“So When Should We Set Up Our Camps?”: The UID – NPR Entente Has Trouble

This is the final post for now engaging the January 2012 agreement between promoters of the parallel and competing biometric programs in India, the Security focused NPR and the Financial Liberalization focused UID.

The other biometrics: National Population Register Camp

A recent article posted August 7, 2012, by Sahil Makkar on the website livemint.com [prominently featuring the Wall Street Journal on its masthead], argues that NPR is not doing well and suggests that the terms of the agreement are in question.

If you have been following the career of UID, the news is quite extraordinary. I give the article in full and follow with my usual 3 comments.

NPR likely to be delayed
Decision runs counter to the compromise reached in January that Aadhaar and the NPR weren’t in conflict with each other

New Delhi: The National Population Register (NPR), an identity database being put together by the home ministry, will likely be delayed by at least a year beyond its June 2013 deadline after facing another reversal in its running conflict with the Aadhaar project of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), officials familiar with the development said.

The cabinet headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has directed the home secretary to take steps to avoid duplication of work with UIDAI and to set up NPR camps in states only after the former completes most of its work of collecting biometric data on an additional 400 million people.

The decision effectively runs counter to the compromise reached on 27 January that Aadhaar and the NPR weren’t in conflict with each other and both projects would run simultaneously.

Minutes of the 7 June cabinet meeting, which were released last month, have been reviewed by Mint.

“With this decision, NPR work has been delayed indefinitely,” said a home ministry official who asked not to be identified given the sensitive nature of the issue. “We had earlier targeted to complete NPR by June 2013 but it will be at least delayed by a year or more.”

The cabinet decision could revive the fight between the two identity projects. The core dispute is over which one of the two will collect biometric data. The home ministry’s position before the January compromise was that UIDAI data could not be trusted for security purposes.

Under the truce reached in January, each project was to use the biometric data collected by the other. In case of discrepancies between UIDAI and NPR data, NPR was to prevail. On 7 June, the cabinet directed Nandan Nilekani to accept NPR data, but asked the home ministry to set up NPR camps in states only after UIDAI finishes a majority of its work.

Home ministry officials said that there was no clarity on the word “majority”. UIDAI’s mandate has already been increased from enrolling 200 million people to 600 million, against the wishes of the home ministry and other departments in the Union government, they noted.

UIDAI and the Planning Commission had sought an extension of the former’s mandate after it enrolled 200 million people, its initial target. That resulted in a turf war between NPR and UIDAI.

“The cabinet decision means we cannot set up NPR camps in the states till the time UIDAI completes majority of the work. So when should we set up our camps—when they complete 51% or 60% or 80% of their biometric enrolment work? There is no clarity. State registrars are writing (to) us for directions,” said a second home ministry official who too asked not to be identified.

The 12-digit Aadhaar number was conceived as a unique identity that would be accepted nationally by banks, telcos, oil companies and other government agencies to serve as a tool to better target social spending by making sure that benefits such as subsidies reach the poor for whom they are meant. NPR’s prime mandate is to satisfy security concerns.

Friction between proponents of the two projects persisted despite the January compromise. Then home minister and current finance minister P. Chidambaram wrote in a 1 June letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that UIDAI was not honouring the truce.

“Despite these directions from the government of India, UIDAI is objecting to the conduct of the NPR camps in certain states and is also refusing to accept the biometric data of NPR for de-duplication and generation of (the) Aadhaar numbers,” Chidambaram said in his letter, which has been reviewed by Mint.

Chidambaram said in the letter that the NPR project was almost at a standstill because of the stance taken by UIDAI.

NPR creation is a statutory requirement and it is backed by legislation. We have to reach every resident in the country as per law even if they have already been covered by the UIDAI. The only difference is that we will not collect the biometrics of the people who have already given the same to UIDAI, but we have to record their other information. People are mandated to visit NPR camps,” the second home ministry official said.

The 27 January compromise hasn’t prevented duplication of biometric data collection, which the government had hoped to avoid. The government will have to spend an additional Rs. 6,000 crore if both NPR and UIDAI insist on collecting biometric data. The second home ministry official admitted it was all but impossible to avoid duplication costs.

The 27 January cabinet decision said the Registrar General of India (RGI), which runs NPR would be free to collect data “as per a schedule of its convenience” in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh, Daman and Diu, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Puducherry, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Tripura.

“Now we are only setting up NPR camps in those states like Delhi where UIDAI has almost completed its work. As per the new decision, we are not entering in the state where they are yet to take up work or collecting biometric data,” the first home ministry official said.

The home ministry officials say they are now dependent on state governments for their permission to set up camps because the latter will need to decide whether UIDAI has completed a majority of its work.

A UIDAI spokesperson refused to comment on the issue. “Both UIDAI and RGI are working in accordance with the decision of the government taken from time to time. We are not aware of any difficulty in this regard. We, therefore, have no comments to offer,” R.S. Sharma, UIDAI director general, said in an email response.

UIDAI says it has partnered with state-level registrars for conducting enrolments in the states and that it hopes to enrol another 400 million people in the next 18 months.

Incidentally, the Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) is yet to clear the UIDAI’s request for an additional sum of Rs. 5,000 crore for enrolment of the additional 400 million people.

“The proposal is expected to be considered by the EFC shortly,” Sharma said.

UIDAI’s second round of enrolment started on 4 August.

UIDAI claims to have enrolled 200 million people and issued 180 million Aadhaar numbers. It has dispatched 175 million Aadhaar letters. NPR has collected data on 710.25 million and recorded the biometrics of 30.95 million.

3 Points:

1) Duplicates upon duplicates! The painstaking effort of Nandan Nilekani and his team to avoid duplication, their liberal dream of de-duplication, is here explicitly threatened by NPR as a duplicate in multiple senses: two parallel databases, two modes of data collection, two parallel staffs, two norms of contract (see last post) etc. The presumption of Nilekani’s UIDAI is that heretofore the State has failed to realize India’s historical potential (cf. Hegel‘s lectures on the philosophy of history): the social contract has failed, as the condition of livability that the sovereign is to ensure for the citizen-subject is inevitably diverted to an inauthentic “duplicate.” The lessons of rationalized, non-familial corporate governance [i.e., bureaucracy proper to its and the nation’s historical potential] and the power of biometrics and big data are brought together to create a database with the power once and for all to de-duplicate the nation.

