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Delhi High Court yet to hear RTI case in the matter of contract between foreign firms and UIDAI

Written By mediavigil on Tuesday, October 12, 2021 | 8:49 AM

Delhi High Court refuses to hear RTI case regarding world's largest surveillance project through Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR)

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.' 'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.' 'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that’s all.'

 Lewis Carroll’s character Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass

According to Concise Oxford dictionary, surveillance means 'close observation, especially of a suspected person'. Wittingly or unwittingly the ruling parties in India are facilitating surveillance of the nation, citizens and the national assets by transnational actors—with impunity. Out of colossal ignorance, opposition parties are increasingly complicit in it.

 If World Bank Group is not the master of language being used in the world economy then who else is? Is it the “financial Interpol” as well? The body which undertakes financial surveillance is a “financial Interpol” for sure. Now it is increasingly apparent that it aims to undertake "electoral surveillance" as well.    

 An official publication of World Bank Group’s International Monetary Fund (IMF) reveals, “Surveillance, a central pillar of IMF activities and responsibilities in the modern era, is not an easy concept to grasp.”

It will have us accept that only the master can grasp and communicate the meaning of ‘surveillance’. IMF commiserates with the lesser mortals stating that it knows that ‘surveillance’ does sound terrible. This is understandable. 

Jacob A Frenkel, an official of IMF is quoted as arguing that this word ‘surveillance’ should be made to sound benign. It “should give way to concepts of cooperation, partnership, and consultation; of bringing on board the rest of the world’s considerations.” This publication states, “In practice, surveillance has encapsulated all of the above notions, but at its best it has been motivated by and has itself promoted a spirit of international cooperation.”

This publication informs that the first official use of the term came in June 1974. IMF was concerned that “Few, if any countries, however, were prepared to be subjected to surveillance in that strong sense. The 1980s therefore became a decade of experimentation, in which the staff and management of the Fund constantly probed and prodded to see how far they could go in persuading countries to respond positively to Fund analysis and advice.” This concern of IMF is deeply touching. But IMF’s efforts did yield results and by the mid-1990s, a “silent revolution” had happened in countries like India, it infers.

By 2013, at least citizens of 35 countries and their heads know exactly what ‘surveillance’ means. It does sound terrible. Both National Security Agency (NSA) of the US and World Bank Group have a different and benevolent sounding meaning in mind. The publication admits, “Even among IMF staff, those questions did not yield uniform answers.” This incomprehension among them is understandable because The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English tells them that it means “close observation especially of a suspected person.” Heads of financial institutions, Barack Obama and the Prime Minister should consider getting this dictionary meaning changed through their power of persuasion, peer pressure and advertising to avoid confusion that still exists despite relentless and sincere efforts at least since 1974.  

This IMF publication states, “If surveillance was to have any substance, the Fund would have to develop that influence: through the power of persuasion (Fund management and staff to country authorities), through peer pressure (country to country in the forum of the Fund), and through publicity (Fund to the public). The relative merit of each of these channels was always the subject of much debate. Was publicity appropriate, or would it conflict with and even nullify the benefits of persuasion and peer pressure?” The publication uses the word ‘Fund’ to refer to IMF.

IMF asks itself, “Did surveillance mean that the IMF was expected to be a financial Interpol, seeking out and punishing errant behavior, or should its role be more that of a faithful confidant of those entrusted with implementing macroeconomic policies around the world?”

Hasn’t India become “a faithful confidant” of World Bank Group?

There is a chapter “On the Map: Making Surveillance Work” under the section Revolutions in the International Monetary System in the publication titled Silent Revolution: The International Monetary Fund 1979–1989 by James M Boughton published in 2001. The chapter deals with the principles and procedures of surveillance. It may be recalled that Pranab Mukherjee was deeply engaged with the World Bank in various roles from 1982 to 1985.

Notably, it was Mukherjee who formed Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and announced its setting up during the 2009-10 budget speech. He was the Finance Minister from 24 January 2009 to 26 June 2012. In fact, it is remarkable that within four days of taking over as Finance Minister, he got the UIDAI notified on 28 January 2009 by the Planning Commission. In all likelihood, he was part of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) too, which took a decision about the formation of UIDAI on 4 November 2008.

It may recalled that while presenting the Union Budget in 2011-12, Mukherjee, the then Union Finance Minister informed the Lok Sabha that Technology Advisory Group for Unique Projects (TAGUP) headed by Nandan Nilekani, chairman, UIDAI  has submitted its report dated 31 January  2011 and its recommendations have been accepted in principle. As a consequence the sovereign function of tax collection is all set to be handed over to an entity called National Information Utility (NIU), which will be a private company with a public purpose and with profit making as the motive but not profit maximizing. This is yet another lesson either in language or in linguistic corruption.

Earlier, it must be recalled that on 11 January 2011, Business Standard reported that “India has sought an assessment under the Financial Sector Assessment Programme (FSAP) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. “India did a self-assessment (by the Committee on Financial Sector Assessment, or CFSA) of its financial sector in 2009. This has given us the confidence to get our financial sector evaluated by international financial institutions like IMF and the World Bank. We have voluntarily sought a full-fledged Financial Sector Assessment Programme,” the then finance minister Mukherjee said at the second International Finance Conference at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta. This is an admission of the fact that India has subjected itself to the surveillance principles and procedures of IMF. By now Indians know how tricky the use of word ‘voluntary’ is when the Bank is involved in any way.

Chronologically, after this announcement by Mukherjee, Government of India and the World Bank signed a loan agreement of $150 million on 10 May 2011 for the e-Delivery of Public Services Development Policy Loan under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). NeGP is a flagship e-governance initiative approved in May 2006 as a national program to create 'single window' Common Services Centers. NeGP has identified 27 priority projects to be transformed using e-services including details on land records in some 250,000 areas. This loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) has a 5-year grace period and a maturity of 18 years.

And on 13 May 2011, delivering his speech ‘India in a Multipolar World’, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, managing director of World Bank said, “The President of India has recently spelled out among the priorities of her government a set of reforms on governance. This includes initiatives to promote e-governance, which is potentially an effective tool for enhanced transparency, equity and accountability as well as hopefully for administrative reforms. I met Nandan Nilekani this morning and was impressed by the potential impact of the Unique ID scheme for service delivery—more than five million Unique IDs have been issued since September 2010, providing people with a legal identity they probably did not have before. Innovative ICT tools such as this can be an effective mechanism to both supply information and services to citizens and receive feedback from citizens.”

No one will dispute that World Bank has been an undemocratic organization since its inception and is likely to remain so for all times to come. This motivated outreach towards citizens at large especially in developing countries merits attention. It is noteworthy that the annual reports of Congress party led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) refers to biometric-based Aadhaar/UID as parts of its e-governance initiative.   

Earlier on 20 April 2010, the World Bank Group announced that it has thrown open the doors to its statistical databases to provide free, open, and easy access to its comprehensive set of data on living standards around the globe - some 2,000 indicators, including hundreds that go back 50 years. It appears to be a case of paving the path for developing countries. And on 23 April 2010, the Bank launched its eTransform Initiative by signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with France and South Korea besides transnational companies like L-1 Identity Solutions, IBM, Gemalto, Pfizer and others. It was launched in the presence of Ministers of Finance and Communications from many developing countries. The World Bank is currently funding 14 projects related to e-government and e-ID around the world.

It merits recollection that Mukherjee was the Finance Minister during January 1982 to December 1984, which is part of the relevant period with which the IMF publication deals. He led the Indian delegation at the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) during 1982, 1983, 1984, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and he was on the Board of Governors of the IMF during 1982 to 1985 and during 2009 – 2012. Mukherjee was rated one of the best five finance ministers of the world in 1984 according to a survey conducted by “Euro Money” Journal published from New York and was declared ‘Finance Minister of the year’ for Asia in 2010 by “Emerging Markets”, the journal of record for the World Bank and the IMF.

Unless one is not acting as a foundation stone of the “central pillar” of World Bank Group, why will it shower accolades on him and likes of Nandan Nilekani?

There is a revelation in the publication that IMF is concerned with the “viability of military spending” as well. IMF took a formal position on the role of military spending in national economic policy in October 1991. At that time, executive directors concluded that, “as military expenditure can have an important bearing on a member’s fiscal policy and external position, information about such expenditure may be necessary to permit a full and internally consistent assessment of the member’s economic position and policies” If this is not an exercise in surveillance, which admittedly sounds ‘terrible’, what else is it?

