Intensities of duplication

Continuing with the Hyderabad-based UIDAI fraud, the following report suggests that the city and perhaps the selfsame group of former and current IL&FS employees have been a major site for the production of fraudulent Aadhaar numbers [one lakh, for those unfamiliar with South Asia, is 100,000].

The Post Office against duplication

50k untraced Aadhaar cards returned

“Untraced addresses” plague Aadhaar card project in the state. Post offices have sent back nearly 50,000 Aadhaar cards to the UIDAI stating that they could not trace the addresses. This has led to complaints that Aadhaar cards were registered with fake addresses. Interestingly, majority of the cards that were sent back were issued in Hyderabad. These cards are lying undelivered with several post offices in the city for nearly a year.

The postal department has communicated to the civil supplies department expressing its inability to deliver Aadhaar cards due to wrong addresses and informed that it has returned them to UIDAI. The civil supplies department is the nodal agency for implementing the Aadhaar project in the state. Following this, the department has directed all the enrolment agencies to be extra cautious while submitting address details of people in the online system during the second phase of Aadhaar enrolments, which began recently, after a two-and-a-half month break, in February.

“People not residing in the addresses specified can be understood for reasons like shifting from rented houses, transfer of jobs etc. But, the non-existence of addresses itself is a serious issue. This shows that the enrolment agencies have submitted Aadhaar online details without verifying correct addresses,” said an official of civil supplies department. Though the UIDAI had established about 3,000 enrolment centres in AP, till date only 3.5 crore people have been enrolled and around 4 crore people are yet to be enrolled.

In Hyderabad, the centres have managed to enrol nearly 42 lakh citizens. Over 8 lakh people in the city are yet to be enrolled, though most of those who have enrolled are yet to receive their cards. In addition, people who already enrolled for the cards a year ago have not received them so far. The enrolment agencies are not maintaining a serial number for people who belong to the same family. With this, while some members within the same family have got cards, others did not.

The helpline provided by UIDAI is also not serving the desired purpose with people complaining that it was confined to register only complaints and no solution is being provided for getting Aadhaar cards.

One might attend, first, to the obvious: the problem is not that there are criminals–such is to be expected–but that the scale of this duplication was not caught by any audit on behalf of UIDAI itself but rather and only by the post office.

But the basic point I would like to attend to is that an entire city, Hyderabad, has been indemnified here, as what we might call a zone or an intensity of duplication.

Rather than see duplication as either a static condition of corruption and de-duplication as a contrastive force, we might think of duplication as a variable intensity with a contingent relation to space, here the city of Hyderabad.

If I were paranoid, I might want to attend more sharply to this city’s particular signification through figures of the “Islamicate,” in a context where for example in late 19th and in particular early 20th century Urdu is portrayed through gendered figures of artifice [duplication]. But I have not seen the media engagement with the scandal or its particular spatial intensities turn to any such racialization. Perhaps more salient is the city’s importance as a center of IT labor and thus as a site for proliferating cultures of virtuality, hacking, and so forth.

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On the rental of infrastructure: some follow-up thoughts on the Hyderabad UID Scandal

The Hyderabad scandal I posted yesterday involved a former employee of IL&FS getting hold of his ex-colleagues’ laptop, offering him a portal into the virtual world of Universal Identification and allowing him and his confederates to add duplicates to the de-duplicated world of Aadhaar. IL&FS is, apparently, one of the many private entities that has taken on the registration of persons under UID. But it is much more.

IL&FS at work: the Visakhapatnam Industrial Water Supply Project

I’d like to pause here and to look at IL&FS as a new kind of entity in India and in the world. Before yesterday I admittedly knew nothing about the corporation, so as ever with this project my learning curve will be steep. I’ll begin, simply, by examining its own self-presentation online, and framing some questions.

IL&FS is Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Limited. Infrastructure as a duration has become among the most critical sites for anthropological reflection in our time, from the operations of Halliburton remaking the scale and temporality of the production of war, humanitarianism, and drug distribution in Kristin Peterson‘s work to the work on the productivity of infrastructure breakdown and interruption by Brian Larkin. What I mean by infrastructure as a duration extends beyond the “lifetime” of infrastructure: we are told, in the United States, that our infrastructure is “crumbling”: the nation itself as a promissary form is linked to this figure of duration. Larkin’s work frames infrastructure, as I read him, in the duration of constant breakdown: the power supply going out, the grid collapsing. Peterson links the destruction of infrastructure in West Africa due to the structural adjustment and austerity regimes imposed by global banks to the new replacement, temporary infrastructure provided by corporations like Halliburton that enable drug distribution under current humanitarian internationalism.

And here, its ubiquity brought into the the newspapers through a scandal, we have infrastructure within the duration of the rental form: the lease.

So at the outset, the very emerging terminology of infrastructure as that which is leased to the state, and as a corollary of the state as that entity constituted through the sequential payment of rent on the “value-added” development/privatization of its own [public] capacities, territories, and populations to corporations, is to me extraordinary. But of course, none of this is literally extraordinary.

Let me look briefly at the website:

Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited (IL&FS) is one of India’s leading infrastructure development and finance companies. IL&FS was promoted by the Central Bank of India (CBI), Housing Development Finance Corporation Limited (HDFC) and Unit Trust of India (UTI). Over the years, IL&FS has broad-based its shareholding and inducted Institutional shareholders including State Bank of India, Life Insurance Corporation of India, ORIX Corporation – Japan and Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.   IL&FS has a distinct mandate — catalysing the development of infrastructure in the country.  The organisation has focussed on the commercialisation and development of infrastructure projects and creation of value added financial services. From concept to execution, IL&FS houses the expertise to provide the complete array of services necessary for successful project completion: visioning, documentation, finance, development, management, technology and execution.