Bringing India to the end of history: Nilekani as dialectician

But the NPR, from the perspective of the promise of UID, is most likely government as usual, riven with localized “vested interests” forming a nexus with the state and its information-gathering. To allow NPR data to be commensurate with UID data is to ensure the failure of de-duplication, for the NPR data again from this perspective is thought to be always already duplicated: that is, to be formed in the crucible of [corrupt] everyday interest politics.

In this sense, Nilekani and others’ diagnosis of the state as always already corrupt and requiring an uncontaminated intervention is similar to that of the Gandhians and of Nehru, according to Thomas Hansen in his important argument in The Saffron Wave.

[Against the usual opposition of Gandhian work on the body/self/relation [satyagraha] and Nehruvian statist expertise, Hansen as I read him (brutally abstracting a complex argument) suggests their continuity in terms of a form of anti-politics in which everyday political process is inevitably contaminated by the scrum of vested interests. What is needed to rise above the near-Hobbsean state of nature produced by the play of interests is some sublime form of necessarily anti-democratic governance, and both Gandhi and Nehru if in quite distinctive ways turn to Indian civilization as its reason and justification.]

Big data and biometrics and corporate governance, if one draws on Hansen’s language, are the conditions of the contemporary sublime.

Biometrics in particular seem to matter. The sticking point according to the article in the earlier entente between UID and NPR was whether NPR would include biometric data or be more of a conventional census.

2) The irrelevance of cabinet position, the impotence of law: Chidambaram by all accounts is a powerful and canny politician and administrator. And yet his own lament at the deferral and exclusion of NPR and presumptively of India’s security interests [cf. “so when should we set up our camps,” a statement extraordinary in so many ways] suggests he is no match for the Congress government’s commitment to Nilekani and the UIDAI, whether we are to read that commitment as the financial liberalization and technocratic bias of the Prime Minister or as the populism of the Nehru-Gandhi family and their sense that the rationalized entitlement UIDAI/Aadhaar promises is the effective update on the Garibi Hatao [Eliminate Poverty] tradition of their party.

Chidambaram was recently moved from Home to Finance: from the official home that is of NPR to the home of UID. But if that move was in part to force him to back down from his commitment to the security database it has failed. Here he to speak as if he was more responsible for the Home Ministry’s NPR than his current post’s baby.

Once a Home Minister, always a Home Minister

And note his point that NPR is mandated under law. Implicitly he is pointing out, like many critics of UIDAI across the political spectrum, that the latter’s grounding in law is shaky at best. At stake in one sense is arguably a shifting terrain of the formal and legal. Here at least the NPR/UID distinction marks a differential claim on law, a differential logic of law. In part, UID like some other forms of sublime governance operates through the logic of emergency or exception: Nilekani has a cabinet-level rank without the formal limits and protocols of a ministry. UIDAI may be a section of a section of a section of the Finance Ministry, but it is in many situations treated as all but independent. Or so its critics allege.

To bring in the logic of exception, a concept with a familial relation to Hansen’s use of the sublime, may invoke for some the work of Giorgio Agamben and in particular Partha Chatterjee’s use of an Agamben-ish distinction between “civil society” [“bios,” life under law] and “political society” [“zoe,” bare life under exception]. Here the Security apparatus, in the post-millennial United States the sine qua non of the zone of exception as opposed to formal law, becomes on the contrary the embodiment of statute and law and territory. The financial liberalization apparatus is set apart as the troubling extra-legal state of exception.

3) Scale and speed, the mastery of time and the Masses: NPR’s lament is not being able to start. But if UIDAI is responsible for freezing the time of its rival, in doing so it secures the familiar neoliberal claim that the state is inefficient and corrupts time itself. UID here appears phenomenal in capturing millions and millions of persons for their de-duplication, despite reports of old people being illegible to biometric recording and entire states (the Northeast) being zoned for NPR alone. It masters time, or if you like it masters India as the Masses through its use of time. NPR is denied time: or is its lament just the familiar plaint of the development state justifying its failures by blaming others? Such are the stakes of debate produced in this moment.

Invitation to Contract: Assam, Aadhaar, How Governments Now Work

Continuing on a series of posts on the Government of India’s early 2012 decision to keep “insecure” zones of the country like most of the Northeast (particularly its largest state, Assam) out of the Aadhaar/UID biometrics program, to be monitored instead by the more territorialized, security-focused National Population Register (NPR):

Life in the Security Zone: protesters against state evictions, June 2012, Guwahati, Assam

What Is and Is Not in the News

Assam is daily in the news, though the retraction of Aadhaar from the region receives almost no press. Given that Aadhaar has become central to the promissary return of contemporary governance, the card’s appearing to give back secure entitlements to electoral supporters of the ruling coalition (and of the rationalized “corporate-ethical” sector [more on this concept soon] granted increasing control over specific state functions), the withdrawal of this promissary return would seem to generate its own press.  This is absent. I want to understand why.

The first answer is that Aadhaar has become so identified in Assam (and for many across India in relation to Assam in particular) with the “inflitration” of the Bangladeshi migrant into the citizenship and entitlement rolls that its removal generates little remorse among the dominant regional constiuencies of elite media, the media I at this point have access to via the Internet.

But one might expect the emergence of calls for a modified form of biometric registration, one that was not “universal” but separated citizens from mere residents in the dispensation of current entitlement and future promise. At this point I am going to argue that no such calls have emerged that are focused on the “proper” citizenry of Assam or at least no such calls seem to have been able to go public. I may well retract this claim if and when I can find substantial evidence to the contrary.