Metamorphosis in simple words means transformation. Metamorphosis of the state, the government and citizen is the core motive of electronic and biometric identification as part of the Transformational Government initiative of the World Bank Group.

Mukherjee's presidential speech used to link welfare services to biometric Aadhaar/UID disregarding its illegitimacy and unconstitutionality. 

In a related development, a RTI application partially revealed the content of MoU/ Contract executed between UIDAI with L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company, currently a subsidiary of French conglomerate Safran Group, Sagem Morpho Security Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of Safran Group, Ernst & Young, a US company, Accenture Services Pvt Ltd, a US company and ID Solutions company and the tender cost.  At the time of award of contract to L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company was a US company.

A reply dated 25 October 2013 from Shirish Kumar, assistant director general and chief public information officer (CPIO) of UIDAI reveals that the value of contract for L1 was Rs33.87 crore and for Ernst & Young it was Rs7.05 crore. With regard to Sagem Morpho Security Pvt Ltd, it states that the “effort is on find the data” about the value of contract awarded. This reply in the matter of Sagem Morpho Security Pvt Ltd is quite intriguing. Notably, L1 has undergone metamorphosis and become part of Safran Group along with Morpho Security Pvt Ltd. 

It is relevant to reiterate in this context that Nilekani was given ID Limelight Award at the ID WORLD International Congress, 2010 in Milan, Italy on 16th November wherein Safran Morpho (Safran group) was a key sponsor of the ID Congress. Its subsidiary, Sagem Morpho Security Pvt Ltd has been awarded contract for the purchase of Biometric Authentication Devices on 2 February 2011 by the UIDAI. 

Earlier, on 30 July 2010, in a joint press release, it was announced that “the Mahindra Satyam and Morpho led consortium has been selected as one of the key partners to implement and deliver the Aadhaar program by UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India).” This means that at least two contracts have been awarded to the French conglomerate led consortium.  Is it a coincidence that Morpho (Safran group) sponsored the award to chairman, UIDAI and the former got a contract from the latter?

Nilekani was given the award "For being the force behind a transformational project ID project in India...and "to provide identification cards for each resident across the country and would be used primarily as the basis for efficient delivery of welfare services. It would also act as a tool for effective monitoring of various programs and schemes of the government."

It may also be noted that UIDAI awarded contracts to three companies namely, Satyam Computer Services Ltd (Mahindra Satyam), as part of a “Morpho led consortium”, L-1 Identity Solutions Operating Company and Accenture Services Pvt Ltd of US for the “Implementation of Biometric Solution for UIDAI” on 30 July 2010.

Following Central Information Commission (CIC)’s intervention in the matter of application filed by Col Mathew Thomas, an octogenarian defence scientist, and submissions by the author on his behalf, UIDAI shared its contract agreement with French and US biometric technology companies but crucial pages are missing from the contract agreement after the CIC heard the matter on 10 September 2013. CIC has ruled, “Any agreement entered into by the government is an agreement deemed to have been entered into on behalf of and in the interest of ‘We the people’ in the past.

For long UIDAI refused to share copy of all contracts given to French and US biometric technology companies, namely, L-1 Identity Solutions and Accenture respectively. L-1 was a US company till recently. 

Sushma Singh, the Information Commissioner gave UIDAI’s letter written to CIC submitting that "contractual obligation in respect of BSP (Biometric Solution Provider) contracts has expired. Therefore, UIDAI has no objection in sharing the following contract details:-a) Copy of contract of UIDAI with M/s L-1 Identity Solutions for Biometric Technology; and b) Copy of contract of UIDAI with M/s Accenture for Biometric Technology".

After examining these documents with regard to the Accenture for Biometric Technology, it has come to notice that the first 237 pages appear to be in order but after that there is a one pager titled Annexure J Technical Bid (Technical Bid as submitted by M/s Accenture Services Pvt Ltd). The Technical Bid document is missing. After that there is a one pager titled Annexure K Commercial Bid Commercial (Bid as submitted by M/s Accenture Services Pvt Ltd). The Commercial Bid document is missing.

With regard to the L-1 Identity Solutions for Biometric Technology, one noticed that the first 236 pages appear to be in order but after that there is a one pager titled Annexure I non-disclosure agreement as submitted by L-1 Identity Solutions Operating Company Pvt Ltd. But this document is missing. After that there is a one pager titled Annexure J Technical Bid as submitted by L-1 Identity Solutions Operating Company Pvt Ltd. The Technical Bid document is missing. After that there is a one pager titled Annexure K Commercial Bid as submitted by L-1 Identity Solutions Operating Company Pvt Ltd. The Commercial Bid document is missing. UIDAI has been asked for the missing pages from the copies of the contract.

The reasoning of UIDAI in its letter to CIC dated 10 September 2013 stating that "contractual obligation in respect of BSP (Biometric Solution Provider) contracts has expired” is flawed in the light of the previous judgment of CIC.

Under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the PIO cannot deny information citing commercial confidence for agreements between a public authority and private party.

While giving this judgment, CIC said “The claim of 'commercial confidence' in denying access to agreements between private parties and the masters of the public authorities—citizens—runs counter to the principles of the Right to Information.”

“Any agreement entered into by the government is an agreement deemed to have been entered into on behalf of the and in the interest of ‘We the people’. Hence if any citizen wants to know the contents of such an agreement, he is in the position of a principal asking his agent to disclose to him the terms of the agreement entered into by the agent on behalf of the principal. No agent can refuse to disclose any such information to his principal,” the CIC said in its order dated 27 July 2009.

The Commission was of the view that “The objectives of the RTI Act would be defeated if public authorities claim exemption based on a claim that ‘terms and condition were much more favourable to the government’, and therefore these must be kept away from the Public. In fact public feels that quite often the contrary is the case,” the Commission noted. The CIC observed, “Any so called imaginary moral or reciprocal obligation cannot be permitted to subvert a solemn constitutional and legal obligation” and directed the PIO to provide copy of the agreement.

In the contract agreement between the President of India, as purchaser and L-1 Identity Solutions Operating Company, as a "Biometric Solution Provider" it has been officially admitted that the latter is a corporation of US based in Delaware as of 24 August 2010.  L-1 has since been bought over by French corporate conglomerate, Safran Group after the US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) was convinced that there are no unresolved national security concerns with respect to the transaction. L-1 Identity Solutions announced agreement to be acquired by Safran on 20 September 2010.

From the contract agreement between the President of India, as purchaser and Accenture Services Pvt Ltd as a "Biometric Solution Provider" dated 1 September 2010 it is evident that it has not been disclosed that Accenture Services Pvt Ltd is a subsidiary of Dublin, Ireland based Accenture plc, a US company. Till 1 January 2001 it was known as Andersen Consulting. As a consequence of French corporate conglomerate Safran’s purchase of US company L-1 Identity Solutions, the de-duplication contracts of UIDAI’s Centralized Identities Data Repository (CIDR) and Home Ministry’s National Population Register (NPR) which was given to foreign companies on 30 July 2010 to three companies now lies with two companies of French and US origin namely, Safran Group and Accenture.

UIDAI has not disclosed whether there has been any fresh agreement between UIDAI and Safran Group and its subsidiaries and who all are the biometric solution providers after the expiry of the “contractual obligations” with L-1 Identity Solution and Accenture. The contract agreement with Accenture Services Pvt Ltd at clause 15.1 it reads: "By virtue of this Contract, M/s Accenture Services Pvt Ltd/Team of M/s Accenture Services Pvt Ltd may have access to personal information of the Purchaser and/or a third party or any resident of India, any other person covered within the ambit of any legislation as may be applicable."  The purchaser is President of India through UIDAI.

The clause 15.3 reads: "The Data shall be retained by Accenture Services Pvt Ltd not more than a period of 7 years as per Retention Policy of Government of India or any other policy that UIDAI may adopt in future."

The contract agreement with L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company at clause 15.1 reads: "By virtue of this Contract, M/s L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company/Team of M/s L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company may have access to personal information of the Purchaser and/or a third party or any resident of India, any other person covered within the ambit of any legislation as may be applicable." The purchaser is President of India through UIDAI.