The focus here, within the duality of the promise of “value-added” profits and the fulfilling of a developmental “mandate,” is on “successful project completion”: on efficacy.

Organisationally, the IL&FS Group has evolved along routes perfectly configured to business requirements. Technical support and service groups provide specialised expertise. Project development and sectoral companies house the ability to seed initiatives and carry them through to completion. Strong core skills – key to successful project development and project financing across sectors – have been developed within the Group. These have aided IL&FS in spreading its expertise across a variety of sectors, nationwide.

The biological language–perfect evolution and viral spread–is perhaps notable.

The rest of the site directs one to myriad IL&FS projects. We–well, I–still understand far too little. And the relation of infrastructure leasing to Aadhaar has yet to be spelled out.

“Aadhaar Fraud”: a case study in Hyderabad

After a hiatus, the Aadhaar project is back. I’ll try to keep the posts short, 15 minute efforts, and in keeping with the idea behind the blog: brief engagements with the question of the duplicate and the forms of political engagement produced as the citizen is replaced by the registrant, across a series of sites. Please see my early posts to see the project as it unfolds.

Hyderabad, the standard view

Aadhaar and UID are premised on a claim termed de-duplication: the elimination of fraud, inefficiency, and corruption in the relation of the state both to individuals and the “nexus” of the powerful. Aadhaar’s claim rests on it not just being yet another source for “duplicate” identity: so questions of Aadhaar fraud strike more powerfully at the rationale of the entire program than similar allegations of fraud elsewhere.What may be key to observe is not the incidence of such fraud, unsurprising given the financial stakes being tied to UID, but its governance: its publicity, forensics, and the forms of institutional reorganization that such cases do or do not set in motion.

Here is one such case, from the Times of India news network, June 17, 2012.The author is Mahesh Buddi.

HYDERABAD: Seven persons, including four Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS) employees and a ration shop dealer, have been booked by the police in the Aadhaar card fraud.

Police have named Shaik Afsar, a former data entry operator of IL&FS from Talabkatta, as the prime accused. He was assisted in committing the fraud by Shabbir, technical co-ordinator, and Imran, supervisor of the Aadhaar card registration project by IL&FS in Old City.

Police zeroed in on Afsar after UIDAI confirmed that all the authorization fingerprints used for the enrollment of the 60 persons in biometric exception category were his. Afsar, who used to work as a data entry operator with IL&FS, had quit the job in August 2011.

Subsequently, he was approached by Gopal, a ration shop dealer (shop number 256) of Talabkatta, who sought new Aadhaar cards in the names given by him. Afsar, who had already quit his job, took the help of an Aadhaar card broker Rafiq and lured Shabbir and Imran to lend him an authorised laptop (No: 20193 – Baba Nagar enrollment office) used by IL&FS to do Aadhaar registrations for a few days.

Using the laptop, Afsar had done 60 fake entries under the physically disabled category between October 14 and 29, 2011. Police found that Gopal had asked for only 13 Aadhaar cards on specific names so that he could continue to utilise the set of fake ration cards available with him even after government makes Aadhaar mandatory for drawing essential items at ration shops. Gopal had paid Afsar Rs 4,000 for the job.

Police are yet to ascertain on whose request and for what purpose Afsar had done the rest of the fake registrations. After the probe, the investigating officers have named two top IL&FS officials, Yashwant and Vinay, as accused for knowingly ignoring the fraud.

Police have seized the laptop and took some of the accused into custody. However, prime accused Afsar has gone to Oman in March 2012 for employment and police are planning to issue a red corner notice against him. “So far, UIDAI has given details of enrollment related to 60 cards and we have finished the probe in that regard. As 30,000 more such registrations are there, the list of accused might increase and we will do further probe once UIDAI gives us details,” a Charminar police officer said.

So, three quick points:

1) Governance: The “police” and “UIDAI” here are seen to work in tandem as the forensic apparatus. Who, and how, exactly? Much to learn. The police are represented at the local level (the Charminar, old city station): where and how UIDAI operates and at what level of scale is unclear. The other major player here is the subcontracted private corporation that was functioning as a Registrar for persons to receive the card in Hyderabad, IL&FS. Several officials of the latter are accused of knowing of the violation and not acting.What is striking in the reportage are the details: we are told which laptop was used and which ration shop was involved, in case case being offered the exact number of the registered (computer, shop) item. This intrigues me.

2) Networks: This illegal operation would extend pre-existing forms of duplication in the ration card business to the new Aadhaar card: a local shopkeeper appears to be trying to extend his ability to game the system by building on local networks linking the skills of data entry and data access; the machines that serve as portals into the system; and the varied outsourcers (here IL&FS) that drive the actual creation of data. These networks are specific to Hyderabad, and at least two senses of scale and of relation are offered: the dense, scaled-down, local, and here largely Muslim world of the old city; and the transnational movement of labor and forensic claims that link Hyderabad to Oman and the Gulf states more generally.

3) Number: It is not clear what the scale of the violation is. We are given a possible number of 60. But an upper limit of 30000 suggests that the trouble with Aadhaar may be far more widespread. We are left with little ability to work between the numbers.