Such exclusive claims for rights in promissary citizenship in Assam are likely to be of two dominant kinds: rights in law [the Assamese resident and Indian citizen against the illegal migrant] and rights in nature [the Bodo autochthon against the non-Bodo stranger, the latter currently the illegal migrant]. But calls to redraft the form of Aadhaar to shore up these rights do not seem to have intensified with the state’s loss of easy access to UID.

The Assam-focused press is diverse, otherwise. It is devoted to registers of incivility and instability, of state violence and of state welfare in the face of civil violence. It seems both to support and to trouble the anti-migrant sentiment discussed in previous postings. Much national attention on Assam and its capital Guwahati has focused on the recent beating and forced-stripping of a girl in Guwahati this past July by a large group of jeering men, the event apparently captured on video. Many of the responses to the attack on this girl that I have seen on various media are complicit with a racialization of the Assamese as “backward” and somehow categorically unstable: in effect justifying the zonal distribution of modes of biometric control at stake in the division of the country between Security/NPR and Liberalization/UID.

There has been some press as well focused on resistance to government eviction drives against poor urban and rural slumdwellers occupying illegal “hutments.” The news photo above is of a piece with that genre.

None of these events are restricted to Assam–not communal killings, not sexualized violence against women, not the state policy of slum dispossession–but they form part of a mediascape affirming the state’s exceptional status and its exclusion, to use the first pass at a language I developed in the previous post, from the power zone of economic liberalization into the security zone [these terms are not conceptually adequate for many reasons, but for now the point is to focus on a zonal form of doubled or duplicated governance].

Two Orders of Contract?

Most of the documentation available online on Aadhaar in Assam is from the first, earlier moment, before January 2012, the moment when the biometric program’s promise for this marginal state had not been given over to the Security regime of NPR.

Information and reports at least via the Internet quickly dry up after January.

Perhaps the very nature of a security based enterprise like the NPR is that it produces a much smaller penumbra and far fewer traces of itself. Or to put it differently: both security interventions (like NPR) and liberalization interventions (like UID) now depend on a contractual relation between state agencies (like the ministries of home and of finance, respectively) and corporate sector companies to implement the new identity biometrics. But how contracts are established and entered into may differ between power zones and security zones. This post is a first effort to push myself to attend to the specificities of contract in the structuring of government: the emergent history of biometrics, in which twin national database regimes are being established in parallel, suggests that there is not a single pragmatics of contract, a single logic of governance, being crafted.

Having written this, I should note that I do not yet understand how the Interior Ministry’s NPR will work. It is tied to the Census, or has been, so part of the question is the organization of labor, capital, and control of the census over the next decade. I am in part assuming that security apparatuses, no less than other state functions, have throughout the world been given over to contract with privatized capital. But I should be cautious.

A second note of caution: the January 2012 entente between NPR and UID, between Security and Finance, between the Home Ministry and the Planning Commission, involved the powerful then Home Minister Chidambaram, who has recently again been given the Finance Ministry, a position he had earlier occupied. In other words, if the late 2011 struggle over the nation cum database focused on the tussle between these two ministries and presumably their distinct forms of governance over security and economy, how do we understand the movement back and forth of this powerful official?

Chidambaram aside, the very presence of two parallel such logics of governance and two parallel programs of biometric ID may suggest a second order of contract, not the contract between the state agency proposing and the private company executing one or the other mode of biometric inclusion but rather the contract governing the relation between two two orders or modes of registering people biometrically, of financial liberalization versus security.

What Was: Traces of the Earlier Promise of Aadhaar for Assam

The text for today is an RFQ, a Request for Quotation [that is a bid for contract] put out by the Government of Assam in the earlier phase of its relation to Aadhaar. For now I cite only a few small sections.

Invitation to Contract?

GOVERNMENT OF ASSAM DEPARTMENT OF PANCHAYAT & RURAL DEVELOPMENT
TENDER NO. – DPRD/P/183/09-10/127
REQUEST FOR QUOTATION: FOR SELECTION OF UID ENROLMENT AGENCIES FOR THE UID PROJECT (PHASE I) OF GOVT. OF ASSAM
Date of Release of RFQ: 24th Dec, 2010
Date of Pre bid meeting: 10th Jan, 2011, 1430 hrs
Last date of Submission of Bid: 21st Jan, 2011 (Up to 1500 hrs)
Date of Opening of Bid: 21st Jan, 2011 (1600 hrs)
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Vol I: Instruction to Bidders
Vol II: Scope of Work
Vol III: Standard Contracts

Initially in the first phase, the UID project will be implemented in 5 (Five) districts of Assam, i.e Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Sonitpur, Sivasagar and Tinsukia. The Panchayat and Rural Development Deptt. will be Registrar for the districts of Sonitpur, Sivasagar and Tinsukia. Food and Civil supplies Deptt. would be Registrar for the project in Jorhat and Dibrugarh. Accordingly the districts have been clubbed in 2 schedules. The Registrar will implement the project in their districts block wise. Commissioner, P& RD as convener of the sub-committee for selection of Enrolment Agencies is inviting bids for both the schedules.

Under the project all KYR demographic and biometric data as per UIDAI standard would be captured from all residents. In addition data under KYR+ standard as detailed below would also be captured along with KYR data from residents.

The KYR + fields include –
1. Bank Account (which includes Post Office Account also)
2. Job Card No. under MGNREGA
3. RSBY No.
4. BPL (ID)
5. TIN No. (Census)
6. Ration Card No. (AAY/BPL/ FIC/ APL Card)
7. Profession (Service, Self Employed, Cultivator, Labour, Student etc.)
8. Panchayat Name.
N.B.: There might be addition of 4 to 6 more KYR+ fields in the data to be captured which will be notified later. The Project is expected to enroll around 69.26 lakhs residents [6.926 million] by 31st March 2012 (as per projected figure of 2010 population).