The clause 15.3 reads: "The Data shall be retained by L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company not more than a period of 7 years as per Retention Policy of Government of India or any other policy that UIDAI may adopt in future."

This implies that all the biometric data of Indians which has been collected so far is now available to US Government and French Government. 

Something remains rotten in the state of Denmark, says Shakespeare in Hamlet. So is the case with Delhi High Court case on non-disclosure of info on foreign firms like ACCENTURE & SAFRAN Group. 

Notably, 13th judge heard it on 11th December, 2019 and adjourned it to 01-05-2020. There was no hearing in 2020. As of 12/10/2021, it is listed before Court No. 21 but no date of hearing is mentioned so far. 

Writ Petition (Civil) No. 9143/2014, Delhi High Court case on non-disclosure of information of foreign firms by UIDAI despite CIC’s order has been pending since 2014. It has been listed 22 times before 10 different single judge benches Next date of hearing was listed for 19 November 2018 before Justice Vibhu Bakhru. 1st hearing too was before him.

But instead of Justice Bakhru, on November 19, 2018, another new judge, Justice Suresh Kumar Kait heard the matter and passed the order: “Mr Lalit Bhasin, learned counsel appearing on behalf of the proposed respondent M/s Accenture services Pvt.Ltd. seeks time to file reply to the instant application.Let needful be done within four weeks.On taking steps, let service be affected upon other non-applicants, returnable on 14.03.2019.”

On March 14, 2019, another fresh judge, Justice V. Kameswar Rao heard the matter and passed the order: “Let a copy of the application seeking impleadment be given to the counsels for the proposed respondent Nos.4 and 5. Reply to the application be filed within four weeks.Rejoinder, if any, be filed within two weeks thereafter.List on August 28, 2019.”

On August 28, 2019, yet another new judge,  Justice Jayant Nath  heard the matter and passed the order: “At request of the learned counsel for the petitioner, adjourned to 11.12.2019.”

So far 13 judges have heard the case within a span of 5 years. On 11th December, 2019, the case came before Justice Jayant Nath. He passed an order saying, “On the request of the learned counsel for the respondents, adjourned to 01.05.2020”. As of October 18, 2020, the High Court website shows that the matter is before Court No. 11 but no date has been fixed for hearing an issue of huge national importance. 

Can one ask Hon’ble Delhi High Court Chief Justice and Hon’ble Registrar General as to why this national security related case is not getting the priority it deserves? Big Data foreign firms seem to have subverted this public institution as well, no?

In a significant development, on 18 October 2013, Ernst & Young, the firm which had won a contract from UIDAI has agreed to pay $99 million to former Lehman Brothers investors who have accused the auditor of helping Lehman misstate its financial records before the investment bank's collapse triggered a financial crisis in 2008. Lehman is accused of using an accounting practice to misleadingly understate its leverage to make itself appear more financially solvent. In a reported statement Ernst & Young claimed that it is settling the case "to put this matter behind”. It has been alleged that Ernst & Young contributed to the fraud by failing to investigate and ensure the truthfulness of the statements. The question is why Ernst & Young was awarded the contract by UIDAI despite knowledge about its credential at least since 2008.  

In the matter of National Identification Authority of India (NIAI) Bill, 2010, “NHRC’s views on the NIAI Bill, 2010″ in the Human Rights Newsletter (Vol. 18 No.8, August 2011) reveals that biometric UID/Aadhaar Number has dangerous ramifications is quite relevant in this regard. The Bill seeking the rubber stamp of legitimacy for UIDAI was trashed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance. NHRC’s view was presented to the PSC. NHRC’s view on “need for protection of information” and “the possibility of tampering with stored biometric information” and “disclosure of information in the interest of national security” has been ignored by Congress Party because it has accepted the principles and procedures of surveillance fixed by the World Bank Group. It is apparent that this party is facilitating surveillance of the nation, citizens and the national assets by transnational actors with impunity. The party has structurally adjusted the national institutions to ensure it.

Biometric data based 12 digit Unique Identification (UID)-Aadhaar Number linked welfare schemes is being bulldozed with the ulterior motive of altering voting behavior of the citizens by creating a ‘universal identity infrastructure’ linked to ‘unified payment infrastructure’.

Ahead of next parliamentary elections, with the launch of 21st crore UID-Aadhaar Number and Aadhaar Enabled Service Delivery (AESD) on October 20, 2012 contemptuously ignores Parliament, Parliamentary Committee, National Advisory Council and eminent citizens and the lessons from the belated report from Planning Commission’s Group of Experts on Privacy dated October 16, 2012. What is evident is that there is an open war declared on sensitive personal information like biometric data which includes finger prints, iris scans, voice prints, DNA samples etc. The fact is a centralized electronic database of citizens and privacy, both are conceptually contradictory.

The launch exercise of October 20, 2012 stands exposed because it is officially admitting that UID-Aadhaar is mandatory contrary to what was claimed at its launch in Maharashtra on September 29, 2010. The creeping of voluntariness into compulsion through threat of discontinuance of services has been roundly castigated by Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) leader Yashwant Sinha headed Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance.

A revealing Policy Research Working Paper titled ‘Conditional Cash Transfers, Political Participation, and Voting Behavior’ brought out by World Bank in October 2012 “provides empirical evidence to support the notion that political participation and political views are responsive to targeted transfers.” It notes that in Colombia, “During the 2010 presidential election voters covered by FA (large scale conditional cash transfer) not only voted more often, but also expressed a stronger preference (around 2 percentage points) for the official party that implemented and expanded the program… Another possible explanation is that FA (large scale conditional ash transfer) was strategically targeted and motivated by clientelism and vote buying.” 

On its website Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) continues to claim that UID-Aadhhar is ‘voluntary’ and not ‘mandatory’. The million dollar question which Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Nandan Monohar Nilekani need to answer is: how can Aadhaar be deemed ‘voluntary’ if service delivery is being made dependent on it. This is a grave breach of public trust. This is a deliberate exercise in deception. The proposed ‘electronic transfers of benefits and entitlements’ through ‘Aadhaar-linked bank accounts of the beneficiaries’ is crafted to make it mandatory. The claim “Each Aadhaar number will be unique to an individual and will remain valid for life. Aadhaar number will help you provide access to services like banking, mobile phone connections and other Govt and Non-Govt services in due course” is fraught with creating a platform for convergence of government and corporate sector as is aimed by the ‘Transformational Government’ project of World Bank’s eTransform Initiative launched in partnership with Governments of South Korea and France and six transnational corporations like Gemalto, IBM, Intel, L-1 Identity Solutions (now part of Safran Group), Microsoft and Pfizer.

This scheme is unfolding despite the fact that Parliament has not passed the National Identification Authority of India Bill (NIAI), 2010 proposed by the Indian National Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. It is noteworthy that Sinha headed Parliamentary Committee in its report to the Parliament has rejected UID and biometric data collection terming it as an illegal and an unethical project.

Corroborating citizens’ concerns, the Parliamentary Committee has noted that the government has “admitted that (a) no committee has been constituted to study the financial implications of the UID scheme; and (b) comparative costs of the aadhaar number and various existing ID documents are also not available.” The Committee expressed its anxiety that, the way the project had been run, “the scheme may end up being dependent on private agencies, despite contractual agreement made by the UIDAI with several private vendors.”

The parliamentary rejection of this scheme came in the aftermath of the Statement of Concern issued in the matter of world's biggest data management project, Unique Identification (UID) /Aadhaar Number scheme and related proposals like National Intelligence Grid by 17 eminent citizens led by Justice V R Krishna Iyer. The NIAI Bill, 2010 which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 3, 2010 after the constitution of the UIDAI and appointment of Nilekani as its Chairman in the rank and status of a Cabinet Minister without oath of secrecy. The Bill sought to provide statutory status to the UIDAI which has been functioning without backing of law since January 2009. At present UIDAI is functioning without any legislative mandate.

One day ahead of the launch of UID in Nandurbar District of Maharashtra on September 29, 2010, the statement of eminent citizens had asked for the project to be put on hold till a feasibility study was done, a cost: benefit analysis undertaken, a law of privacy put in place and the various concerns of surveillance, tracking, profiling, tagging and convergence of data be addressed. None of this has happened till today. The Parliamentary Committee had endorsed these concerns and recognised that the project cannot carry on till this is set right. Many countries UK, China, USA, Australia and the Philippines have abandoned such identity schemes.

