01 July 2018


Snakes conjure up images multiple,
some profound, some mundane.

From the sacred to the profane,
from reverence to fear.

The slithering beauty, adorning the neckline,
of the three-eyed Lord, Shiva.

The devoted companion, born again and again,
for thy love, in life and in death.

Nagina, Voldermot's double or horcrux,
epitome of evil, that will devour you in full.

The African saying: kill it,
before it bites.

India - the land of the snake charmer,
in penury, addressing man-animal conflict.

In blindfold, the trunk of an elephant,
spewing water, not venom.

Save the stick, save snake,
save the venom, save life.

24 June 2018

Population of India in a non census year: 2017

A quick look at the world wide web does not give any clarity on population estimates for non-census years for India. Besides, agreeing on a single estimate, subgroup consistent estimates can help in the designing and planning of public policy initiatives for vulnerable communities. The Ministry of Home Affairs (Office of Registrar General), the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation should come together to take this forward.
I was curious to know of India's population in a non-census year, 2017. The need arose, as I wanted to estimate snake bite rates (SBRs) across states by gender for 2017. I will address that in a different note, but for now I would like to comment on my search for an estimate of India's population in 2017.

Technical Group of 2006
My search took me to the Statistical Year Book of India 2017 available through the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI), as also the National Health Profile of India - 2018 (released in June 2018 by the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence, CBHI). Both these documents provides population estimates for 2017 based on a Report of the Technical Group on Population Projections (TGPP) published in 2006. The report used census 2001 as base to estimate population rounded-off to the nearest '000 on  1 March for the years 2001 through 3026. The TGPP estimate for India in 2017 being
  • 1,283,600,000 (or, 1.28 billion), for 1 March 2017.
CSO implied estimate
Recently, on 31 May 2018, a press note was released on provisional estimates of annual national income for 2017-18 and revised estimates for earlier years in 2011-12 prices by Central Statistics Office (CSO). In this, one has data for Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and per capita GDP for financial years (starting 1 April of year 't' to 31 March of year 't+1'). While there are no explanation on the method for computing population and the population estimates, one assumes that the per capita GDP ought to have been calculated by taking into consideration the population on 31 March of year 't+1'. The Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy (in notes to macroeconomic aggregates) points out that for 2011-12 series population figures are derived from census 2011. For 2016-17, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at 121,96,006 crore and per capita GDP at 93,888 by CSO indicates a population of
  • 1,298,995,186 (or, 1.30 billion), perhaps for 31 March 2017.
UIDAI estimate
In addition to the above two estimates, the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI), have also provided a projection of population for 2017 in an analysis of Aadhaar saturation. The note also indicates that  data for nine states/union territories (Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh, Daman and Diu, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh) were provided by the respective states/union territories. It is not clear whether the independence to states was in estimating of population or for saturation analysis. In any case, the note does not delineate the method of estimating population, but as this is meant for an analysis of Aadhaar saturation in 2017, one expects that the estimate of population is likely to be for 31 December 2017. The UIDAI estimate for 2017 is
  • 1,316,632,920 (or, 1.32 billion), perhaps for 31 December 2017.
UN estimate
Independent of the above three estimates, the United Nations led exercise of  World Population Prospects 2017 (also available at worldometers) estimates population for all countries from 1950 to 2100 with the reference date being the middle of the year, 1 July of each year. The UN estimate for 2017 for India is
  • 1,339,180,127 (or, 1.34 billion), for 1 July 2017. 
Comparing four estimates
A cursory glance may suggest that the difference in population estimates may be because the reference dates are likely to be different. To address this, we take the estimates for 2017 and 2018 provided by the four different entities in Table 1 and one observes that the range of the estimates for two consecutive years by any entity (TGPP, GDP, UIDAI, and UN) does not overlap with the others.

Table 1: Population estimates for India in 2017 and 2018 through Different Entities
Notes and Sources: TGPP-Technical Group on Population Projections 2006, CSO-Central Statistics Office (press note 2018, also see Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy), UIDAI-Unique Identity Authority of India (projections for 2017 and 2018), and UN-United Nations (World Population Prospects 2017).
Policy pointers
Prima facie, one cannot reject the scientifically grounded UN estimates, unless substantive arguments are put forth. Besides, UN estimates, as is the practice, would have been developed with active engagement of officials and academia from all countries, including India. If there were any substantive differences then that ought to have been provided at that stage. If after that differences remain then they ought to be put up in the public domain.