2.2 About UID Project
The Government of India (GoI) has embarked upon an ambitious initiative to provide a Unique Identification (UID) to every resident of India and has constituted the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for this purpose. The timing of this initiative coincides with the increased focus of the GoI on social inclusion and development through massive investments in various social sector programs, and transformation in public services delivery through e-Governance programs. The UID has been envisioned as a means for residents to easily and effectively establish their identity, to any agency, anywhere in the country, without having to repeatedly produce identity documentation to agencies. The enrolment is voluntary, More details on the UIDAI and the strategy overview can be found on the website: http://www.uidai.gov.in

The widespread implementation of the UID project needs the reach and flexibility to enroll residents across the country. To achieve this, the UIDAI is following a multiple registrar approach and proposes to partner with a variety of agencies and service providers (acting as Registrars, Sub-registrars and Enrolling Agencies) to enroll residents for UID. By participating in enrolling residents, registrars and enrolment agencies across the country would be part of a truly historic exercise, one which can make our welfare systems far more accessible and inclusive of the poor, and also permanently transform service delivery in India.

In this context, the Registrars shall engage enrolment agencies empanelled by UIDAI for carrying out the various functions and activities related to UID enrolment such as setting up of enrolment centers, undertaking collection of demographic and biometric data for UID enrollment and any other data required by the Registrar for the effective implementation of their projects. This Request for Quotation document is intended to invite bids from only those agencies which are empanelled by UIDAI for undertaking demographic and biometric data collection for enrolment of residents.

That was the prefactory material in the RFQ. 3 quick points, bearing in mind that these suggestions about variant logics of contract are very tentative on my part and far from fleshed out as a conceptual field:

1) Throughout this blog, I have been fascinated by the diagnosis of corruption in history at the core of UID biometrics, that of duplication. The awarding of contracts is among the more important sites of corruption globally and marks many previous and still simmering Indian corruption cases. So the question of variant pragmatics or logics of contract with which I began also raises a question of the “corrupt” duplication of these. Putting it more baldly: when is the invitation within the form of the RFQ in bad faith? How in practice are contracts awarded, entered into, monitored, and broken? If as in many cases of state contracts, the RFQ is a formality and the decision as to which company is chosen is determined by other means (so-called cronyism or what in India is usually called “the nexus,” for example), might we speak of the actual contract as a “duplicate” of the fair and formal contract promised by the RFQ?

2) This particular Assamese invitation [pre-January 2012] to contract may be in bad faith in a second way. Presumably, the aggressive rolling out of UID noted in this document was later shelved with Assam being declared proper not to UID but to NPR: companies invited to bid, and in so doing to invest in becoming registrars, were thus left without a growing market of persons considered proper to UID registration.

3) The document refers to KYR and NYR+ as two sets of information fields that UIDAI-contracted companies collect. From the last post’s documentation, we know a primary difference of UIDAI and NPR is that the latter will collect far more information. In the terms of territorialization and deterritorialization used earlier, UIDAI has more of a deterritorializing imperative.

KYR often stands for Know Your Resident. It is one of a proliferating series in corporate jargon of what we might call the KYX imperatives: Know Your ——. Know Your Customer, Know Your Client, and so forth. The form has been taken to with a vengeance by both business and government agencies in Anglophone India. On the web, one finds sites devoted to Know Your Mobile India, Know Your Visa, Know Your Assessing Officer, and many dozen others. The many ID numbers one receives in moving through the Indian bureaucratic and financial landscape can be accessed through KYX sites: thus Know Your PAN, Know Your TAN, and so forth. There are a range of sites named as Know Your India.

Know Your Resident is an important component of Aadhaar’s relation to territory and its ability to minimize the number of locational fields in service of its vision of liberalization and labor and entitlement rationalization. One apparently non-official site notes: “The strong authentication that the UIDAI will offer, combined with its KYR standards, can remove the need for such individual KYC [Know Your Customer] by banks for basic, no-frills accounts. It will thus vastly reduce the documentation the poor are required to produce for a bank account, and significantly bring down KYC costs for banks. The UIDAI will ensure that the Know Your Resident (KYR) standards don’t become a barrier for enrolling the poor, and will devise suitable procedures to ensure their inclusion without compromising the integrity of the data.”

Again, “Resident” like “Citizen” is effectively placed under erasure by UID/Aadhaar. That is, Aadhaar uses the promise of biometrics to produce a political subject that is resists nomination either as citizen or non-citizen, and yet, the opposition does not go away but hovers in much of the positive and negative discussion of the program. Aadhaar promises both to deterritorialize entitlements, severing the link of access to state programs from the natal or family village and all of the regressive entailments of native place, and to create effective territorialization for Banking, in the sense that the biometric “Resident” will somehow provide the trustworthiness enabling banks to advance credit to marginal actors. How exactly a subject is produced both not in place and in place, both as citizen and as resident, is I think a matter for engaged observation, aka “fieldwork.”

Bodo-Muslim Violence and the Question of Identity Cards for Assam: Security as a Negative Condition

Some months ago I posted about the complexities of the UID/Aadhaar biometric program in India’s northeastern states, areas often marginal to Delhi-based national politics. Given that professional anthropology plays a large role in the institutions that organize and govern the racial and cultural presumptions of “tribal” identity across the Northeast, one could argue that the anthropology of the new biometrics bears a particular kind of responsibility to a different kind of engagement in relation to conditions of identity there. Meanwhile, time has not stood still and Assam again dominates the Indian news as a site of intense and upsetting “communal violence.”

Help: Charities in the new refugee camps

Months ago, my focus was threefold: (1) on concerns in the state of Assam that illegal Bangladeshi migrants would use the “residence”-based registration of UID to become citizens, de facto or de jure; (2) on efforts in the state of Tripura to rival the southern hi tech powerhouse Andhra Pradesh in number of persons registered, and how these might relate to the (legal) Bengali-migrant dominated state’s efforts to evade the peripheral condition of the tribalized Northeast; and (3) on reports in the state of Mizoram that some Christian pastors had been challenging the UID/Aadhaar “number” itself as the the apocalyptic “mark of the Beast,” raising both familiar and new questions about the occurrence of millenarian realities.