Nilekani, as a member or chairperson of multiple committees of several ministries pushed for the adoption of the UID, and for the re-engineering of current systems to fit the does not meet the requirements of the UID. There have been attempts to withdraw services such as LPG and other essential commodities if a person has not enrolled for a UID. The state governments and citizens have been kept in dark about the harmful ramifications of the world's biggest data management project and how it linked with hitherto undisclosed other proposed legislations and initiatives. The UID number and related proposals pose a threat to both civil liberties as well as our natural resources like land as is evident from Land Titling Bill and Nilekani’s book that aims to create a common land market to reduce poverty.

Nilekani's promotion of Hernando de Sotto's book 'The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else' through his own book Imagining India arguing that national ID system would be a big step for land markets to facilitate right to property and undoing of abolition of right to property in 1978 in order to bring down poverty! Nilekani and the UPA government should be asked as to explain the inexplicability of such assumptions.

Notably, such UIDs have been abandoned in the US, Australia and UK. The reasons have predominantly been: costs and privacy. In the UK, the Home Secretary explained that they were abandoning the project because it would otherwise be `intrusive bullying’ by the state, and that the government intended to be the `servant’ of the people, and not their `master’. The Supreme Court of Philippines struck down a biometric based national ID system as unconstitutional on two grounds – the overreach of the executive over the legislative powers of the congress and invasion of privacy. The same is applicable in India.

Not surprisingly, the Parliamentary Committee observes, “The clearance of the Ministry of Law & Justice for issuing aadhaar numbers, pending passing the Bill by Parliament, on the ground that powers of the Executive are co-extensive with the legislative power of the Government and that the Government is not debarred from exercising its Executive power in the areas which are not regulated by the legislation does not satisfy the Committee. The Committee are constrained to point out that in the instant case, since the law making is underway with the bill being pending, any executive action is as unethical and violative of Parliament's prerogatives.” The committee also observed that a National Data Protection Law is “a pre-requisite for any law that deals with large scale collection of information from individuals and its linkages across separate databases. It would be difficult to deal with the issues like access and misuse of personal information, surveillance, profiling, linking and matching of data bases and securing confidentiality of information etc.“

In a significant development following rigorous deliberations, an Indian development support organization founded in 1960, Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) disassociated itself from UID Number project which was being undertaken under Mission Convergence in Delhi. Withdrawal of IGSSS that works in 21 states of the country merits the attention of all the states and civil society organisations especially those who are unwittingly involved in the UID Number enrollment process. In its withdrawal letter IGSSS said, “we will not be able to continue to do UID enrolment…” It added, it is taking step because ‘it's hosted under the rubric of UNDP's "Innovation Support for Social Protection: Institutionalizing Conditional Cash Transfers" [Award ID: 00049804, Project: 00061073; Confer: Output 1, Target 1.2 (a) & Output 3 (a), (b)]. In fact we had no clue of this until recently when we searched the web and got this information.’

It is clear that both Mission Convergence and UIDAI have been hiding these crucial facts with ulterior motives. The letter reads, “IGSSS like many other leading civil society groups and individuals are opposed to conditional cash transfers and the UID will be used to dictate it.”

The Parliamentary Standing Committee considered the NIAI Bill, 2010 presented its report to the Parliament on December 13, 2011. The report had rejected biometric data based identification of Indians. The report is a severe indictment of the hasty and `directionless' project which has been "conceptualised with no clarity of purpose". Even the functional basis of the Unique Identification Authority of India UIDAI is unclear and yet the project has been rolled out. The Standing Committee found the biometric technology `uncertain' and 'untested'. As early as December 2009, the Biometric Data Committee had found that the error rate using fingerprints was inordinately high. In a recent interview to the press, the Director General and Mission Director of the UIDAI had admitted that fingerprints are likely not to work for authentication. The error rate could end up excluding up to 15% of the population. It has also come to light that even iris scan keeps changing and is unreliable. Yet, the ruling parties have gone ahead with the exercise. 

Besides influencing the voter preference, once the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) is ready, it will emerge as a potential threat to minority communities of all sorts by some regime which finds them unsuitable for their political projects.

So far the entire political class has remained insensitive to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights about violation of the right to privacy and citizens’ rights. The case was heard publicly on February 27, 2008, and the unanimous decision of 17 judges was delivered on December 4, 2008. The court found that the “blanket and indiscriminate nature” of the power of retention of the fingerprints, cellular samples, and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offenses, failed to strike a fair balance between competing public and private interests and ruled that the United Kingdom had “overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation” in this regard. The decision is nonappealable.

Unmindful of this, in India, National databank of biometric data is unfolding which is proposed to be linked to electoral database amidst the political myopia of political parties in the face of the onslaught of the foreign biometric and surveillance technology companies. The only saving grace has been Parliamentary Standing Committee that has taken on board studies done in the UK on the identity scheme that was begun and later withdrawn in May 2010, where the problems were identified to include "(a) huge cost involved and possible cost overruns; (b) too complex;(c) untested, unreliable and unsafe technology; (d) possibility of risk to the safety and security of citizens; and (e) requirement of high standard security measures, which would result in escalating the estimated operational costs."

It may be recalled that S.Y. Quraishi as the Chief Election Commissioner had sent a dangerous proposal to Union Ministry of Home Affairs asking it “to merge the Election ID cards with UID”. Such an exercise would mean rewriting and engineering the electoral ecosystem with the unconstitutional and illegal use of biometric technology in a context where electoral finance has become source of corruption and black money in the country. This would lead to linking of UID, Election ID and Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) which is not as innocent and as politically neutral as it has been made out to be. It is noteworthy that all EVMs have a UID as well. In the meanwhile, it is reliably learnt that voter registration in Manipur is happening using biometric data. This makes a mockery of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on UID which notes that “The collection of biometric information and its linkage with personal information of individuals without amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955 as well as the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, appears to be beyond the scope of subordinate legislation, which needs to be examined in detail by Parliament”.

Opposition parties at the centre and in the States appear to be feigning ignorance about these attempts at re-plumbing the electoral ecosystem and a complicit section of civil society seems guilty of practicing ‘the economics of innocent fraud’.

The results of the October 2012 World Bank paper reveals that “voters respond to targeted transfers and that these transfers can foster support for incumbents”. The UID-Aadhaar and unified payment infrastructure proposed is an act in designing political mechanisms to capture pre-existing schemes for political patronage in spite of the absence of ‘legislative mechanisms’. It is apparent that political parties have been caught unawares into implementing the program which is designed to their political disadvantage.

Unless the total estimated budget of the Aadhaar project is revealed, all claims of benefits are suspect and untrustworthy.

At the Global Conference on Cyber Space, Prime Minister said, “I am sure most of you are already aware of Aadhaar, which is the unique biometric identity of a person…Through better targeting of subsidies, the JAM trinity has prevented leakages to the tune of nearly 10 billion dollars so far.” Sometime back, former head of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), Nandan Nilekani had claimed in Washington that so far, the government has saved about $9 billion by eliminating fraud in beneficiary lists due to 12-digit biometric Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar Numbers being fed into Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR). These questionable claims about savings from UID/Aadhaar have been widely reported.  However, most such claims have been published without verifying the source of the data. Given the fact that these claims are based on reports of the World Bank it is relevant to recall the veracity of the bank’s own claims. 

The World Bank report of 2016 claimed that Aadhaar can save Rs 70, 000 crore annually once Aadhaar is applied to all social programmes and welfare systems. This has been submitted as part of the Central government’s reply to a writ petition before the Supreme Court. The affidavit of April 27, 2017 enclosed the relevant portions of the 359-page World Bank report of 2016 on digital dividends (page 195) to underline the imminent savings “through reduce(d) leakage and efficiency gains”. This data of 11 billion refers to page 197 of the report that is based on a four-page 2015 study titled From Cash to Digital Transfers in India: The Story So Far by Shweta S. Banerjee. Shweta works on the Microfinance Gateway which is housed at the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP). On page 1,  it is stated: “The value of these transfers is estimated to be Rs 70,000 crores ($11.3 billion) per annum.” It is manifest that it is making a claim about the total value of the money that has been transferred and not about savings as a result of adopting a direct cash transfer model. The source of data cited in this study has conclusively been established to be questionable and unreliable and a major goof. Such claims have been debunked by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India as well. If the bank’s own data has been found to be ‘puffery’, how can its volunteer’s claims inspire trust? Now that the bank has admitted its blunder in writing, it is time it came out with a clarification to ensure that misleading claims about such savings can be buried “ten fathom deep, with no chance of resurrection.” All ministers, agencies and publications reproducing the Bank’s Himalayan blunder of equating value of “transfers” with “savings in subsidy” in its study are either guilty or complicit in this not-so “innocent fraud”.