It would help in provisioning of public policy if there is a common understanding to a basic matter like the total population of the country. This starting point will take us a long way in identifying sub-group consistent population estimates for different categories of vulnerable population and their geographical concentration or spread.

There should be serious efforts to provide population estimates for non-census years by taking into account the census of 2011. In today's age and computing advantages, even without the involvement and technological advantage of UIDAI, all this should be easily possible.

Way forward
The Office of the Registrar General under Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (including the Central Statistics Office) and all other entities should come together at the earliest to provide us with a subgroup consistent population estimates for non-census years. Till that happens, the UN estimates could be a starting point, the shares of population across states may be used from UIDAI or CSO estimates, and within states the sex ratio of TGPP estimates may be used to arrive at a gender-specific population estimate.

06 May 2018

Exclusion errors, Inclusion errors and Aadhaar

This post discusses exclusion and inclusion errors in the context of Aadhaar. From a welfare perspective, reduction of exclusion errors need greater attention. The two errors are either inversely related or are positively related. The Aadhaar architecture is designed to address inclusion errors, and hence, it could either add to exclusion errors or require independent efforts to reduce them. Further, identification being independent, Aadhaar cannot address these errors at that stage. Besides, no one can be held accountable for exclusion errors.   

Introduction: Day 36
On day 36 of Aadhaar hearing in the Supreme Court of India, an implicit reference was made to exclusion and inclusion errors in the delivery of entitlement. I have already discussed about exclusion and inclusion errors in the context of Aadhaar in my earlier posts on proportionalityright to physical existence, and nir-aadhaar among others. Nevertheless, the deliberations on day 36 of the hearing urge me to further elaborate on these.

The two errors
  • Exclusion error occurs when a person deserving an entitlement is excluded (we identify entitlement with receiving of benefits, subsidy, and services in Aadhaar Act). 
  • Inclusion error occurs when a person not-deserving an entitlement is included. 

In comparing the two errors, there are two broad perspectives.

First, from a welfare perspective, exclusion errors are considered the greater evil and to ensure that this is reduced the system can be lenient to inclusion errors. Under this, the two errors are inversely related. In this, efforts to reduce the exclusion errors, will lead to an increase in inclusion errors. Similarly, efforts to reduce the inclusion errors will lead to an increase in exclusion errors.

Second, under certain situations when targets are fixed, the two errors can be positively related. The lower the exclusion errors, the lower will be the inclusion errors. As a corollary, the greater the inclusion errors, the greater will be the exclusion errors. If targets remain unaltered, then a reduction in inclusion errors will also imply a reduction in exclusion errors. Otherwise, reduction in inclusion errors cannot automatically transfer to a reduction in exclusion errors. There ought to be independent efforts to address reductions in exclusion errors. 

In fact, as targets ought to be independently assigned from macro aggregates (say, poverty ratio) then any reduction in inclusion errors leading to savings in budget implies that there are greater exclusion errors.  Or, we are no more in the realm of positive relationship between the two errors. We have moved to the realm of inverse relationship. A reduction in inclusion errors imply an increase in exclusion errors. The authentication failures or absence of Aadhaar that add to the exclusion errors will all fall under this. The savings to the state from these would be like a regressive tax.

Additional concerns
The Aadhaar architecture based on biometric authentication to receive entitlement is designed to reduce inclusion errors (reduce ghosts and duplication among others). However, it is possible that it could also add to inclusion errors. There is nothing in the architecture to prevent inclusion errors that happen after authentication. There can be either denial or reduction of entitlement (like less or no ration) after authentication. However, as the amount will be accounted for it automatically changes hands leading to inclusion errors. This is a continuation of denials when authentication was not done biometrically. Such exclusion-cum-inclusion errors, in the past, have been effectively addressed through social audits and that should continue to be be an effective method, as Aadhaar cannot address it.

A recipient of entitlement ought to be identified independently. It is only after identification that the recipient's information can be integrated with Aadhaar for biometric authentication to facilitate delivery of entitlement. This means that that inclusion and exclusion errors at the stage of identification will remain outside the purview of Aadhaar.

Entitlement denial, with or without authentication, exempts accountability from state. Under Aadhaar Act, any future claims on denial of entitlement may not stand the scrutiny of courts in the sense that the implementing entity cannot be penalised. This is so because authentication will be proof for having received the entitlement and authentication failure cannot be held against them. No one can be held accountable for denial of entitlements.

