“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.


4 thoughts on ““Aadhaar Fraud”: a case study in Hyderabad

  1. One question that I have been grappling with since the last post which I am reminded of by the preamble to this one is the presupposition of citizenship as a category, prompted in a tangential way by Brackette William’s book on the power of categories. I am not concerned with legitimate citizenship versus the specter of the illegal migrant or worse, the terrorist. Rather I share Mangatis interest in EPW in thinking about the history of the mobilization around the term citizen, especially among academics and activists. If the political engagements being produced are moving from citizen (a figure of postmodern secularism as per the last post), does registrant signal something other than citizen? Or just a citizen that can make better claims on the state and vice versa? With recent developments in American anti-terror policy in regards to its American citizens, I find an interesting contrast between the promise of UID as a means to sustain the lives of citizens who have been classified as such in the Indian context, and the possibility of being classified for assassination on the other.

    To get to this post:
    1) The collage of forces that represent the state and governance is here unclear in some places in state-as-excess fashion. However, perhaps because of the recent popularity of anti-corruption politics or perhaps because of what is at stake for the UID to be an antidote to corruption, the state makes its knowledge hyper-transparent. I share your curiosity here and wonder what motivated the disclosures.
    I’m sure those concerned with privacy have much to say about the access that subcontractors have to the UIDAI data.

    2) On the differing scales of the local, a minority community, and its linkages to the Gulf states I’m reminded of Das’ work on the global, local, and the everyday in Life and Words. For thinking about the UIDAI, it is a reminder of the ways in which state projects work ‘on the ground’ in India more generally.

    3) On numbers, there is a twitter that I’ve been following that traces the numbers of individuals being enrolled daily. The enrollments per second are worth looking at: https://twitter.com/#!/uidstatus

    • Thanks, Ashveer. The twitter feed is quite extraordinary. Will look at it later this week: merits a post! How intense, amazing.

      I agree absolutely that the citizen may or may not be the critical category, and indeed that is the point. For the moment, I am taking Registrant as the operant category of person/relation/state effect here, bracketing any necessary relation to a normative figure of the citizen. I’ve been arguing that UID, emerging out of the Census/NPR focus on the ‘resident’ body-in-territory, mutates into a deterritorialized figure under UIDAI that maintains the undecidability of its object (citizen/non-citizen): this is why the Bangladeshi migrant has become such a fraught site for UID and indeed why Assam has been for some time cut out of the entire program and its promise…. it is a central theme, I think, of the work, what I am terming for now the undecidability of citizenship as a figure.

  2. Aadhaar has been initiated with the purpose of helping the people of India especially with the people belonging to poor and rural class. No doubt there are a no. of flaws in the functioning of this new project but at the same time it must also be noted that Aadhaar can be prove to be very fruitful as well. There is a need to make the whole system more transparent and error free then only the project will said to be a successful one otherwise it will be another scam or fraud from the Indian government.

    • Thank you very much for this! And I hope you will see that the main purpose of the blog, given the importance as you note of experiments like Aadhaar to improve life and government at the economic margins, is neither simply to criticize nor simply to promote the UID. Either would be presumptuous of me at this stage, the stage both of my knowledge (which is still rather limited!) and of Aadhaar itself (which is continually being reorganized). It is to follow everything I can, within reason, on this massive project, in the hope of more careful understanding of what’s going on. I appreciate your comment.

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