Even as I was writing those earlier posts, concerns over migration and their relation to the long apparent “instability” of Assam had led to the extraordinary move of shelving the entire project of UID in the state, or so reports (like the one I cite below) noted last January (2012). If so many minimal entitlements are to be tied to the card and number, then what it means for an entire state and its territory to be excluded from Aadhaar and its great promise (or, for its many critics, to escape the surveillance and exploitation of the program), is quite important to consider: both for Assam and its own out-migration, and more generally for its economic and political relations to the rest of India.

Over the summer of 2012, Assam has been daily in the news for intensifying waves of conflict over which groups have rights in land and legitimacy, joining debates over recent Bangladeshi migrants to relations between non-tribal and tribal communities to the many descendents of earlier, multiple migrations. Particularly at stake are relations between the Bodos, who were after longtime struggle granted certain rights over four districts in the state, and Bengali Muslims and Hindus, some of whom are and some are not “illegal” but whom a national political discourse at times identifies as illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants tout court.  Large numbers of killings have occurred, of Bodos and migrant Hindus but particularly of migrant Muslims (though I cringe as I write this for its vagueness is unacceptable: understanding where and how the killings have occurred and with what backing is critical. There are many scholars whose current work I will depend on, including Malini Sur and Garga Chatterjee). At present, camps for the large numbers, particularly  Muslims, who have fled for their lives have been set up in lower Assam, both local and religious charities and international humanitarian organizations appeal for needed resources to ensure food, clothing, water, and medication, and the state is trying to urge frightened and unwilling people to return to these contested villages with promises of secure if heretofore dodgy governance.

Even before the killings intensified and the refugee camps had to be established, UID/Aadhaar had not featured prominently in past months of the English-language press in Assam that is available via the Internet (but that admittedly is a restricted field). Given that what dominates the press are variant framings right now of Assam’s exceptional status, it seemed useful to return to the question of identity, particular amid the current moment in which a different form, the humanitarian camp and the basic emergency “kit” (see the work of Peter Redfield) dominate the organization of the minimal entitlement. So how do camps relate to Universal ID as forms of rationalized entitlement and control?

This at least is a question to gesture towards.

For today, I offer an earlier article from last January, announcing the exceptional status of Assam vis-à-vis the Aadhaar number, from the Assam Tribune of January 28, 2012.

Aadhaar cards unlikely to be issued in Assam
NEW DELHI, Jan 27 – The Aadhaar cards issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) are unlikely to be rolled out in Assam and other North Eastern States, barring Tripura and Sikkim. A meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Unique Identification Authority of India related issues (CC-UIDAI) chaired by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh decided to limit the issue of Aadhaar cards to 60 crore [ 600 million] population spread over 16 States and Union Territories. In the rest of the States, the national identity numbers would be issued on the basis of the National Population Register.

Briefing newsmen, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and deputy chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia said that in all cases the NPR data base would prevail. However, Aadhaar numbers would prevail in those States where it has been issued. And in rest of the States, the NPR exercise would continue.

The States where the Aadhar cards have been rolled out included Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Puducherry, Tripura and Rajasthan among others.

UIDAI uses information on five fields, while NPR seeks information on 15 fields. The entire exercise of issue of NPR is targeted for completion in 18 months by June 2013, said the Home Minister.

The Cabinet meeting called today to resolve the differences between the Home Ministry and the Planning Commission over the issue of Aadhaar cards and the national identity cards, worked out a compromise formula, under which the limit of the Aadhaar cards have been fixed. The Home Ministry has now been mandated to carry out the NPR project in rest of the States.

About the security concerns flagged by the Home Ministry, Chidambaram said that UIDAI has agreed to review all the information it has collected. At the moment they have agreed to review the entire process to address all the security concerns.

The security concerns included the possibility of the cards falling into the hands of the illegal migrants and subsequent misuse of the cards to avail of the government schemes. The infiltration prone North Eastern States including Assam, were particularly referred in this regard.

3 points.

(1) At stake, as noted in an earlier blog post, is the contest that had come to a head at the beginning of 2012 over the control of the national identity database between the security focus of the Home Ministry and the liberalization focus of the Finance Ministry. The Home Ministry, then under the powerful Chidambaram, officially won that battle with its census-driven “National Population Registry” [NPR] named as the ultimate arbiter of de-duplicated universal ID. But the article reveals that India is in effect divided into two: what I will term power zones and security zones. Power zones comprise the wealthier South and the politically powerful Hindi-heartland North. Security zones are insecure border states, though notably not Rajasthan, and insecure insurgency states, though notably not Jharkhand where several UID/Aadhaar programs targeting the elderly were first rolled out.
Assam and the north-east (minus the exception-to-the-exception Tripura) are here framed as the sine qua non of the insecure condition and the core of the NPR and its security zone.

(2) In the wake of the earlier massacres, and amid ongoing killings, local state and district government is trying to encourage the refugees from the Bodo districts to return, with promises of normalcy. What kind of normalcy is and can be expected in the security zone? Famed for the wealth of tea plantations, dependent upon the rationalized and secure labor of the Bengali migrants, one might imagine the Bodo lands economically as power zones: but the history of modern Assam and its racialized state governance and anti-state struggle belie that.

(3) Universal ID began as a Security measure: the conundrums of the liberal-security state led to its capture by the Planning and Finance people. The latter promised far more than Chidambaram, who really seemed to offer at best the status quo of security but not the neoliberal version of universal development. But Security as a state concern remains vital, and now despite the political efforts to commensurate the two data-gathering massive enterprises they seem to remain split, and perversely duplicated. That is, the very promise of the de-duplicated future has led to a massive duplication in the imaginary of the nation as database. If UIDAI/Aadhaar stands for the new conditions of the neoliberal social, that is of the promises of development in the aftermath of the failed planning state, Security has become the negative of that promise, and the two are kept distinct through the establishment of what are in effect two parallel zones of government by distinct ecologies of information.

