the perils of the flaws in Aadhaar. Much of what you said in 2016 is now coming true….

My views on Aadhaar have been remarkably consistent since 2010 when I have raised issues relating to Aadhaar flaws and its weak architecture, and most of those issues are coming true today. The UPA government spent thousands of crores on Aadhaar with no debate inside or outside Parliament, no legislative backing for it and, most importantly, there was not one word uttered during UPA on the legal accountability for the authenticity of this biometric database. As a result, thousands and crores of public money was spent on creating a biometric database which conducted very poor verification of identities and did not and still does not have any details of citizenship. The only time Aadhaar was scrutinised was by the standing committee on finance of which I was a member, and the standing committee rightly concluded that this database was going to be ineffective even for the purposes of directing subsidies and recommended that it must be merged with the National Population Register. 

The current government inherited this unverified database and instead of throwing it out and wasting public money, it moved to address its shortcomings. It brought the Aadhaar Bill, repositioned it as a subsidy-delivery platform and encouraged parliamentary debate. It has developed a strategy to use Aadhaar and other tools to launch a sharp attack on the vexed and cursed problem of leakages, ghost and fraudulent claimants to public subsidies. It has addressed the issue of lack of verification and fake entries by making UIDAI statutorily responsible for verifying the entries through Section 3.3 of the Act. 

But this is where the problem starts. The Act was passed in 2016 and before 2016, 100 crore entries were in the Aadhaar database. That does not come under Section 3.3. Who was responsible for verifying these hundred crore entries before it is used as an identity for elections, bank accounts and for entering airports through the CISF? 

The question of rampant fake Aadhaar entries is a real one and it is a direct consequence of the sloppy way in which this database was built. As far as I know, there has been no disclosure, or audit reports of UIDAI or Aadhaar, and no prosecution of any enrolment agencies that have created these fakes. 

Then, there is the question of the mandatory and non-mandatory uses to which Aadhaar should/could be put. I believe that Aadhaar can be and must be developed into the gateway to deliver subsidies, because the poor and the needy are the ones that are suffering from leakages in subsidies. So, I personally don’t subscribe to the view that there is anything against Aadhaar being made mandatory. But Aadhaar should be made mandatory after ensuring that making it mandatory does not mean exclusion of any poor and needy from subsidies or services that the government provides. So, a roadmap to ensuring non-exclusion is important, with some predetermined conditions precedent before Aadhaar can be made mandatory. 

And then, if the government wants to use the database as the gold standard identity for access to sensitive areas, or for entering the financial system, if the entry correspondingly is unverified, is fake or fraudulent, who is responsible? This is the question that the UIDAI must answer. I have already referred to the ease with which Aadhaar numbers can be acquired, and a variety of other agencies have also proved this, including reporters. In any event, the case in Supreme Court should provide the direction on future shape and safeguards of Aadhaar.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel