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Kerala govt scales up e-governance plan mandating Aadhaar despite opposition from civil society

Aadhaar, surveillance
Credit: Trisha Jalan

Despite a legal notice from civil society activists challenging the mandatory use of Aadhaar, the Kerala government is scaling up the implementation of its Integrated Local Self-Governance Management System (ILGMS) to 150 gram panchayats. Bezwada Wilson and Kalyani Menon Sen, who are among the petitioners in the Right to Privacy case and the case challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, had sent a legal notice to the state government on August 5. The project’s expansion, reported by the News Minute, was announced on September 28.

Developed by the Information Kerala Mission (IKM) a division under the state government’s Local Self-Governance Department ILGMS consolidates 200 government services around civil registration and local self-governance in one place. It can be used for obtaining death and birth certificates, marriage certificates, building permits, access to NREGA schemes, filing RTI requests, and paying taxes, among many other services. Aadhaar is mandatory for online access to 200 government services on the portal; it is demanded at the first step: registration as a user.

The software’s rollout has been in the works since at least May. In a government order issued in mid-May, the Kerala government asked the IKM to take all measures to ensure that ILGMS was set up in all LSG (local self-government) bodies by July 31. On May 28, the government permitted e-payments through the ILGMS software to avail services from local bodies. IKM official Neelakantan D.S. had said in June that the state government had mandated it to implement the system by July 31.

Wilson and Sen had served a legal notice to the Kerala government in August for mandating Aadhaar for this service. The Kerala government has failed to respond to the legal notice so far, and has gone ahead with scaling rollout. This legal notice has been endorsed by civil society organisations such as Article 21 Trust, Rethink Aadhaar, Internet Freedom Foundation, Swathanthra Malayalam Computing, and SFLC.in. Meanwhile, Aadhaar remains mandatory for registration on ILGMS. Kerala has over 900 gram panchayats, and nearly 90 urban local bodies (municipalities and municipal corporations).

Wilson and Sen have demanded that the Kerala government must discontinue mandatory or even voluntary requirement of Aadhaar to access the service. In addition, any such withdrawal must be clarified in circulars and also must be prominently announced in at least two widely circulated newspapers. They cited Right to Privacy judgement, adding that the requirement would be “extremely inexpedient” and that this would “pose an unacceptable threat to the safety and integrity of your service and database”.

“The creation of converged/consolidated databases would pose a grave national security threat which we have no doubt the Government of Kerala would wish to avoid at all costs.”  Bezwada and Sen’s legal notice

We have reached out to the Kerala government for more details about ILGMS.

Mandatory Aadhaar for egovernance service in Kerala

Screenshot of the portal | Source: ilgms.lsgkerala.gov.in

Issued flagged to the Kerala govt about Aadhaar usage

In their 6-page legal notice, dated August 5, addressed to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Minister of Local Self-governments A.C. Moideen, and an IKM executive, Bezwada and Sen have flagged the following issues:

  1. Aadhaar use has been circumscribed by apex court: Aadhaar can only be used for government services which draw funds from the Consolidated Fund of India, or the Contingency Fund of India, as laid down is Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, 2016. The Supreme Court has prohibited the use of Aadhaar for any other purpose. This can only be done if three conditions are fulfilled: legitimate state aim, an enacted law that permits such use, and conforms to the doctrine of proportionality.
  2. Proportionality has to be established: The Supreme Court had disallowed seeding of bank accounts with Aadhaar despite rules under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act permitting this because it did not pass the proportionality test. Under this test, the state has to establish that the usage of Aadhaar is necessary and worth the risk of potential violation of rights that may occur.
    • “We are concerned that the object of the use of Aadhaar in IGLMS is not clear and defined, which obscures the aim of the state in inducting Aadhaar into the system,” the notice said.
  3. Aadhaar presents surveillance risk: Justice Chandrachud’s judgment directly addressed the threat of surveillance arising from the architecture of the Aadhaar project. “We are confident that the State of Kerala would not want to facilitate such surveillance of its citizens and ask that there be a total severance of links to the Aadhaar project,” per the letter.
  4. Overarching concerns with the Aadhaar ecosystem: Outside of the legal concerns, the notice also flagged “overarching concern” around risks to safety, security, and health that Aadhaar linkage posed to the population, and to the “sanctity of the project”. These include high failure rates for biometric authentication, questionable integrity of the Aadhaar database, numerous data breaches of Aadhaar holders, as well as design flaws with the Aadhaar enabled payments system.

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