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Haryana’s Family ID is an Aadhaar redux, and a massive data collection exercise

Haryana Chief Minister, Manohar Lal distributing ‘Parivar Pehchan Patra’ to eligible beneficiary during distribution programme organised at Panchkula on August 4, 2020.

The Haryana government is going down the Aadhaar route, and undertaking a massive data collection exercise, under the premise of offering residents welfare schemes: it wants to collect data on more than 50 lakh families living in the state, and offer each family an ID card. This Family ID card, called the Parivar Pehchan Patra, will become the one single necessary document to avail all welfare schemes offered by the state government. The scheme was originally launched last year, but has seen a renewed push from the state government over the past few months.

The Parivar Pehchan Patra — an 8-digit ID card — is Haryana’s version of Aadhaar, except that while Aadhaar is an identification document for an individual, the Parivar Pehchan Patra is an identifier of all permanently residing families in Haryana. As such, Aadhaar is among the mandatory documents necessary to get a Family ID card. In addition, the Family ID will be linked to people’s birth, death, and marriage certificates for automatic updation in the Family ID database, Prashant Panwar, additional deputy commissioner of Gurugram, who is overseeing the project in the city, told MediaNama.

Alarmingly, just like Aadhaar, the Parivar Pehchan Patra appears to be becoming a mandatory identity proof, even though the government wants residents to believe otherwise. While the state government has said that only people seeking welfare benefits from the government need to have the Family ID, out on the ground, district administrations have declared it mandatory for several services to increase registrations for the scheme. In one case, officials are even mulling that people with the Family ID will be the first in line to get the vaccine for COVID-19, whenever India gets one (more on that below).

Along with offering state-sponsored welfare schemes to residents, the idea is that this exercise will help the government to maintain the consistency and reliability of the database, by automatically selecting beneficiary families for various state welfare schemes, and for creating more welfare programs, according to Panwar. The ID card has already been made mandatory for government schemes such as disability pensions, old age samman allowance, and widow pensions.

Apart from people’s Aadhaar numbers, other information like their caste and income is being collected and stored by the state government as part of this exercise. In fact, the ID will also serve as a person’s caste certificate, a hoarding outside a government building in Gurugram suggested. It can also be used to get a drivers’ license, or land title deed made.

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A hoarding promoting the Parivar Pehchan Patra outside Vikas Sadan in Gurugram

Haryana government isn’t happy with just Aadhaar details of beneficiaries, even though it’s a mandatory document for the Family ID

To get a Family ID card made, people have to mandatorily submit Aadhaar details of every single member in the family — which is somewhat antithetical to the existence of Aadhaar, given that the basic premise of Aadhaar is to get subsidies, and avail other welfare schemes from the government. But, the reason why Haryana felt the need to have an additional ID on top of Aadhaar, was because the unique national ID doesn’t allow the state government to get enough insight into its residents.

“Aadhaar in itself doesn’t provide any information to the government where we can sift through, and determine who to onboard for certain welfare schemes of the state government,” Gurugram’s Panwar said. “There is a lot of friction in that process”. The Family ID in turn, gives the state government insight into crucial data, such as Aadhaar, caste, and income, of lakhs of families residing in Haryana.

Panwar said having such a database ready will also allow the state government to formulate new welfare schemes to appeal to people of the state. “For instance, if the database shows us that there are a significant number of underprivileged girls under the age of 14 residing in the state, then we can launch a welfare scheme specifically to help that demography”, Panwar said.

However, the mandatory imposition of Aadhaar to make a Parivar Pehchan Patra is against SC’s landmark judgment in Puttaswamy (2019) wherein a constitutional bench adjudicated on Aadhaar’s legality, said Prasanth Sugathan, legal director of the Delhi-based digital rights group Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC.In). The organisation has also written to Haryana’s Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, asking to withdraw the de-facto mandatory nature of Aadhaar in the application process.

“You can not make Aadhaar mandatory for such things without first having a clear law which allows you to do so. Also, for projects like the Family ID, the government will say that it’s voluntary, but eventually it becomes de-facto mandatory,” Sugathan added.

‘Voluntary but mandatory’: Ballabhgarh planning to use Family ID data to administer COVID-19 vaccine

Haryana’s Family ID shares a key similarity with Aadhaar — while the government maintains that it is only mandatory for families in need of state subsidies, the ID is being made mandatory for a number of things which go beyond subsidies and welfare schemes, and in some cases even down to essential services like vaccine administration. In certain cities, authorities have made it mandatory to have a Family ID in order to receive land title deeds from the tehsil office.

The city of Ballabhgarh, in the district of Faridabad, is planning to use details like age from the Family ID to determine who to administer the vaccine first — children less than five years old, and adults over 60 years of age will be the first to get the vaccine in the district, sub divisional magistrate, Aparajita’s office told MediaNama.

However, this doesn’t look like a state-wide mandate. “Maybe the Ballabhgarh administration is making these statements because they have received a large number of registrations for the family ID in their area. There is no such order from the government,” a senior government official told MediaNama on the condition of anonymity. Gurugram, Rewari, and Jhajjar, for instance, have no such plans.

