Deadline Raj

Rajkamal Rao | Updated on March 27, 2018

How Modi’s zeal for rapid change hits citizens

“You have an unused balance lying in your wallet”, said a message from one of the mobile wallet companies. It continued, in faulty English, “Start using it before 31-March to avoid expiration of your wallet balance as per RBI guidelines.”

Welcome to life in the Modi era. There’s always an upcoming deadline to comply with some arcane government diktat. And each deadline reminds us of our elementary school days because non-compliance comes with consequences.

Now, nearly 1½ years after demonetisation, things don’t look so bad but those months were periods of deadline hell. Notes could only be deposited with banks through December 31, 2016. Within this larger deadline, there were so many mini-deadlines limiting exchanges and withdrawals that people could barely keep up.

The deadline mania continues to this day. Haven’t linked your Aadhaar number with your PAN number on the Income Tax portal? The last date is March 31, so hurry. The deadline to link your Aadhaar number with your bank account and mobile number was initially set to be December 31, 2017. It took a decision from the Supreme Court to force an extension to March 31.

And again extending this deadline, this time indefinitely, as the Constitution Bench considers a verdict on the very validity of Aadhaar, Chief Justice Misra, in a stinging rebuke to the government, summarised the feelings of millions when he said that there were “enough ‘piecemeal’ notifications and legislations issued by the government to link one service or the other.”

The Supreme Court is right in expressing reservations about the government’s eagerness to implement Aadhaar security through artificial deadlines. Haste makes waste, as the old adage goes, and waste makes want. In terms of the sheer size of consumer data, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) data warehouse ranks as the largest and most sensitive in the world.

Defending the Aadhaar architecture, UIDAI’s CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey told the court that “it would take more than the age of the universe for the fastest computer on earth, or any super-computer to break one key of Aadhaar encryption”. In the world of data security, such arrogant confidence is rare even at the world’s best companies.

A single vulnerability in a web component (Apache Struts) may have caused the breach of sensitive identity data of 143 million consumers at Equifax, a US company with rock-solid security protocols. Facebook’s stock plummeted for three straight days when it was reported that 50 million users’ account information was unauthorisedly used. Millions of accounts at Yahoo!, MySpace, EBay and Target were all hacked into, all in the last five years.

But computer security is not the point. Aadhaar numbers can be stolen by old-fashioned collusion and a small ₹500 bribe, as the Tribunereported in January. In October, Hyderabad police arrested three individuals for stealing Aadhaar data of hundreds.

India’s government is in an incredible hurry to bring about change, and for millions of Modi’s supporters, change cannot come soon enough. It does not matter that Modi could be wrong or his actions risky. All that matters is that he is honest, incorruptible and doing things in good faith. Good intent seems to trump methods, process and outcome — a strange flavor of democracy not seen anywhere else in the world.

A deadline-driven, executive-fiat based, project managed style of governance is however not the way to achieve goals for a large and diverse nation. India is not a project and Indians are not team members of some huge project plan. For most of us, some government (defence, home) is important but the Government is not so vital that it should play a crucial role in everything we do. So, dear Modi, please spare us the penalty-laden deadlines and let us get on with life as we knew it before you came to power. This is getting tiring.

The writer is MD, Rao Advisors LLC, Texas

Published on March 27, 2018

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