To sum up, between exclusion and inclusion errors the former is a greater evil. The relationship between exclusion and inclusion errors can either be inversely related or positively related. Aadhaar is designed to address inclusion errors, and hence, it could either increase exclusion errors or need additional independent efforts to reduce exclusion errors. It may weed out some ghosts, but not all inclusion errors. The architecture and design of Aadhar not only does not address exclusion errors, but it could also add to exclusion errors. Further, as identification ought to be independent of Aadhaar, the errors at  the identification stage cannot be addressed by Aadhaar. Besides, under an Aadhaar architecture, the implementing entities cannot be penalised for exclusion errors. 

Earlier blog posts on Aadhaar by the author

[The views expressed are that of the author and not that of the institutions/organisations that the author is associated with. Some of the arguments that are not elaborated here may be found in the earlier related blog posts or in tweets by the author. The author comes from a non-legal background and the final outcome of the Aadhaar hearing would depend upon the arguments put forth by the petitioners and the respondents and their considered interpretation by the honourable judges. Comments are welcome.]

07 April 2018

On Aadhaar Proportionality

This note examines Aadhaar through the lens of proportionality and observes that it fails on all four counts.  Aadhaar's interference with rights is not justified by goals because it is just a medium and cannot be the basis to address a motley of goals. The logical connect is weak because it does not address exclusion errors for individuals, is silent on inclusion errors for non-individuals, and the links to fraudulent financial dealings and terrorism is far-fetched. Even if one is restricted to addressing inclusion errors of individuals, a number without biometric information would be the least intrusive and with relatively less exclusion errors. More importantly, the architecture of Aadhaar does away with executive accountability and puts the burden on those whose rights are compromised. 
The Aadhaar hearing in the Supreme Court of India has completed 25 days. The petitioners opposing Aadhaar put forth their arguments for the first 19 days and the respondents (particularly, the Attorney General including a presentation by Chief Executive Officer of Unique Identity Authority of India) have now put forth their arguments for six days and this will continue for some more days. At this stage, it seems that the judgement could largely depend on Aadhaar's test of proportionality. 

Four aspects of Proportionality
In constitutional jurisprudence, a test of proportionality looks into four aspects. In the context of Aadhaar, they raise the following four questions.
  • Is Aadhaar's interference of certain rights (that inter alia includes right to not be excluded from welfare entitlements, right to life with dignity, and right to privacy) justified by its legitimate goals (this not only includes targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services, but also to curb money laundering, prevent bank frauds, do away with income tax evasion, eliminate poverty, reduce income disparity, and bring down terrorism, among others)?
  • Is there a logical connect between Aadhaar and the legitimate goals?
  • Are there other methods of addressing the legitimate goals that would be less intrusive of the rights?
  • And, more importantly, does Aadhaar impose an excessive burden on those whose rights are being compromised?
Is Interference of rights justified by goals?
In criminal jurisprudence, a settled matter is that no innocent should be punished and in ensuring that it is fine if some perpetrators go unpunished. In the same vein, in matters of welfare entitlement,  no deserving person should be excluded and in ensuring that it is fine if some undeserving persons get included. It follows that right to life with dignity is also compromised for those who are excluded. As an afterthought one may also add that providing benefits to the non-deserving (say, entitlements for the poor to someone who is just a wee-bit above the poverty line) would have greater acceptance than the possibility of allowing the perpetrator of a rarest-of-rare  crime go unpunished  because of some benefit of doubt on account of poor evidence-gathering by the prosecution.

The right to privacy was always enshrined in the Consitution of India; but, unfortunately, was oblivious to the executive until a nine-judge bench clarified this to be the case subject to reasonable restrictions in the interest of the state.  The reasonable restrictions fail the exclusion errors when it comes to targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services. In fact, it is a double whammy because one does not receive the entitlement due even after compromising with privacy concerns. Further, Aadhaar is also touted to curb money laundering, prevent bank frauds, do away with income tax evasion, eliminate poverty, reduce income disparity, and bring down terrorism, among others.  This brings in a motley of goals, as if Aadhaar is a panacea for all ills, which it is not.  

Is there a logical connect with goals?
Aadhaar by design is a technology to 'uniquely' identify and authenticate. Hence, by design it is structured to reduce inclusion errors in the case of persons. This is neither designed nor does it automatically lead to reduction of exclusion errors. Rather, failures to identify and authenticate can add to the exclusion errors. This can be particularly so for individual recipients of entitlements who are manual workers, old and sick among others and thereby questioning their right to life with dignity.

It needs to be mentioned that a substantial amount of benefits, subsidies and services may not be provided to individuals (for instance, incidence of burgeoning fertiliser subsidies, loan write-off to reduce non-performing assets of banks that emanate from non-individual entities, and tax waiver to corporate entities, see more on this at ground reality). They are provided to firms or corporate entities. And, all these would not come under the purview of identification and authentication through Aadhaar. Thus, in these instances, making Aadhaar incapable of addressing inclusion errors also.

Aadhaar's difficulty in addressing exclusion for the recipient of welfare entitlements and inclusion of non-deserving non-individual entities also raises questions on its ability to curb money laundering, prevent bank frauds, do away with income tax evasion, eliminate poverty, reduce income disparity, and bring down terrorism, among others. All these make its logical connect with goals weak.

Are there other less intrusive methods to attain the goals?
For the motley of goals Aadhaar is a means, a via media. In particular, it is designed to facilitate identification and authentication of not only intended recipient of entitlement but also of wrong doers involved in money laundering, bank fraud, and terrorism among others. Aadhaar's ability to identify and authenticate lies through its special feature that it is a 12 digit random number ensuring uniqueness through biometric information (fingerprints and iris of eye) and by not reissuing a number.

Aadhaar is considered to be better than a smartcard, as the smartcard may have a technical life and there could be a fear of misuse due to loss of a smartcard. Limits to a technical life could add to the cost, but the Aadhaar card, a copy of which is required by many service providers, will also have a limited technical life. Besides, an Aadhaar card will also require updating of address or biometric information and in all these instances the cost is on the individual. Besides, a possible misuse of smartcard because of loss could also be addressed technical (for instance, through usage of pin or one time password).

Aadhaar is considered better than a unique number without biometric information because it can do away with a particular individual having multiple such numbers. A case in point is the Permanent Account Number (or PAN) card. While there should be efforts to weed out duplicate PAN cards by any single entity to reduce possible inclusion errors, but its advantage lies in the fact that non-individual entities also have a PAN card and it would be easier to trace transactions, as legally appropriate, through the PAN cards and, if required, one could supplement and complement it with the recently introduced Goods and Services Tax Identification Number (GSTIN). In any case, PAN serves a different purpose, as it is not meant to regulate delivery of benefits, subsidies and services. Either one could use the PAN number or a similar number because it is the least intrusive. This is so because it does not require a digital identification and authentication each and every time one is entitled to receive benefits, subsidies and services. Besides, this system of identification will have less exclusion errors.

Is there excessive burden on those whose rights are compromised?
A common problem of the three systems of identification numbers (Aadhaar, Smartcard, or PAN like number) if they are used to address delivery of benefits, subsidies and services is that they are designed to reduce inclusion errors and are centralised systems and top-down. Further, Aadhaar has been designed to address the executive's inability to address inclusion errors through a technological system (machine readability of identification and authentication), This may not reduce the inclusion errors, but will shift the burden of errors (particularly inclusion, but also exclusion) to the technology. This would mean that no individual would be held accountable for any errors or for omission and commission as the checks have been carried out through Aadhaar identification and authentication. This will be a serious burden on the recipients of entitlement.

It needs to be reiterated that the problem of exclusion errors is local because of absence of last mile connectivity and leakages. The solutions for these should not only be decentralised, but also bottom-up. This requires giving the responsibility to local authorities and also by holding them accountable for deliberate wrong doings. There should be appropriate and effective checks and balances, which among others, should also include social audits.

To wit, in the mid-day-meal scheme it should be the school teacher or any other authority in the school who is the best suited to identify. The possibility of teacher or any other authority misusing the power should be dealt independently and it definitely is not effective to allow each and every student authenticate their presence every day electronically if they have to partake in the mid-day-meal scheme. This will add to the time and cost requirement. Moreover, the Aadhaar-based identification and authentication is not likely to reduce leakages or misuse. For instance, if after identification and authentication through Aadhaar the authorities provide less, or discriminate in provisioning, or refuse mid-day meal to the children.

As already conveyed, Aadhaar's ability to curb money laundering, prevent bank frauds, do away with income tax evasion, eliminate poverty, reduce income disparity, and bring down terrorism, among others is weak. In fact, one does not see much additional advantage over what PAN and GSTIN can achieve to address some of these goals.  Imposing Aadhaar identification and authentication on all such activities would rather add to the burden and can even compromise national security.

While Aadhaar has come through a Money Bill (an Act passed through the lower house), it has been designed to do away with executive accountability. This would mean that the burden of not to be excluded or the burden to live a life with dignity or the burden to not compromise with ones privacy would lie with the recipient. The legal costs can further add to the burden. 

Examining proportionality to Aadhaar, one is of the opinion that Aadhaar fails on all four aspects. First, Aadhaar's interference with rights (right to not be excluded from welfare entitlements, right to  life with dignity, and right to privacy) does not justify the goals because it is just a medium and cannot be the basis to address a motley of goals. It cannot be the be a panacea for all ills. Second, the logical connect to goals is weak. For instance, it does not address exclusion errors for individuals and is silent with regard to inclusion errors on account of non-individual entities. The links to fraudulent financial dealings and terrorism is also far-fetched. Third, even if one restricts to addressing inclusion errors, a number without biometric information would be the least intrusive and will have relatively less exclusion errors.  Fourth, the architecture of Aadhaar removes the accountability of any lapses from the executive and puts the burden on those whose rights are compromised.

Earlier blog posts on Aadhaar by the author

Right to Physical Existence Matters

[The views expressed are that of the author and not that of the institutions/organisations that the author is associated with. Some of the arguments that are not elaborated here may be found in the earlier related blog posts. The author comes from a non-legal background and the final outcome of the Aadhaar hearing would depend upon the arguments put forth by the petitioners and the respondents and their considered interpretation by the honourable judges. Comments are welcome.]

23 March 2018

Right to Physical Existence Matters

On day 20 of the Aadhaar hearing by a five-judge bench in the Supreme Court of India, the Attorney General made a submission. There is a case that calls for analytical separation  between exclusion and inclusion errors. Once this is done, the contrast between the Right to Physical Existence and Right to Privacy disappears.

The submission cites the Rangarajan Poverty report  (paragraph 1, footnote 3) to state that 30 per cent of the Indian population is still poor. Does this mean that the Union of India has accepted the Rangarajan report? As an aside, I may mention that this method of calculating poverty has concerns, which I have raised earlier in my reading between the poverty lines

The submission referred to Type I (exclusion) and Type II (inclusion) errors (paragraph 15 b ii). In jurisprudence terms the errors are similar to punishing an innocent (Type I) and letting the perpetrator go unpunished (Type II). I had also shared earlier on exclusion and inclusion errors in Aadhaar. Of course, any system (governance or otherwise) would like to minimise both the errors. However, as the two seem to be intertwined in such a manner that, more often than not, reducing one may increase the other. Hence, the preferred mode is to try and reduce Type I errors and in the process they may increase the Type II errors.

All said and done, Aadhaar (at least the way it has been designed and is being articulated) is meant to address inclusion errors. The Attorney General's submission referring to various leakages and how they could be reduced was also evidence for reducing inclusion errors, but were  used interchangeably to buttress an argument in favour of exclusion errors. This not only questions the reasonableness of the premise that analytically distinguishes between the exclusion and inclusion errors, but is also a serious affront on democratic polity, as elaborated in an earlier discussion.

While reducing inclusion errors are important, but that is not likely to reduce exclusion errors. What is more, the argument to that effect was seemingly paternalistic - the sarkar is mai-baap. Rather, any and every effort on reducing leakages (inclusion errors) needs greater concern, understanding and sensitivity to a possible increase in exclusion errors.  In fact, Aadhaar itself can be a basis for exclusion, as has been cited by petitioners.

The Attorney General contrasts Right to Physical Existence (or, Right to Life) with Right to Privacy and points out that the former is more important than the latter. This position follows from the premise that reducing inclusion errors will also reduce exclusion errors. Once one accepts the analytical separation of the two errors then the conflict between Right to Physical Existence and Right to Privacy does not hold. This is so because the people whose Right to Physical Existence is violated will also have their Right to Privacy violated. 

Yes, your honour, Right to Physical Existence matters. And, Right to Physical Existence should not be held hostage to Biometric authentication.

Earlier blog posts on Aadhaar

[The views expressed are that of the author and not that of the institutions/organisations that the author is associated with. Comments are welcome.]

19 March 2018

Idhar, Udhar, Aadhaar

The hearing on the Constitutionality of Aadhaar has been going on in the Supreme Court of India since 17 January 2018 by a five-judge bench. The honourable judges will listen to both sides and then take a decision. The purpose of the current note is to visualise Aadhaar through Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act and its importance in the recent interim order of 13 March 2018  by the Supreme Court. It will also raise some concerns on democracy, sovereignty and republicanism.