Statements like these show how city administrations can potentially make the Family ID card so appealing to citizens that getting one made starts seeming lucrative. In fact, even if Ballabhgarh doesn’t end up prioritising Family ID holders while vaccinating the city, statements like this inadvertently serve the purpose of ramping up the registration numbers. It is natural that people in Ballabhgarh will sign up for the Family ID if they’re told  that kids and senior citizens in their family will receive the vaccine before others.

Subesh Prakash*, who lives in the city of Jagadhri, about a hundred kilometres away from Chandigarh, told MediaNama that the city administration has made the Family ID mandatory to obtain land title deeds. It isn’t clear whether the Haryana government has issued any such mandate, or if city administrations are acting at their own discretion. Multiple calls made by MediaNama to the Jagadhri city administration went unanswered until publication.

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Similarly, to ramp up the registration numbers, all employees of the Haryana government have been directed by the state government to get a Family ID made. A status report of compliance has to be regularly shared with the chief minister’s office, a highly placed source in the Haryana government told MediaNama, on the condition of anonymity. The government has even warned state government employees that those who don’t get their Family IDs made will not be allowed to use any of the state’s welfare services. As such, the application form for the Family ID asks an applicant whether they are a state government employee or not.

‘We gather all the data with residents’ consent’

“The primary objective of the Parivar Pehchan Patra is to create an authentic and verified database of all families in the state. The scheme plans to identify all the families in the state, and keep this data with the consent of those families in a digital form,” Panwar explained, when asked about the need to have such an ID and database in the first place.

As per the Socio-Economic Caste Census of 2011, the government already has data on over 46 lakh families, and when we asked why it could simply not rely on the SECC data to provide welfare services to resident families, Panwar said that since the census, more families have settled in the state. “Besides, people already in the SECC can also apply for the Family ID,” he said.

When we pressed Panwar on what he meant when he said that Family ID is a database created by residents’ consent, Panwar said that there is “one line mentioned in the application form where families consent that they do not have any issue in sharing their personal data with the government”.

However, this is where it gets confusing: in the application form present on the state government’s website, and the form which was being given out at Panwar’s own office, we could not find any such mention of consent. We have sent a follow up email to Panwar seeking clarification on this statement.

A copy of the Family ID’s application form, where there is no mention of consent

When we asked Panwar how the government assumes that people from rural parts of the state will understand what they were consenting to, he said, “to reiterate, the process is entirely voluntary, and is done with full consent”. He said that the application form for the Family ID is available in both English and Hindi

Earlier, it was also mandatory for people to submit their bank account details while filling up the application form, however, a lot of people especially in the rural parts of the state were not comfortable with giving out their bank account number. In fact, Samaypal, secretary of the Municipal Committee in the industrial town of Dharuhera recollected that a lot of Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) — agents who provide government and non-government services in rural areas — in his area were harassed by people in the villages of Dharuhera who suspected that the person wanted to defraud them by taking their bank details.

“These issues started happening frequently, after which the government directed us that it is not mandatory to log the bank account details of people,” Samaypal added.

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The state is pushing hard to collect data on as many families as possible

While the government claims that having the Family ID is not mandatory — an argument also often made in support of Aadhaar by the government — some of the Haryana government’s directions paint a different picture. For instance, the government has directed all schools in the state — public and private — to get parents to sign up for the Family ID. This also explains Panwar’s argument about the state needing as much data as possible, even if a lot of those families don’t avail any government schemes.

Four parents, with wards in both public and private schools in the state, confirmed to MediaNama of having received an email from their ward’s school, asking them to register for a Parivar Pehchan Patra. Prasanto K. Roy, a public policy professional based in Gurugram, is one of them, who received a similar email from his ward’s private school on December 2. The email said that all parents are advised to fill details for the Family ID card, and submit it by December 10. “It is mandatory to submit the form of as per the Government instructions,” the email continued.

When we asked Panwar why students in private schools such as GD Goenka Public School were being asked to mandatorily sign up for the Parivar Pehchan Patra, Panwar said that “when you’re making policies, you need data. And when you collect data, you don’t see if a person is a beneficiary or not. You make those decisions once you have collected all the data”.

When asked what is the protocol to be followed by schools to deal with situations where a student’s parents refuse to reveal the data for the family ID, simply because they don’t see the need to get one, Panwar said, “if they deny that,” took a long pause, and continued, “well, all I can tell you is that it is not mandatory”.

The email sent by schools is a direct consequence of mounting pressure from the state government headquarters in Chandigarh, to register as many people as possible for the Family ID before the end of the year. “Since November, the government’s pressure on district administrations to get the Family ID card made has significantly increased,” Dharuhera’s Samaypal told MediaNama. “Schools have been identified as an easy way to get a number of people to sign up, he added.

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The reason for this pressure, Samaypal said, is that in many districts, the registration work is happening slower than the government’s expectations, and there has been a renewed push to get as many people to register for the Family ID as possible. The email from the school received by Roy for instance, asked parents to submit their details for the ID by December 10 — clearly exemplifying the hurry.