“1.2 billion credit histories will be available”: Aadhaar and the reformation of the Masses

This is the final post for now introducing the question of financial inclusion. Barring some exciting new topic brought by next week’s events, I would like to turn back to the northeastern states of India and to the question of the migrant in coming days, and then to a close reading of Imagining India, the book by UID head Nandan Nilekani..

Frequent news image: the new account-holder

So, briefly: an earlier article from the Hindu subsidiary Business Line, filed from Chennai, on 5 November 2011, by A. J. Vinayak and M. V. S. Santosh Kumar:

‘Aadhaar’ the unique identification number, will be aadhaar (support) to banks in not just one but three ways. Not only would it reduce the customer acquisition cost (estimated at Rs 150 an account), it would also reduce customer distribution costs and provide banks credible information for credit risk analysis in the years to come.

Participating in a panel discussion on ‘Profitable models for financial inclusion, agriculture and rural development’, Mr Rajesh Bansal, Assistant Director-General of Unique Identification Authority of India, said that by 2017, nearly 1.2 billion people in the country would be enrolled under Aadhaar.

As Aadhaar gives enrollers a choice to open bank accounts, Indian banks will have access to 1.2 billion customers in the country by the end of 2017, Mr Bansal noted. With this, 1.2 billion credit histories will be available which will in turn help banks to do better credit risk analysis, he said.

Stating that 11 crore people have already enrolled under Aadhaar, he said 3 crore people are being enrolled under the project every month. Around Rs 3-lakh crore of subsidy transfer opportunity is waiting to be unlocked post-Aadhaar, which dwarfs the Rs 22,000 crore currently being spent under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).

Since 1.2 billion people are expected to get the benefit of Aadhaar in the country, this will be a good KYC (know your customer) for bankers.

Post this panel discussion, Dr Subir Gokarn, Deputy Governor, in his speech, also noted the immense opportunity the ‘financially excluded’ offer.

According to a National Council for Applied Economic Research survey, around 42 per cent of the rural household’s have financial assets in the form of cash. The same proportion in urban areas is 23.4 per cent. This data, despite being dated (survey was done in 2005), would be of similar proportion even today, he opined.

While he used the reference of ‘know your customer’ transition to ‘grow with your customer’ strategy going forward for banks. It is very relevant in case of financial inclusion given largely untapped financial savings and other financial products.

So just a single point. Various state and bank officials promote UID/Aadhaar as an immense resource, a promise, a potential, a source of untapped wealth in the very form of the masses, the long-suffering material of Planned Development, its scary enumeration once a sign of biological catastrophe and the need for swift surgical reform. But here the mass in its enumeration is the source of previously disregarded wealth newly available through the technology of biometrically guaranteed identification. Wealth where before there was waste, a but like the Appalachian landscapes newly given over to the promise of fracking in North America.

Again, it is not simply that Aadhaar creates potential through the registration and formal sector control of previously untapped monetary reserves: but that Aadhaar creates a powerful new information reserve, 1.2 billion credit histories, a double expansion. The mass is reformed both as a source of minimal wealth that in its very massiveness will generate untold potential, and as a source of the radical expansion of information enabling new massifications of risk (sorry!), new control points enabling the presumptively effective management of the risk as poverty becomes the primary national resource for wealth, its marginality a resource for reframing the object of risk (“Know Your Customer”) itself.

Is this a problem? I’m not sure. Win-win situation? I’m not sure.

Marrying into the “banking fold”: Aadhaar, the Euro-chip, and the articulation of variant technologies of trust

More today on the use of Aadhaar to produce “financial inclusion” on the margin. I should note at the outset that the point cannot be only to (re) produce a critique of either financial “exclusion” or “inclusion.”

Proto Indo-European technology

Such critique is obviously important but perhaps difficult to sustain too quickly. In anthropology the broader debate may be to place the powerful critique of poverty capital in relation to the production of an unexpected “neoliberal social.” Barring a change in government, a radical curtailment of UID seems unlikely. UID/Aadhaar will continue to be rolled out.  Barring radical and perceptible failure of the program and its effective politicization, certainly possible, the card and number will attach themselves to the administration of more and more entitlements and institutions. The varied effects of UID will be assessed by many agencies and auditors, including (far down the queue) this researcher. Perhaps more than the current situation, of myriad arguably inflated promises of UID’s biometric design and regulation and myriad arguably premature critiques, the emerging field of audit will be critical to engage: what will constitute an event? An effect?

In anticipation of that work, the blog can only aid in the imagination of a research program and its own forms, sites, and constellations of evidence. Blah blah blah.

Today’s text is again from The Hindu, the edition of August 4, and an article posted from Hyderabad. At stake are security technologies for mobile card-based credit, the widespread European chip technology, or EMV [familiar to North Americans who find that their apparently backward and chipless credit cards often fail them in Europe], versus the biometric guarantee of Universal ID and the Aadhaar card. The first is seen as more secure and a proven technology; the second is much more affordable and would lead to the growth of poverty capital through financial inclusion, and with it the “social” promise of presumptively widespread microcredit.The solution may somehow be to “marry” security and inclusion in the production of a new form of trust-bearing identity and thus to bring in the poor to the formal sector financial “fold” while calming concerns about the trustworthiness of the new technology, its bureaucracy, and its economically marginal beneficiaries. This marriage of techniques and forms would somehow copy the effectiveness of the Euro-chip but bypass its prohibitive cost as banking’s potential seems to lie in producing cheaper norms of inclusion.

Choice is between EMV and Aadhaar: RBI Governor

While the chip and pin is a tested technology, Aadhaar based option is cheaper, says D. Subba Rao

Reserve Bank of India Governor D. Subba Rao has underlined the need for taking a decision on the choice between migrating to EMV (Europay-MasterCard-Visa) with chip and pin and an Aadhaar-based biometric authentication.