As to claims about savings from the Aadhaar project, insincerity has been evident from the outset. During Niekani’s tenure  at UIDAI, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance in its Sixty-Ninth Report on the ‘Demands for Grants (2013-14)’ observed, “A provision of Rs. 2,620 crore has been allocated in Budget Estimate (2013-14) for UIDAI and a major part of the budget provision for Rs. 1,040 crore is earmarked for ‘Enrolment Authentication and Updation’, out of which an amount of Rs 1,000 crore has been earmarked under the head ‘other charges’.” The total budgetary allocations made for UIDAI since its inception up to 31 March 2014 was Rs 5440.30 crore. For 2009-10, it was Rs 120 crore. For 2010-11, it was Rs 1,900 crore. For 2011-12, it was Rs 1,470 crores 1,200. For 2012-13, it was 1,758 crore and for 2013-14, it was Rs 2,620.00 crore. For the year 2014-15, the budget estimate was Rs 2,039 crore. The budget estimate of expenditure on the project being implemented by UIDAI was Rs 2,000 crore in 20015-16. For the year 2016-17, the estimate was Rs 990 crore (including Rs 190 crore first supplementary). As of February 2017, the UIDAI had incurred a cumulative expenditure of Rs 8,536.83 crore. This included undefined “other charges” pointed out by the Parliamentary Committee. 

Take the case of 2009-10 when the budget estimate was Rs 120 crore and the final expenditure was Rs 26.21 crore. In 2015-16, the budget estimate was Rs 2,000 crore but the final expenditure was Rs 1,679 crore. In 2016-17, when budget estimate was Rs 990 crore, the final expenditure is Rs 877.16 crore up to February 2017.  For the period 2019-20, the consolidated expenditure upto 30 November 2019 was 429.4 crores.

The Parliamentary Committee wondered in its report as to why inflated targets were consistently being given. 

UIDAI got an allocation of Rs 1,345 crore in the 2018-19 and Rs 1,227 crore for 2019-20. But the amount for 2019-2020 was revised downwards to Rs 836.7 crore, according to Budget 2020-21 documents. Notably, excess expenditure during 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 has been met from unspent balance of 2018-19 available in UIDAI Fund. Shouldn’t the UIDAI provide the details of the expenses incurred under “other charges”? 

Most recently a reply to an RTI application filed by Prof. Anupam Saraph has revealed that Department of Financial Services, Finance Ministry and other relevant government departments do not have information on rules or procedures to identify beneficiaries of state-sponsored subsidies under the Aadhaar Act, 2016. This implies that the claim made by India's finance minister in 2019 to the effect that UID/Aadhaar number had helped save Rs 90,000 crore by eliminating fake beneficiaries was misleading. The RTI applicant is seeking information on a full citation of rules to identify beneficiaries, officers tasked with maintaining a database of beneficiaries, processes to identify any fake beneficiaries, procedures and algorithms involved in the process and a district-wise break-up of the number of fake beneficiaries. His query has been transferred to several  other departments of the Ministry including to the Health and Family Welfare Ministry and Indian Space Research Organisation. They too do not have any information. The First Appellate Authority too has inferred that the information sought is not available. There is no response to his query regarding change from RBI run NEFT/RTGS to an Aadhaar-enabled platform run by NPCI, a private body for transferring benefits and subsidies. Central Information Commission (CIC) was to hear the matter on October 20, 2020 in this regard. It's fate is not known. 

Under the influence of World Bank Group, the Government of India has been pushing for PAN-Aadhaar linkage in the name of saving the country from the embarrassment of incorrect reporting as part of the nation’s Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act and Common Reporting Standard obligations. Now it has come to light that that PAN-Aadhaar linkage destroys tax history and makes benami taxpayers indistinguishable from those who have been paying taxes for decades before 2014. A research paper reveals that UID/Aadhaar requirement to issue PAN violates the Income Tax Act that requires the PAN be issued by the Income Tax Officer. It creates a compelling logic for deleting Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act and all acts and rules that have notified the use of UID/Aadhaar. Supreme Court's verdicts Aadhaar Act is yet to be decided further by a yet to be set up 7-Judge Bench because admittedly some gnawing constitutional questions have remained unanswered so far. 

Although it has been over 11 years since the UID/Aadhaar project was formally launched and three years have passed since the verdict on the right to privacy was delivered, the promised law to safeguard citizen's right to privacy and data protection has not been enacted as yet.

The estimated total budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project has not been disclosed despite demand for it while seeking cost: benefit analysis. Unless the total estimated budget of the project is revealed, all claims of benefits are suspect and untrustworthy. How can one know about total savings unless the total cost is disclosed?

It is evident that anonymous donors and international financial institutions like the World Bank Group have succeeded in their dataveillance projects to mine national data wealth for surveillance capitalists and their governments in myriad disguises.  

Do opposition parties have the political courage to make it an electoral issue in national interest or do they agree with Humpty Dumpty that SURVEILLANCE means “cooperation, partnership, and consultation”?

Unjustified construction of hydropower projects in Ganga and Himalayas

Written By mediavigil on Thursday, September 23, 2021 | 5:08 AM


Shri Narendra Modi
Hon'ble Prime Minister 
Government of India
New Delhi

Date: 23/09/2021

Subject: Unjustified construction of hydropower projects in Ganga and Himalayas 


With reference to the open letter dated September 10, 2021, addressed to you by over 60 concerned eminent citizens, I wish to draw your attention towards the pearls of wisdom from Mahabharata. (The letter is reproduced below) Mahabharata describes
the Divine Being saying, “The mountains are his bones. The earth is his fat and flesh. The oceans are his blood. Space is his stomach. The Wind is his breath. Fire is his energy. The rivers are his arteries and veins. Agni and Soma, otherwise called the Sun and the Moon, are called his eyes. The firmament above is his head. The earth is his two
feet. The cardinal and subsidiary points of the horizon are his arms,” This is narrated by Bhishma in conversation with Yudhishthira by referring to the reply of Rishi Bhrigu to sage Bharadwaja. This verse occurs in the Shanti Parva of Mahabharata.

I submit that hydropower projects on rivers entails mutilation of the veins and arteries of the divine nature. Rivers shape the terrain and lives of people by its waters which are always in a dynamic state. Breaking
this dynamic would unleash forces of uncontrolled change and invite
the ‘law of unintended consequences’. Let’s remember the terrible Aral Sea disaster caused by the mistakes of Soviet Union in which two Siberian rivers were diverted.  

I submit that whenever there is conflict between financial gains and rivers, the latter must get priority over monetary benefits because by any yard stick economic value of a free flowing river is bigger than
dammed and mutilated rivers.  The capitalist, communist and colonial legacy of treating rivers as material flow that flow through pipelines must be abandoned and rivers must be treated as living beings that
nourished our civilization for centuries and can nourish all the coming generations if cannibalistic tendency of diverting waters in
bottles, dams and banks is stopped.

With regard to pollution in rivers, I wish to submit that if the Hon'ble Prime Minister can demonstrate the political will to stop all the effluents and sewage from entering into river streams through a single executive decision,
he would have done an exemplary act of arresting ecological collapse
and for safeguarding the quality of blood flowing in veins and arteries of the present and future generations. The issue quality and quantity of water in the rivers is linked because whenever there depletion of water flow in the river, quality of river water deteriorates. Therefore, how can depletion of river flow through dams on Ganga which results in deterioration of quality of water in Ganga be deemed defensible. 

It creates a compelling logic for me to endorse the letter below authored by the eminent citizens. 

