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.

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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.

“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.