In fact, as of August, a little over 18 lakh families had registered for the Parivar Pehchan Patra, as per a government press release, which also said that Haryana has an estimated 56.2 lakh permanently residing families in the state. This means that a little over 32% families in Haryana had a Family ID, as of August.

“This is just the sort of overreach a privacy law, if we had one, should be guarding against. This mega collection of data has no clearly defined purpose, especially for the majority of students who are not seeking subsidies or state benefits. We have no visibility into the data protection and security protocols to be followed: I fully expect these databases to land up with third parties, including spammers. And for the government to cross-link these to other databases based on Aadhaar,” Roy told MediaNama.

Breaking down silos

Since every single member of a family has to submit their Aadhaar for the Family ID, it will allow the government to not just identify Aadhaar numbers of all members of a family, but also establish the relationship between those Aadhaar numbers — something which is perhaps not possible when the Aadhaar details of the same individuals are only available with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

The state government has also decided to link the Family ID to marriage registrations, but going forward, the ID could possibly be linked to more such databases, Panwar told us. To that end, it has updated its marriage registration portal, clearly specifying that the Family ID is mandatory to register a marriage if a couple are from Haryana.

This essentially means, that when a couple gets married, the state won’t offer them a marriage registration certificate unless they have a Parivar Pehchan Patra. “If a newly married couple residing in Haryana doesn’t have a Parivar Pehchan Patra, then they will be mandatorily required to get it made before they can register their marriage via the portal,” Panwar said. The idea is that once the government has this data, then couples will simply have to update pre-existing data whenever they have children.

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Screenshot from a PDF available on Haryana’s marriage registration portal

All data collected as part of this drive is being stored at the Citizen Resource Information Department (CRID) headquarters in Chandigarh, in a “safe and secure way, and is being managed by the highest levels of the government,” Panwar said. However, when we asked about the specific security protocols that have been put in place, Panwar declined to comment, saying that he wasn’t sure about the specifics.

All the Aadhaar details collected as part of the process will be stored securely in an “Aadhaar vault”, and will not be exposed. “This way, we can make sure that the Aadhaar details of an individual are never exposed,” Panwar said. No private company was involved in this exercise, he added.

“This is a sweeping data collection exercise, and the databases can fall into the wrong hands. Even in the ‘right hands’ – different government departments — I would worry about misuse. There is no case for such data collection for non-beneficiaries of state schemes and subsidies. The best case scenario I expect is for this data to leak to the spammer market, complete with income and addresses.” — Prasanto K. Roy, public policy professional based in Gurugram

‘Saying we’ll profile people, is conjecture’

Panwar immediately dismissed a question on the possibility of the state government profiling people on the basis of this data, or using it to run election campaigns. “I’ll give you a little example. When you go to get a mobile SIM card, you give away two to three IDs. When you get a bank account made, you have to submit four to give IDs. Here, we are only taking one to two IDs from you only for authentication purposes,” Panwar reasoned, essentially arguing that since citizens give out IDs for other services, they should not worry before sharing the same IDs with the state government.

“I don’t see the point in making any conjectures about using this data for profiling Haryana residents. The core idea is to create a reliable database of all families residing here, to offer them welfare schemes, and at the same time to tackle any pilferage, de-duplicate our welfare databases, and remove any ghost beneficiaries.” — Prashant Panwar, Additional Deputy Commissioner, Gurugram

When we asked whether the data collected as part of the exercise could potentially be shared with law enforcement agencies, or the central government, Panwar said that there has been no clear direction from the state government on that yet. This essentially suggests that the possibility of sharing this data with security agencies or the central government hasn’t entirely been ruled out.

“We’re seeing the government collect more and more data, and while this data was earlier present in silos, all of these silos are now getting linked to each other,” said SFLC.IN’s Sugathan. “Imagine that once the linkages are complete, a person’s data from multiple databases can be accessed by a simple query. This also means that people’s data is getting used for purposes not originally intended for,” he added.

No place for migrants

Amid all the chatter about welfare by the government, migrants in Haryana can not obtain subsidies or welfare schemes from the government by using the Parivar Pehchan Patra. It is an ID, meant only to serve permanently residing families in the state. This has meant that in industrial towns — of which there are many in Haryana — adoption to the program has taken a hit, owing largely to their migrant population.

Samaypal, secretary of the Municipal Committee of Dharuhera, who manages the cities of Dharuhera and Bawal, said in Bawal, the registration process is happening at a fast pace, and so far, over 35% of the families in the city have made their Family ID card. However, things are a bit different in Dharuhera, where less than 20% families have registered so far, for one major reason — being an industrial town, Dharuhera had a significant migrant population, most of which displaced in the middle of the pandemic owing to a lack of opportunities in the city.

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“Migrants are not supposed to receive a Family ID Card, as it is meant only for the permanent residents of the state,” Samaypal told MediaNama. He said that a unit of the city’s Municipal Committee had carried out a field inspection prior to the pandemic, and had collected data about families living there. However, following the exodus of migrants, that data was rendered useless.

*Name changed on request.

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