Section 7 of Aadhaar
"The Central Government or, as the case may be, the State Government may, for the purpose of establishing identity of an individual as a condition for receipt of a subsidy, benefit or service for which the expenditure is incurred from, or the receipt therefrom forms part of, the Consolidated Fund of India, require that such individual undergo authentication, or furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar number or in the case of an individual to whom no Aadhaar number has been assigned, such individual makes an application for enrolment:
Provided that if an Aadhaar number is not assigned to an individual, the individual shall be offered alternate and viable means of identification for delivery of the subsidy, benefit or service."
Recent Interim Order
A recent interim order (13 March 2018) by the five-judge bench extends the relief provided in an earlier interim order (15 December 2017) on linking of Aadhaar to the receipt of entitlement and various service providers (banks account holders and mobile phone subscribers). The order also accepted a submission with regard to Section 7 of the Act. The relevant portions of the recent interim order read as follows:
"...On a query being made, Mr. K.K.Venugopal, learned Attorney General for India submitted that this Court may think of extending the interim order. However, the benefits, subsidies and services covered under Section 7 of the The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 should remain undisturbed. We accept the same.
Having heard learned counsel for the parties, we accept the submission made by the learned Attorney General. Subject to that, we direct that the interim order passed on 15.12.2017 shall stand extended till the matter is finally heard and the judgment is pronounced. That apart, the directions issued in the interim order shall apply as stated in paragraphs 11 to 13 in the said order. For the sake of clarity, we reproduce the said paragraphs which read as under:-
13. Consistent with the above directions, we also direct that the extension of the last date for Aadhar linkage to 31 March 2018 shall apply, besides the schemes of the Ministries/Departments of the Union government to all state governments in similar terms. As a consequence of the extension of the deadline to 31 March 2018, it is ordered accordingly.”
Two Possible Interpretations
There could be two possible interpretations of the recent interim order. One interpretation, based on paragraph 13 of the earlier interim order, implies that the Aadhaar linkage to recipients under various schemes gets extended till a final judgement is taken.

Another interpretation, based on the submission by the Attorney General that the benefits, subsidies and services under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act should remain undisturbed, implies that the extension on Aadhaar linkage to recipient under various schemes is limited. This is so because almost all schemes draw their expenditure from the consolidated funds.

Decoding Section 7
A cursory reading of Section 7 of the Act may suggest that the use of Aadhaar is for identification of a recipient of a subsidy, benefit or service and if an individual does not possess Aadhaar than other alternate and viable methods should be offered. Now, if this is the case then there was no need for the Attorney General's submission requesting that "the benefits, subsidies and services covered under Section 7... should remain undisturbed." This calls for a greater scrutiny.

A careful reading of Section 7 of the Act points out that other alternate and viable methods of identification are perhaps available only to those who have applied for enrollment to Aadhaar. In effect, at the implementation stage this could likely be a one-time exemption only.

Furthermore, Section 7 is silent on denial of benefits, subsidies or services on account of failure of identity authentication. There have been instances where individuals have been denied their genuine entitlements that have been due under employment guarantee or food security or as pension among others. In fact, there have been instances when retired employees have not been able to withdraw their provident fund for want of a life certificate because of a failure in identity authentication through Aadhaar. One may point out that the withdrawal of provident fund may not be directly linked to Aadhaar, as it is part of public accounts and not drawn from consolidated funds. The fact of the the matter is that it also has been dependent on Aadhaar.

Now, a pertinent question is why did the Attorney General bring in Section 7.  One possible conjecture is to guard against inconvenience (and perhaps contempt of court) arising out of acts by implementing agencies that leads to denial of entitlements and also to facilitate business as usual. The executive should continue to do that they have been entrusted with. Another possible argument is to prevent misuse of public expenditure. Maybe, there are some other reasons. Whatever it may be, it does provide a long leash to the executive with an articulation that inclusion errors matter more than exclusion errors. Imposing a moral imperative, excluding a deserving person from her entitlement is more serious than including a non-deserving person.

The moot point is that by accepting the submission by the Attorney General that Section 7 should remain undisturbed the paragraph 13 of the earlier order has lost bite and seemingly redundant. Given this and in view of possible denial of entitlements, the honourable five-judge bench may reconsider accepting the submission in its entirety.