Open Letter to the Prime Minister:

Restarting seven under-construction hydro projects in Ganga Himalaya unjustified
Recently the MoEF&CC has recommended restarting the construction of seven under-construction HEPs  in Uttarakhand namely Tehri II (1000 MW), Tapovan Vishnugad (520 MW), Vishnugad Pipalkoti (444 MW), Singoli Bhatwari (99 MW), Phata Byung (76 MW), Madhmaheshwar (15 MW), and Kaliganga II  (4.5 MW). The news came as a shock to citizens, devotees and environmentalists who have been struggling  since over a decade to preserve our national river Ganga and the Himalaya. The deeply felt concern over  the fate of these two pivotal ecological systems and defining symbols of Indian culture, compel us to write  this letter. Not the least, as a citizen, it is also our constitutional duty ‘to protect and improve India’s natural  environment’.

In the past the MoEFF&CC has strongly supported and concurred with the findings of Expert Body-I (EB I), a body formulated on the directions of the Supreme Court, which found that HEPs aggravate disasters  and cause irreversible environmental damage. The MoEFF&CC stated in its affidavit (5/12/2014) ‘that it  was a cause of pain, anguish and outrage that so many lives had been lost and properties damaged.’ Therefore, it said any decision on HEPs should be on ‘very strong and sound footings with scientific back  up.’ In direct contradiction to this the only reasons given for restarting these projects is that ‘a substantial  progress and sizeable investment’ has been made.

Six out of the seven projects (except Tehri Stage II) recommended, lie in para-glacial zones, or in its buffer.  The EB-I Report had explicitly highlighted the dangers of building dams in the para-glacial zone, now  understood as the region upstream of the MCT. Several scientific publications thereafter have also  supported the EB-I recommendation against building dams in these areas. The destruction of the  Vishnuprayag, Phata-Byung and Singoli Bhatwari HEPs in 2013 whereas the Rishiganga and Tapovan  Vishnugad HEPs in February 2021 are recent examples.
The Madhmaheshwar and Kaliganga HEPs are proposed on virgin rivers in a para-glacial zone. Scientific  publications in the recent years have highlighted that small para-glacial tributaries are more destructive than  the main rivers. For example, the most severe destruction in 2013 was caused by Khiro Ganga, and in 2021  by Raunthi Gad and Rishiganga. Following the June 2013 disaster, Madhmaheshwar and Kaliganga rivers  are virtually clogged with sediment. These sediments are likely to get mobilized during extreme hydro  meterological events thus likely to impact the Singoli- Bhatwari HEP, whose barrage is located barely a few hundred meters below the confluence of Madhmaheshwar ganga with the Mandakini river as happened  with the two HEPs in February 2021.

Phata-Byung and Tapovan-Vishungad can in no way be considered as 50 per cent complete. They have  suffered extreme damage, and lie buried under debris even to this day. Their upstream geomorphology and  catchment ecology is completely obliterated compared to what it was when the projects were designed and  approved. They would require detailed fresh investigations, new DPRs and fresh clearances if they were to  be considered for reconstruction. Local reports suggest that Vishnugad-Pipalkoti construction too, is under  50 percent. Tehri 2 HEP, if constructed, would immediately recycle the river water that emerges out of  Tehri 1 dam without allowing for even a minimal stretch of flow in which the Ganga could revive herself.  Studies by NEERI have found that Tehri 1 has already compromised the self-purifying property of  Gangajal. Tehri 2 would only deteriorate it further.

Glaciers in the Himalaya are retreating faster than the global average. Hence the increased frequency of  downstream flooding, glacial lake floods, and other disasters is expected. We have recently witnessed Rishi  Ganga HEP being wiped out in minutes by the flooding in the Rishiganga River. Tapovan-Vishnugad and  its tunnels was buried under tonnes of debris minutes later, and still remains in a deplorable condition.  Labourers lost their lives in a tragic and horrific manner and many dead bodies could not even be retrieved  from the tunnel. ICIMOD had already predicted in 2009 that, ‘Valuable infrastructure, such as hydropower  plants, roads, bridges, and communication systems, will be increasingly at risk from climate change. Entire  hydropower generation systems established on many rivers will be in jeopardy if landslides and flash floods  increase, and hydropower generation will be affected if there is a decrease in the already low flows during  the dry season.’  
Fresh designs, costs of the damages suffered and reconstruction will make the power produced by Phata Byung and Tapovan-Vishugad prohibitively costly, especially when compared to the cheap solar power  available today. The price of recovery in the valley after 2013 Kedarnath flood was estimated at Rs.6,259  crore (aprox 1.1 billion dollars). Perhaps the MoWR is already aware that the power production costs at  Tapovan-Vishnugad and Singoli Bhatwari have currently escalated to Rs.23/unit and Rs.16/unit  respectively.

Given all these facts, reports and studies, it would be a profound error, indeed a self-defeating exercise, to  implement any more HEPs in the Himalaya and on the Ganga, whether under construction, new or  proposed. The life security of our people is at stake here, and is paramount. The Himalaya are the sentinels  of India and river Ganga supports almost half a billion people in its basin. The Ministry of Jal Shakti has  submitted that, ‘along with the conservation of water flow, the protection of the catchment area, the forest  cover and the protection of overall biodiversity is much needed because the eco system services of the Ganga-Himalayan basin is extremely significant and have a direct and indirect impact on the overall food  and water security and climate conditions of the entire nation.’ 

We strongly emphasise that the world is in the grip of a climate change crisis. The recent IPCC report has  declared a ‘Code Red’ for humanity. It has particularly cautioned that India will be among the hardest hit  nations.

In our hearts and minds is also ever present, the deaths of, Baba Nagnath, Swami Sanand, and Swami  Nigamanand who sacrificed their lives in prolonged fasts, to ensure the aviralta and nirmalta of Mother Ganga.

Our collective Conscience and Science both demand that the decision to restart these seven projects be  reversed, keeping in mind many factors that have been ignored, in the best interests of our nation and the  stated goal of the government to rejuvenate the Ganga. There are alternatives for electricity generation but  there are no alternatives for our age long cultural and civilizational identity- the Ganga and the Himalayas.

The PMO has already taken a welcome and judicious decision in its meeting of 25/2/2019, that:
‘No new hydro-electric project shall be taken up on River Ganga and Its tributaries  in the State of Uttarakhand. 
All projects in which the work has not started on the ground shall be dropped. c. Considering the revenue and opportunity lost to the State of Uttarakhand, it was  decided that the State of Uttarakhand may be compensated for the projects which are  being dropped and on which work has already started.’ 

We conclude with the observation of the Jal Shakti ministry itself: ‘As may be seen from the views of experts  and expert organizations indicated in the foregoing para, the HEPs will adversely affect the ecology of the  Himalaya, leading to an irreversible loss to the Himalayan eco system and to the national river Ganga  which is the nation’s identity and symbol of faith and heritage.’ 

We sincerely hope that you will reconsider the recent MoEF&CC recommendation to restart the construction of the seven HEPs.

In view of the above letter and in the light of the National Mission for Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystems as part of National Action Plan on Climate Crisis, I earnestly request you to make all policies and projects in the Ganga basin and Himalayan ecosystem, subordinate and subservient to the natural rights of Ganga and the Himalayas. This will set a healthy and exemplary precedent for mother earth recognised under Paris Agreement. 