The chip and pin is an established and tested technology, but is relatively expensive. The Aadhaar based option is cheaper, but the robustness of the technology is as yet unproven. “If indeed we are finally able to marry Aadhaar into the cards, we will be achieving same level of security available in chip and pin model at a much lower cost,” he said.

Dr. Subba Rao was speaking on the topic “Indian Payment and Settlement Systems: Responsible Innovation and Regulation” at the Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technologies here on Friday. Aadhaar was recognised as an alternate authentication mechanism in payment systems and Aadhaar based payment products had already been designed and introduced.

Aadhaar Enabled Payment Systems was aligned with the UIDAI’s plan to utilise the UID number for routing all the Government benefit transfer payments to beneficiaries. AEPS was a bank-led model allowing online transaction through the business correspondent of the respective bank using the Aadhaar identification.

He said the Aadhaar Payment Bridge System was a centralised electronic benefit transfer facilitating disbursement of benefits to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries linked to their Aadhaar numbers. Such transfer would enable secure and efficient disbursal of benefits to intended beneficiaries which, in turn, help in reducing the administrative costs as well as leakages for the government.

This will also further financial inclusion by bringing the beneficiary households into the banking fold,” he said.

Will this Indo-European marriage make it?

For now, one notes the general form of the proposition: that as banking comes to drive Aadhaar, a form that had earlier if still recently migrated away from a territorialized, village or family-based defense model to a more deterritorialized and neoliberal form tied to a vision of rationalized population mobility and wealth creation, norms of “international” (here European) standard security must somehow be reintroduced. Aadhaar is to be “married” to a more secure technology and form, something like the chip and PIN number bank card but without the cost of the chip. What kind of marriage will be arranged is not yet clear. But if Aadhaar, under the ministry of finance, is perceived by security-focused industries and bureacracies as lacking in security, the idea here is that Aadhaar/UID must be combined with something else, not yet specified by these high-level officials.

Aadhaar and “Financial Inclusion” on the doorstep: Biometrics and the double expansion of poverty capital

A news item this week promises new “financial inclusion” of those previously too poor to be eligible for formal savings and credit instruments in the legal banking industry.

Intensified bank recruiting for “no frills” accounts

Reporting from the Union Territory of Puducherry [the former Pondicherry], the August 5 edition of the Hindu notes:

The State Level Bankers’ Committee (SLBC) has decided to step up campaign to lure people for opening bank accounts.

A meeting of SLBC, which held here recently, reviewed the progress of financial inclusion in the Union Territory.

A release said, the bankers were asked to give priority to those approaching banks for opening new accounts. The services of existing customers could be used for reaching out to others.

Simplification of norms

The norms for opening accounts were also simplified. They could open accounts with zero balance or low balance. Those, who had bank accounts, had been asked to hand over copies of ration card and “Aadhaar” card for including the details in their respective accounts immediately.

At the outset, some critics would understandably challenge the degree of inclusiveness of such publicity of inclusion. Thus Usha Ramanathan, whose article in Seminar I discussed in the previous blog post, compellingly challenges multiple “myths” promoted by the UIDAI and its boosters, including “the myth that this will be inclusive.” The enrollment structure of UID and Aadhaar formally parallels the typical enrollment structure of formal sector banking: one can only open a bank account, in many cases, through an introducer known to the bank, that is another account-holder. One’s access to banking presumes one maintains ties to others with the status of bank account-holders. Similarly, one registers for Aadhaar primarily in one of two ways: with sufficient formal documentation or, in the absence for many of the same [cf. the return of Jim Crow legislation in the ever more ugly United States] through an introducer.

Ramanathan does not in this short piece attend to the role of NGOs as introducers, discussed in the blog earlier in the context of debates over transgender inclusion under Aadhaar. But even if NGOs provide a different avenue of inclusion for variously marginal populations, they do so precisely through specific categories of humanitarian legibility producing their own terrain of limit and abandonment. One could both limit and extend her argument in reference to NGO “introducing.”

But here I want to support a claim opposite to that of Ramanathan, though not critical of or excluding her point. That is, how does inclusion itself become a ground of operations that might merit closer critical attention. The idea of inclusion as a form of subjectivization is not particularly novel, of course.  But it takes on a new range of relevance given the recent and ongoing powerful analysis of poverty capital and humanitarian goods by scholars like Ananya Roy, Vincanne Adams, Peter Redfield, and others. I had a recent and exciting conversation with William Stafford whose work rethinking the informality and extralegality of informal labor also engages the multiple ways in which “the poor” are being produced as forms of “potential value” and thus value.

At the outset, let me just note the following points, juxtaposing the brief Puducherri report with the photo above, referring to a different recent effort to include the previously excluded within formal sector banking through new “doorstep” enrollment programs linking humanitarian NGOs, corporate banks, and the state, a version of the expected current triumvirate.

(1) The expansion of banking to the poor, and thus of banking through the poor, operates in relation to Aadhaar in a double form, at least in reference to the limitations of the brief article. That is: new norms of simplified enrollment are to be offered as an inclusive measure. These norms parallel the design and rhetoric of UID/Aadhaar though the article does not state if Aadhaar will be used as a necessary or sufficient guarantor of the trustworthiness of the newly included marginal subject of finance. Given multiple previous articles splayed across the mediascape in which part of the promise of Aadhaar is its guarantee of financial inclusion, the use of Aadhaar in such new norms may be implied. But what is explicitly noted is something else, not that Aadhaar will be used to bring the marginal and excluded into the embrace of the included, but rather than Aadhaar will be demanded of the marginal and included: “Those, who had bank accounts, had been asked to hand over copies of ration card and ‘Aadhaar’ card for including the details in their respective accounts immediately.” In other words, not only is banking expanding in the sense of creating value through inclusion, given apparent recalibrations of trustworthiness through biometrics, but banking is expanding in the sense of creating value through intensifying its informational access to the already included by demanding of them new biometric links to their basic information. I will term this the double expansion, of persons included within the embrace of formal finance capital and of persons included within the economy of “basic information.”