Possible Affront
The denial of legitimate entitlements is serious. It is in this context that one raises a concern on the usage of the term 'benefit'. In a democratic polity by the people, for the people and of the people, the benefits and services rendered by the state either in cash or kind are entitlements. The usage of the term benefit (as also for services) seem to connote a largess. Seeking public health service or public education will no more be a matter of right; rather, it would be a charity by the state. This is an affront on democracy. What is more, this affront seems to have a legislative sanction.

Even the use of the term 'subsidy' may not be appropriate. First because entitlements ought to be facilitated through grants. Technically, all grants may be considered as subsidies, but in plain-speak a subsidy has a Fund-Bank connotation leading to a discussion on market distortions and inefficiencies. While not denying the relevance of markets, any discourse that implicitly or explicitly concedes that it is the only institution that matters is an affront on sovereignty.

As an aside, our concerns on the usage of the words would mean that in the title of the said Act "Targeted Delivery of Entitlements through Grants" should have been used instead of "Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services". This would perhaps also mean that the Act ought not to have come through as a Money Bill.

One may also mention that the World Trade Organisation also distinguishes subsidies as green, amber, blue and red boxes. Meeting entitlement through grants are those that fall under the green category. Articulating them to be 'subsidies' per se could attract them under amber, blue or red leading to a call to withdraw them in some not so distant future.  If that happens that would be an affront on the marginalised and the vulnerable, and in that sense an affront on the republic.

Concluding Remarks
Reading between the lines, a view through the prism of Section 7 of Aadhar Act gives a perspective that plays hide and seek - idhar, udhar, Aadhaar. In addition, we invoke a moral imperative indicating the seriousness of exclusion over inclusion errors and raise concerns on possible affront to democracy, sovereignty, and republicanism. We end with a call on caution. No more idhar, udhar, Aadhaar.

[The views expressed are that of the author and not that of the institutions/organisations that the author is associated with. Comments are welcome.]

12 March 2018

PK mode to India's Growth

India at 70 in a PK mode 
Recently, Rahul Gandhi of INC had an interaction on India at 70 discussing a number of issues at LKYSPP. An informed polity should be discussing the issues raised, but the larger discourse has been limited to a question by one PK (not the vintage PK, those interested for a Sunday tête-à-tête may have a peek here). While I should not be spending my Sunday in a PK mode, but got a bit carried away. Hence, if you find something incoherent, then you know whom to blame. In the same vein, and in all fairness, the credit to any coherence will have nothing to do with being reborn (Asian or otherwise).

An analysis of comparing India's growth with that of the world has already been done by Maitreesh Ghatak (of LSE) and Amitabh Dubey.  I thought of exploring the numbers further either because I had nothing else to do or because I wanted to avoid doing something else.  True, I wanted to play around with the numbers to give some benefit of doubt to PK. However, I unequivocally state that this has no conflict of interest because of being stuck in a PK mode on a Sunday. 

Benefit of Doubt
Having done some work on decomposing poverty change by bringing in population or because of the call for MANUSH in measuring HDI (see its IvU version), I had a feeling that the reference to growth or was it to PK (even if not of the vintage type) was perhaps in per capita terms. This is my first PK benefit of doubt.  

I resort to the data provided by the World Bank through World Development Indicators. I make  use of GDP per capita in constant 2010 US$ terms with data available  from 1960 to 2016 providing us with simple annual average growth rates. From the 56 years of GDP per capita growth rates, India has been having a growth greater than that of the World in 40 years and it has been doing so continuously since 2001.

While it is true that Rahul Gandhi's family has not been in the helm of powers (as Prime Minister of India) since 2001, but then there are phases when Inida has fared well when their family was in the helm of affairs than when others were at the helm of affairs. For instance, in Table 1 as per column Pr1 (proportion of years when per capita growth rate of GDP for India was greater than that for World) Jawaharlal Nehru (JN) and Indira Gandhi's first term (IG1) fare better than that of Lal Bahadur Shastri (LBS+) and this seems to hold even for the annual average per capita GDP growth rate for their respective periods (Gr1). This takes me to my second PK benefit of doubt.

I have a queasy feeling that the comparison was not about the forefathers of Rahul Gandhi and those of others because that sounds inappropriate even in a PK mode. In fact, the other day, I overheard some people in a PK mode discussing among themselves that, at times, being in a PK mode may lead to some nuisance, but under no circumstances would they hit below the belt. And, pitting someone's forefathers with some others' forefathers is so below the belt. In any case, it does not prove any point to discuss the growth performance under Lal Bahadur Shastri when the country had to face a war and drought in that period and that too by pitting one Congress Prime Minister by another. One is of the opinion that the intention was perhaps to compare growth regimes between Congress and Non-Congress Prime Ministers.