Warm Regards
Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) 
New Delhi/Patna 

Union Power Minister requested to save Koelwar-Bihta residents from chemical weapon like threat of 98 hazardous waste generating industrial units

Written By mediavigil on Monday, September 06, 2021 | 6:20 PM


Shri Raj Kumar Singh 

Hon'ble Cabinet Minister 

Union Ministry of Power, New & Renewable Energy

Government of India

New Delhi

Subject-Urgent Request: Koelwar-Bihta residents face chemical weapon like threat from 98 hazardous waste generating industrial units   


With due respect this is with reference to the above mentioned subject, I wish to draw your urgent attention towards illegitimate construction activity for a hazardous waste and medical waste incineration plant by Hyderabad-based Ramky Enviro Engineers Limited in the river bed of Sone in proximity to residential areas of villages in Koelwar, Bhojpur and Bihita, Patna. It is noteworthy that in a communication sent to Union Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) by Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB).  BSPCB had informed MoEFCC that most Koilwar, Bhojpur villagers are opposed to the Hyderabad based Ramky company’s proposal for a hazardous waste plant in the river bed of Sone river. The proposal for setting up an Integrated Common Hazardous Waste Treatment, Storage, Disposal and Recycling Facilities by Bihar Waste Management Limited (a Division of M/ s Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd) at Survey Numbers Plot no: 401, Khata No: 69-68/2, 67/3, Thana no: 107, Mahui Mauza, Koelwar-Jamalpur-Babura-Chhapra road, Bhojpur, near Bihta, Patna is unscientific, anti-public health and anti-environment.  (Photo: A K Jain, ex-Chief Engineer, DVC and Dharmatma Sharma, Paryawaran Swasthya Suraksha Samiti)

In its letter, BSPCB annexed the minutes of the public hearing organised by BSPCB on October 16, 2014. The letter is signed by Shri Rakesh Kumar, Member Secretary, BSPCB and addressed to Dr. Lalit Kapoor, Member Secretary, Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC), MoEFCC. The minutes were signed by Shri Suresh Kumar Sinha, Additional District Magistrate (Upar Samaharta), Bhojpur and the BSPCB Officials, Shri Nand Kumar and Shri S N Jaiswal. It may be noted that Shri Suresh Kumar Sinha, ADM, Bhojpur had addressed the villagers at the public hearing in Jamalpur, Koelwar, Bhojpur on October 16, 2014. The official proceeding of the public hearing is attached

I wish to request you to deny any subsidy to this polluting unit and recommend cancellation of the NOC and Environmental Clearance given to this unit of Ramky company because EAC has been indifferent towards the communication of BSPCB in granting Environmental Clearance (EC) dated December 2, 2015. I submit that this project in question was rejected by EAC in its meeting dated 8-9 November, 2012. The minutes of EAC are available on EAC’s website. The Minutes of the 118th Meeting of the EAC held on 8th-9th November, 2012 reveals that the EAC concluded that M/s Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd the project “Proponent has not justified selection of the site and also there is a habitation at about 200 m from the site which is not advisable for this type of Hazardous waste handling and incineration activity.” Disregarding its own finding under some misleading influence,  the EAC in its 149th meeting held on 24th- 26th June, 2015, wrongly recommended the project for grant of Environmental Clearance. BSPCB ought to contest the grant of EC by denying/cancelling the NOC to this unit. There is a precedent in this regard in the matter of asbestos based plant in Vaishali wherein BSPCB stood its ground disregarding the report of the Central Pollution Control Board, MoEFCC. The EC records the "Major issues raised during Public Hearing". It reads: "The major issues raised during public hearing are about the air pollution due to the recycling process, burning of waste, groundwater depletion and the presence of water body within 50m from the site boundary and burning of plastic wastes leading to the formation of Dioxins and Furans." The BSPCB official admitted at the public hearing that Bihar does not have any Dioxins testing laboratory. Dioxins were used as chemical weapons in the US-Vietnam war under the brand name Agent orange.  

I submit that BSPCB ought to dispute the contention of the project proponent "the land is not prone to flood and is around 1.25km away from Sone River on the western side"  which is a manifest case of fraudulent misrepresentation of facts after a site visit to verify the veracity of such submission by the company. It is apparent that EAC too has been misled by the company.   

At the public hearing former chief engineer, DVC and noted whistle blower Shri A K Jain questioned the inconsistent claims of the Ramky company about land, water and power by comparing its project with other projects. Shri Jain said that the company has not disclosed that this site is flood proneThis can cause a Bhopal Gas leak like disaster. 

I submit that villagers had expressed their opposition to Ramky's project at the public hearing. Paryawaran Bachao Jeewan Bachao Sangharsh Morcha had written to BSCPCB pointing out the threats posed to residents of villages in Koilwar, Bhojpur and Bihta, Patna from the Dioxins emitting plant. Villagers have been campaigning against the hazards of hazardous waste dumping and burning. The site in question is in the river bed of Sone river in the vicinity of residential areas of the village in the proximity of the main road in an area of 57.24 acres. 

I submit that residents will not allow the setting up of a hazardous waste incineration plant proposed in the area next to a village along the Sone river to incinerate 50,000 tonnes waste/month. The hazardous waste generated from 98 industrial units in various parts of Bihar would be transported to the proposed unit for burning, according to the proposal for the “integrated common hazardous waste treatment” plant. The villagers have learnt that the officials of Ramky Enviro Limited blatantly lied about the use of the site to purchase land. The company officials had informed the villagers that iron rods would be manufactured in the plant. Villagers have formed an association, Paryavarn Bachao Jeevan Bachao Sangharsh Morcha (PBJBSM), to oppose the construction of the plant. The association in its petition has demanded that the venue of the proposed unit be shifted from their locality to an industrial area. 

I submit that burning of hazardous wastes would have long-term health impacts on people and can lead to lung and stomach cancers. In the aftermath of the industrial disaster of Bhopal, the Government of India banned establishment of such plants and instructed state governments and pollution control boards to ensure that hazardous plants should not be set up in the vicinity of residential areas. Such industrial waste and medical waste burning units too are quite hazardous.

I submit that a review of epidemiological studies on adverse health effects associated with incineration, says that medical waste incinerators are a leading source of dioxins and mercury in the environment and there is a link between incinerator emissions and adverse health impacts on humans. 

In the public hearing it was submitted by the villagers that Hon'ble Delhi High Court's order in a similar case observed that “Residents living within 10 km of an incinerator, refinery, and waste disposal site” showed “Significant increase in laryngeal cancer in men living with closer proximity to the incinerator and other pollution sources”. It observed that the “Residents living around an incinerator and other pollution sources” showed “Significant increase in lung cancer related specifically to theincinerator”. The “People living within 7.5 km of 72 incinerators” displayed “Risks of all cancers and specifically of stomach, colorectal, liver and lung cancer increased with closer proximity to incinerators”. Hon'ble Delhi High Court, in a judgment delivered in 2013  based on the findings of the study had instructed the government to establish such units away from the human settlements.

Hon'ble Court’s judgment reads: “Both older and more modern incinerators can contribute to the contamination of local soil and vegetation with dioxins and heavy metals. In several European countries, cow's milk from farms located in the vicinity of incinerators has been found to contain elevated levels of dioxin, in some cases above regulatory limits. Increased levels of dioxins have been found in the tissues of residents near to incinerators in the UK, Spain and Japan. At an incinerator in Finland, mercury was increased in the hair of residents living in the vicinity. Children living near a modern incinerator in Spain were found to have elevated levels of urinary thioethers, a biomarker of toxic exposure. It notes that “After 2 years of operation of the incinerator, dioxins levels were found to have increased by about 25% in both groups living between 0.5 to 1.5 and 3.5 to 4.0 km away (201 people) of people. In the repeat analysis, the increase was in the range of 10-15%”.

The judgment records that “Mothers living close to incinerators and crematoria from 1956 to 1993” showed “increased risk of lethal congenital abnormalities, in particular, spinal bifida and heart defects, near incinerators: increased risk of stillbirths and anacephalus near crematoria”.

I submit that Ramky's EIA report is quite misleading. It ignores the nearest schools, hospitals, CRPF camp and the Koilwar railway station. It refers to Ara railway station as the nearest railway station. BSPCB does not have the capacity to test and monitor dioxins emissions. It came to light that BSPCB is not enforcing environmental laws in the 99-125 factories from which hazardous industrial waste is generated which requires disposal and treatment at the palace of their generation.    

Citing these facts at the public hearing held on 16.10.2014 at Ambika Sharan Singh High School, Jamalpur, Post- Naya Mohammadpur, District- Bhojpur, the villagers said that they will pay any price to stop waste from hundreds of factories and thousands of hospitals from coming to Koilwar due to imminent public health crisis the present and future generations of residents of villages on the Babura-Koilwar road in Bhojpur, Bihar. There was unanimous political opposition to Ramky's irresponsible, insensitive, anti-people, ant-environment and anti-health proposal.  I can share the documents and the video of the proceedings of the public hearing given to me by BSPCB under Right to Information Act.  

In view of the above, I earnestly request you to kindly ensure that the construction activity of Ramky company is stopped at the earliest to save residents of Koelwar-Bihta from chemical weapon like threat from 98 hazardous waste generating industrial units and medical waste units.