(2) I lack as of yet adequate details of the “doorstep banking” programs that the photograph records. Of note is that this photo, part of a microfinance NGO’s self-audit and promotional materials, includes as obvious and necessary to the scene an act of biometric registration: a woman is having her fingerprints electronically taken through a mobile device “at the doorstep.” In a conversation we had at a conference at Berkeley organized by my colleagues Ananya Roy and Raka Ray, Ravi Sundaram of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies and Sarai pointed out that people’s lives are being saturated by a plethora of biometric demands, not only by UIDAI for the Aadhaar card. Here we have a microcredit program whose promise of total inclusion (“at the doorstep”) involves apparently parallel biometrics. From “a million mutinies now,” we seem to have slid into the age of a million biometrics. What remains in question, for me, is how this multiplicity of tracing will stand in relation to UID’s promise, or if you like threat, of universal de-duplication.

Behavioral Failure and the Killer App: Reflections on Melancholy via AIDS Prophylaxis and the Indian Emergency

This post continues the last post’s brief speculation on the new figure of UID as a platform with “public health” as among its most effective “killer apps.”

Scary?

Several scholars have taken up this striking figure: here I want briefly to engage the critique of Usha Ramanathan in the journal Seminar. Her title, “The myth of the technology fix,” suggests the broad lines of the critique. Indeed it is hard not to be troubled by the promissary hype of UID boosters (suggesting a fruitful future engagement with the anthropology of technological hype and the varied arguments of Kaushik SunderrajanMike Fortun, Nik Brown, and many others).

Ramanathan begins with a diagnosis of public melancholy, to paraphrase the political theorist Wendy Brown, amid the apparent failure of the future-oriented progressivism of the development planning state: “The depths to which public morality has sunk evokes desperation, which seeks answers somewhere other than where the problem now abides, viz. in the human person. Technology and the machine can in the land of desperate optimism, seem relatively uncorruptible.”

The line of argument is familiar, from M.K. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj to the critique of Nehruvian planned development. But if Gandhi could hold out for an ethic of the human and non-human set against certain extremes of machine life, by now Ramanathan suggests the human seems to have been altogether forfeited as a site of work.

If this melancholic condition holds, in which no movement at the level of the human is conceivable, in the context of the figure of duplication that haunts the entire moment and apparatus of UID, it is a condition of behavioral melancholy.  That is, persons, at least “public persons,” simply cannot be counted on to act morally. If behavior fails, tout court, then one needs a proxy for behavior: the machine.

I am moved to suggest this figure of a proxy for behavior given work from a very different context: that of the anthropologist Ryan Whitacre examining the emerging therapeutics of PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV as developed by the Gilead pharmaceutical corporation. At a UCLA conference organized by Mark McGrath to debate the impact of PrEP to which Ryan and I were invited, a dominant argument for the value of antiretroviral medication taken to prevent infection was that “behavior [i.e., condom use] has failed.” In the face of the utter failure of behavior, Gilead’s drug Truvada was offered as a proxy for behavior. [It is worth pointing out that these arguments were not made by Gilead representatives, who were not present at this conference. It may be worth pointing out that some of the activists making these claims were part of a welfare industry increasingly dependent on drug company funding.]

When behavior fails

One of Ryan’s several points, in the face of strenuous claims by several AIDS professionals that PrEP was necessitated by the failure of behavior, was that drug use is of course a behavior.

The point is neither to dismiss the power or utility of Truvada or PrEP nor to fail to acknowledge the experience of the activists that has led some to what I am calling behavioral melancholy.   Still, as scholars we note that PrEP may lead to a lifetime of the pharmaceuticalization of sex for many.  Truvada, used both to prevent as well as to treat infection, leads to a life course in which people who identify with particular terrains of risk consume the same drug both before and after seroconversion, a crucial clinical achievement but also brilliant corporate strategy and a validation of anthropologist Joe Dumit’s concept of the contemporary pharmaceutical capitalization of surplus health.

I mention this aside, on PrEP, as Ramanathan’s point similarly seemed to trouble an implicit or explicit claim for UID/Aadhaar as a proxy for behavior.

Ramanathan turns to the same and widely cited document on UID and Public Health I cited in the last post, and to the figure of the killer app. What is killer about the conception of public health as the “app” driving UID registration, as proposed in the document, is its coercive force. The ability to have access to more and more basic entitlements will be linked to the UID number: life will be inconceivable without it. Ramanathan challenges the “myth of voluntariness,” given the sheer force of the UID as it reorganizes the condition of life itself.

But in at least one sense, the form of coercion at stake works precisely through its “voluntary” quality. One is reminded of Emma Tarlo’s powerful reframing of the coercive sterilizations of the Indian 1970s’ Emergency. Unlike the powerful account in Rohinton Mistry’s novel A Fine Balance, when two poor men are literally dragged by goons into vehicles taking them to a surgical camp for forced operations, Tarlo shows through painstaking archival work in a Delhi resettlement colony how access to state-mediated land, food, employment, and minimal clinical care depended upon having the right identification papers, papers that marked one’s household as having given over a sufficient number of its members for the family-planning operation.

The state form under UID is not the state form under the Emergency. Increasingly, as Ramanathan points out, the state works not through operations but money. She cites the economist Jean Drèze: “The real game plan for social policy … seems to be a massive transition to ‘conditional cash transfers’ … If the backroom boys have their way, India’s public services as we know them will soon be history, and every citizen will just have a smart card – food stamps, health insurance, school vouchers.” Life will be conceived of as dependent on a series of apps, each associated with targeted cash transfer. The state is the platform for these apps. Health entitlement is the killer app as serious illness is, after all, a killer.

To return to the Jim Ferguson article cited in my last post: it is not clear that the shift to cash transfers is a priori a bad thing, or that its effects will represent the winnowing of a vibrant social state. It is not clear that the work of Jean Drèze is as contemptuous of the backroom boys as this particular citation suggests: a topic for another day. Next time, unless I am otherwise distracted, more on the Ramanathan article.

The ultimate proxy for behavior?