Table 1
India's Growth Rate in comparison to that of the World under different Prime Ministers: 1961-2016
Notes: PMs denotes Prime Ministers, Pr_In>Wo denotes proportion of period India's per capita GDP is greater than  that for World. Gr_In, Gr_Wo and Gr_LnM denote the annual average growth rate of per capita GDP for India, World, and low and middle income countries, respectively, for the period that the PMs have been in office. JN refers to Jawaharlal Nehru from 01/01/61 to 27/05/64 (earlier years since 15/08/47 could not be included for data limitation). LBS+ refers to Lal Bahadur Shastri and two tenures of Gulzarilal Nanda as acting PM for 13 days each (the combined period is from 27/05/64 to 24/01/66). IG1 refers to Indira Gandhi's first term from 24/01/66 to 24/03/77. MD+ refers to Morarji Desai and Charan Singh (combined period is from 24/03/77 to 14/01/80). IG2 refers to Indira Gandhi's second term from 14/01/30 to 31/10/84. RG refers to Rajiv Gandhi's term from 31/10/84 to 02/12/89. VP+ refers to the terms of Vishwanath Pratap Singh and Chandra Shekhar (combined period is from 02/12/89 to 21/06/91). PV refers to PV Narasimha Rao's term from  21/06/91 to 16/05/96. IKG+ refers to the terms of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (first term of 16 days), HD Deve Gowda (324 days) and IK Gujral (332 days) and the combined period is from 16/05/96 to 19/03/98. ABV refers to Atal Bihari Vajpayee's second term from 19/03/98 to 22/05/04. MS refers to Manmohan Singh's term (from 22/05/04 to 26/05/14). NM refers to Narendra Modi's term from 26/05/14 to 31/12/16, that is, the period for which information is available.
Source: Calculated by author based on data from World Development Indicators, World Bank and Former Primer Ministers, Prime Ministor's Office, Government of India.

One observes from Table 1 that there have been some Congress regimes that have been doing relatively better than Non-Congress regimes. Note that Indira Gandhi's second term and also the term of Rajiv Gandhi fared better than the terms of MD+ (Morarji Desai and Charan Singh), VP+ (Vishwanath Pratap Singh and Chandra Shekhar) and IKG+ (Atal Bihari Vajpayee's first term, HD Deve Gowda, and Inder Kumar Gujral). The term of PV Narasimha Rao and also of Manmohan Singh fared better than that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's second term. One also observes that the growth under the Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi in its initial years (for which we have data) has also done relatively better than the earlier regimes. While this is important, it is not the point of discussion in a PK mode.  This is my third PK benefit of doubt - the question on comparative growth in India at 70 was not about scoring a political brownie point. At times, self goals can happen in a PK mode, but that is another matter.

Comparing India's growth with the World that would have a greater base may be advantageous for India to show a relatively higher growth rate. Hence, I concede my final PK benefit of doubt and propose comparing with growth rates for low and middle income countries also. It is observed from Table 1 that the the annual average per capita growth rate of GDP for India (Gr1) when compared with that of the World (Gr2) and low and middle income countries (Gr3) under different regimes shows that India has fared better since 1980s, that is from Indira Gandhi's second term and thereafter. Another moot point that emerges is that prior to the 1980s India's growth rate was always relatively lower than that of the World, but fared better than the low and middle income countries under Jawaharlal Nehru.  Keeping that aside, a limited understanding of the data analysed indicates that a momentum or break from the past was initiated in the 1980s, the momentum continued in the 1990s (PV Narasimha Rao's liberalisation initiatives followed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee's India shining), and it gained further speed in the last fifteen years (Manmohan Singh in two Avataar's of United Progressive Alliance, and Narendra Modi's juggernaut). As the growth trajectory continues it will raise other concerns, particularly on the distributional front like the other juggernaut with farmers on their way from Nashik to Mumbai.

Firki remarks
The firki discussion above is from a PK mode. Those interested in a more serious and detailed discussion on episodes of growth along with a discussion of spaces earmarked for deals, rent and political should look up Sabyasachi Kar and Kunal Sen's The Political Economy of India's Growth Episodes (for a quick initiation to the book see this review).

Click on for an earlier note on PK and firki.