Thanking you 

Warm Regards

Gopal Krishna, LL.M., Ph.D

Web: www.toxicswatch.org


Security Council resolution on Afghanistan sans China and Russia

Written By mediavigil on Tuesday, August 31, 2021 | 2:00 AM

UN Security Council resolution sans resolution China and Russia

Resolution seeks safe passage for people wanting to get out of Afghanistan

The UN Security Council passed a resolution on 30 August, 2021 that calls for the Taliban to facilitate safe passage for people wanting to leave Afghanistan, allow humanitarians to access the country, and uphold human rights, including for women and children.

Thirteen of the 15 ambassadors voted in favour of the resolution, which further demands that Afghanistan not be used as a shelter for terrorism.

Permanent members China and Russia abstained from voting. 

Countries condemned in the strongest terms the deadly blasts at Kabul airport on 26 August, which killed more than 150 people and injured upwards of 200 more.  The terrorist group Islamic State in Khorosan Province (ISKP) claimed responsibility, according to UN news release.

The attack targeted people fleeing Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover two weeks ago, and international forces assisting the evacuations.

Thousands of Afghans have been trying to escape from the country ahead of the full withdrawal of the USA by its self-imposed 31 August, 2021 deadline.

The resolution was tabled by USA, alongside fellow permanent Council members France and the UK.

“The Security Council expects the Taliban to live up to its commitment to facilitate safe passage for Afghans and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan, whether it’s today, tomorrow, or after August 31,” said US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

“Consistent with the right to leave any country, including one’s own, everybody must be allowed to safely leave Afghanistan, for whatever reason, whenever they want, by air or by land. This is of the utmost importance to us.”

Since July 2021, the USA has evacuated more than 122,000 Americans, foreign nationals and at-risk Afghan citizens, she reported.  Thomas-Greenfield added that the resolution also reflects the Council’s "crystal clear" commitment to assisting those who remain in Afghanistan.

“It underscores that all parties need to facilitate humanitarian assistance, and that humanitarian actors be given full safe and unhindered access to continue service delivery to those in need,” she said.

The resolution takes note of a Taliban statement this week which allows Afghans to leave the country at any time. Nathalie Estival-Broadhurst, Deputy Permanent Representative of France, called for that commitment to be upheld.

“This resolution calls on everyone to make all efforts to secure the airport and the surrounding area.,” she said.

“And to create this safe passage and protection is a sine qua non condition to ensure that threatened Afghans who wish to leave can do so safely, but also to ensure that humanitarian assistance can reach all of those who need it through the airport, of course, but also over land borders.”

On the issue of human rights, UK Ambassador Barbara Woodward emphasized the need to protect gains made over the past two decades, stressing that the rights of women, children and minorities must be safeguarded.

She described the resolution as an important step towards a unified international response to the situation in Afghanistan.  

“We will continue to build on this to ensure the Council holds the Taliban accountable on its commitments. The Taliban will be judged by the international community on the basis of their actions on the ground, not their words,” she stated.

In explaining his vote, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Russia was forced to abstain because certain “principled concerns” were not reflected in the draft text, which was circulated on 27 August, 2021.

“Firstly, despite the fact that the resolution was proposed against the backdrop of a terrible terrorist attack, the authors categorically refused to refer to a passage on the fight against terrorism containing internationally recognized terrorist organizations ISIL and the East Turkistan Islamic Movement,” he said.

“We see this as a reluctance to acknowledge the obvious, and a desire to divide terrorists into ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’; and that is to say, to downplay the terrorist threat coming from these groups."

Ambassador Geng Shuang of China stated that given the fragile situation on the ground, and the uncertainties, any Council action should help ease tensions, and not intensify them.

“The recent chaos in Afghanistan is directly related to the hasty and disorderly withdrawal of foreign troops,” he said.  “We hope that relevant countries will realize the fact that withdrawal is not the end of responsibility, but the beginning of reflection and correction.” 

Meanwhile, on August 31, 2021, Ambassador of India to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the Head of Taliban's Political Office m Doha. The meeting took place at the Embassy of India, Doha to discuss safety, security, and early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan besides the issue of travel of Afghan nationals, especially minorities,who wish to visit to India, India's concern about the possibility of Afghanistan's soil being used for anti-Indian activities and terrorism. Stanekzai assured India. 


Demand for Cancellation of Public Hearing of waste fuelled thermal power plant in NCR Aravallis

Written By mediavigil on Monday, August 30, 2021 | 8:31 PM


Dr. Sumita Mishra
Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB) 

Date: 31 August, 2021

Subject: Request for Cancellation of Public Hearing on 31 st August 2021 for Waste to Energy Plant Expansion in the NCR Aravallis 


With due respect this is with reference to the Public Hearing regarding the expansion of the Waste to Energy plant at Bandhwari landfill site in Aravallis from 15 MW to 25 MW on 31 August, 2021.

The public hearing notice issued by the Haryana State Pollution Control board clearly states that the EIA study for the same will be available on the HSPCB website (hspcb.gov.in) and the offices of the Deputy Commissioner of Gurugram, Municipal Corporation Gurugram, Zila Parishad Gurugram and Regional office of the Haryana State Pollution Control Board in Vikash Sadan, Gurugram - along with the Executive Summary. 

When I wrote to Regional Officer, HSPCB in this regard, I did not get any reply. When I called him, I got no response. I have also learnt that when Aravalli Bachao team members spoke to the office of the Deputy Commissioner on the 27 th August 2021 to check if these documents are available with them, they said they do not have these documents in their office when according to the Public Notice these documents should be available in the DC Gurugram’s office for the public to view. 

According to Appendix 4 of the EIA Notification 2006, a copy of the EIA report needs to be made available to the public 30 days prior to the date of the Public Hearing so that sufficient time is given to citizens to study the document and give their views. 

The EIA Notification also states that the Executive Summary of the EIA report needs to be translated in local language and be made available to the public 30 days prior to the date of the Public Hearing. Both these criteria have not been met for the Public Hearing called on 31 st August 2021 for expansion of the waste to energy plant. The required documents were not available on the HSPCB website as late as 26 August, 2021. 

In Covid pandemic times when people are avoiding going to public places, accessing and studying documents online is the safest and most convenient way for citizens to give their suggestions / objections to the said project. 

In blatant violation of the law, HSPCB has failed to give this option to the public. I have learnt that after my letter to the Regional Officef, HSPCB and the Aravalli Bachao team’s visit to the Regional office of HSPCB at Vikash Sadan in Gurugram on 26 August 2021 and after submitting a letter demanding cancellation of the Public Hearing, the next day i.e 27 August 2021 (4 days prior to the date of the Public Hearing scheduled on 31 August 2021), the required documents were uploaded on the HSPCB website. On 30 August, 2021, I submitted to you my preliminary critique of the EIA/EMP. (http://www.toxicswatch.org/2021/08/critique-of-draft-eiaemp-report-of.html?m=1) 

It is crystal clear that instead of the mandatory 30 days period required by law, the HSPCB has given the public only 4 days to go through the hundreds of pages of the EIA report. HSPCB expects citizens to go through the EIA report in just 4 days, analyse its implications and give suggestions / objections on the Public Hearing scheduled on 31st of August 2021. This is quite irrational. It is due to these reasons, that I endorse the citizens' demand for cancellation of this Public Hearing which is in violation of the EIA Notification 2006. 

Having worked on the issue of waste management since 2000, I have reached the conclusion that waste incineration technologies like Refuse Derived Fuel technique is anti-environment, anti-science and anti-public health. It is Dioxins emitting technology. Dioxins was used as a chemical weapon in US-Vietnam war under the brand name Agent Orange. I wish to draw your attention towards the following papers for your perusal and consideration:

1. Why urban waste continues follows the path of least resistance 

2. In india, critics assail proposal to build 100 waste-fuelled power plants

3. Biomass Burning is not Green-Part I

4. Biomass Burning is not Green-Green-Part II

5. Clean India Mission on wrong track 

In view of the above, I seek your considered intervention to stop the project proponent from setting up this tried, tested and failed Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) technology based thermal plant which is linear, contrary to nature's circular process and is in violation of UN's Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, UN's Minamata Convention, Paris Agreement and cardinal principles of waste management that paves way for adoption of Zero Waste philosophy.  

Thanking you

Warm Regards
Gopal Krishna, LL.M., Ph.D
ToxicWatch Alliance (TWA) 

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