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Believe It Or Not, The Aadhaar Bill Might Become A Threat To Our Privacy

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By Abhishek Jha

The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 is likely to be introduced in Lok Sabha as it has been listed in the revised list of business of the Lok Sabha for March 3. The Finance Minister had indicated in his Budget speech that the Bill would be introduced in the current session of the Parliament. A description of the Bill says that it is to provide for “efficient, transparent, and targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services, the expenditure for which is incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India, to individuals residing in India through assigning of unique identity numbers to such individuals.”

Ghewar Ram (R), 55, and his wife Champa Devi, 54, display their Unique Identification (UID) cards outside their hut at Merta district in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan February 21, 2013. In a more ambitious version of programmes that have slashed poverty in Brazil and Mexico, the Indian government has begun to use the UID database, known as Aadhaar, to make direct cash transfers to the poor, in an attempt to cut out frauds who siphon billions of dollars from welfare schemes. Picture taken February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal (INDIA - Tags: SOCIETY POVERTY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR3EDRN
Image source: REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal

This summary indicates that the Bill could be introduced as a Money Bill, meaning that the Bill need not be passed by the Rajya Sabha where the NDA government lacks support. Since concerns regarding infringement on privacy of individuals due to linking of the Aadhaar card to government schemes had been raised in the Supreme Court, which had then ruled that the use of the card not be mandatory, the introduction of the Bill as a Money Bill is worrying.

Special procedures to be followed in respect of Money Bills require that the Rajya Sabha return it to the Lok Sabha with recommendations within 14 days, after which the lower house can either accept or reject those recommendations. The Rajya Sabha then cannot block this bill in any manner. Article 111 of the Indian Constitution also prevents the President from returning a Money Bill back to the Parliament for reconsideration.

However, the Finance Ministry has been tight-lipped so far on whether the Bill will be introduced as a Money Bill. Shaktikanta Das, secretary, department of economic affairs, had declined to comment on the same at the CNBC-TV18 Mint Budget Verdict event. “Let Parliament have the pleasure of knowing the character of the bill first,” he had said. Jayant Sinha, the minister of state for finance, too had asked to wait until the bill is tabled in the parliament at the same event.

Moreover, a Business Standard report, based on information from undisclosed sources, says that the Bill might have safeguards “to ensure the confidentiality of identity information by protecting it against access of disclosure or accidental and intentional damage”. In the case of national security, the same report says, such information is likely to be disclosed only by the orders of an officer not below the rank of a joint secretary and that an “oversight committee” would review each such decision. The Committee, the report says, is to consist of the Cabinet Secretary and the secretaries in the Department of Legal Affairs and Department of Electronics and Information Technology.

Privacy concerns arise in the use of the Aadhaar Card for availing government schemes because the Unique Identity is based on storing biometric and personal information that critics fear is likely to be misused or stolen for profiling or spying on citizens and, on an even fundamental level, is a forcible submission of the privacy of those who avail these schemes. “Unlike the census or other such government exercises, Aadhaar data collection was privatised. The government claims the data is secure with it. But the key is collection and management of the data,” Ravi Sundaran, Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies is reported to have said. The government and votaries of the proposed linking of the Aadhaar Card to social benefit schemes argue, on the other hand, that the right to privacy will have to be forsaken for availing such benefits. The government, through Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, has been consistently arguing the same in the Supreme Court.

The Aadhaar Bill has, therefore, become a cause of worry for those who wish to fight for the right to privacy. Chinmayi Arun, executive director at the Centre for Communication Governance, National Law University, Delhi, told Livemint for instance, that a “lip-service commitment to privacy from the government will not be enough” and that it is “unconscionable to pass such a legislation without several thorough public consultations on what a water-tight privacy framework for it would look like.”

Such public consultation is also necessary because whether citizens of this country definitely have a right to privacy or not is still unclear. The Bill might legally settle the issue of linking the Card to the schemes, which had been dragged to the court precisely because this identity collection did not have legislative backing, but it makes our concerns for the right to privacy even graver.

After the bill is passed, this particular issue might be considered settled for the courts. And when the government has been arguing against a fundamental right to privacy, whether proper checks are part of the legislation and whether these checks will be followed in spirit is doubtful. Reports of non-delivery of services in case a consumer does not have an Aadhaar Card make the signs rather clear. While it is a smart move to have a good infrastructural framework for delivering benefits to the poor, making it mandatory for them to forego their freedom to avail these benefits is perhaps only cruel design. The manner in which this marriage of personal identity and social benefit is now being pushed only makes one more suspicious.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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