India’s broad digital brush not enough to replace babudom

It was a rather disturbing discovery when a friend of mine happened to let it slip over one of our afternoon soirees that her husband had two Aadhaar cards

Published: 21st May 2017 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th May 2017 10:40 PM   |  A+A-

It was a rather disturbing discovery when a friend of mine happened to let it slip over one of our afternoon soirees that her husband had two Aadhaar cards. One was made in Kolkata and the other in Delhi. Apparently, he had a small accident, his driving licence was not made in Delhi to make matters worse. To avoid matters going south, he slipped the cop some money and then trotted off to get a Delhi licence made. 

However, the story does not end there. He was told that for a Delhi licence he needed to get a government-recognised proof of residence in the capital. After a few phone calls to ‘significant people in power’, another Aadhaar card was generated.

It’s that easy! Another case that comes to mind is that of one P V Narayanan, a resident of Kerala, who received two Aadhaar cards issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). Sure, he used different pictures on either card, but how did he managed to dodge the finger printing machine? That’s our ‘robust’ de-duplication test of UIDAI! The reason cited by Moneylife is that the sample size was too small—20,000 people—for our population. 

Given our 1.3 billion people, electronic data is not entirely reliable. The dream of going digital appears moot, whether it is our banks, our UID or EVMs. All the fancy machines in the world cannot replace good old ‘babudom’—in other words, the great Indian paper trail. 

The recent upheaval over the EVMs is just a single case in point. According to news reports over the latest developments in the EVM skirmish, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has directed Chief Secretary M M Kutty to write to the State Election Commissioner asking him to hold the upcoming municipal elections through ballot papers.

This comes after Mayawati cried foul over the dismal performance of the BSP in Uttar Pradesh polls. She alleged that the elections were rigged and  EVMs tampered. 

For the sake of argument, let us say that the objections to the EVMs raised by Mayawati and Kejriwal are slightly biased, given that both their parties had a poor show in the Assembly elections. Let us consider the neutral comments of Poorvi L Vora, professor of computer science at George Washington University: “Generally speaking, in any computer software or hardware, there is the possibility of the individual modules being changed without detection, or being erroneous.” Computer chips may be replaced without detection and can be tampered with. This is seen as a problem not just in India, but even abroad. 

Moving on to our banks, it was only recently that everyone got scared post the ATM debit card scam. Reports have it that money was withdrawn within a span of few hours in two separate time periods from across several continents! No travel is fast enough for a person to be in different continents to swipe the same card.

It was a clear case of malfunctioning systems where the data is compromised to a third party. Currently, it may be safer to stand in a queue and encash a self-cheque, rather than withdraw from ATMs—banks are in fact reducing the ATM withdrawal limit. 

Those born into a Digital Age think that machines are infallible. However, machines are on shaky ground. Research conducted by many biometric systems are prone to incorrectly rejecting a substantial percentage of users. As a nation, we need to consider all these electronic glitches and ensure safety checks in our voting systems, our banks and Aadhaar cards. Meanwhile, there is always the good old paper trail as a backup.

archana dalmia
Chairperson of Grievance Cell,
All India Congress Committee


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