Debates on having a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) have been going on in India for a long period, dating back to the colonial era. In October 1840, the first Law Commission in British India submitted its “Lex Loci” report, emphasising the need and importance of having uniformity in the codification of Indian law relating to crimes, evidence, contracts, etc. It also recommended keeping the Hindu and Muslim laws outside of this codification. Furthermore, The Queen’s Proclamation of 1859 promised non-interference on matters of religion. During the drafting of the Constitution in the post-colonial era, leaders including Jawaharlal Nehru and B.R. Ambedkar pushed for UCC. However, the provision of the UCC was added to the Directive Principles of State of Policy-DPSP. Since then, various legislations, such as The Hindu Code Bill, The Hindu Succession Act, The Hindu Marriage Act, Minority and Guardianship Act, Special Marriage Act, etc., have been introduced. In the historic Shah Bano Case of 1985, the Supreme Court further pushed for UCC, which applies for all citizens irrespective of their religion. Changing governments have made attempts to implement UCC but in vain.
What is the Uniform Civil Code (UCC)?
Uniform Civil Code (UCC) simply is One Nation, One Legislation. Every citizen, regardless of their religious belief, shall be treated equally and uniformly according to the national civil code. Currently, all religions in India have their own laws on matters including marriage, divorce, maintenance, inheritance, adoption, and succession of the property. With the UCC, these civil matters will be under one set of secular laws. Recently, Delhi High Court backed UCC saying that it would ensure equal rights to the marginalised and vulnerable sections of the society. It would also ensure gender equality which ultimately reduces the gender gap and promotes national integration. Uniform Civil Code is mentioned in Article 44 of Part IV of one of the Directive Principles of States Policy-DPSP, which states “that State shall endeavour to provide for its citizens a uniform civil code (UCC) throughout the territory of India.” These principles are non-justiciable, as mentioned in Article 37, but they are fundamental in governance.
While the nation debates on the need for UCC, Goa has adopted the Portuguese Civil Code in the form of common family law. The Code, which was introduced in the 19th century during Portuguese rule, has not been reinstated since its liberation. Though it allows equal division of property among children, abolishes polygamy among the Muslim community, allows equal ownership on properties by married couples, etc., it has been criticised for not being “completely uniform in nature.” For instance, while it allows bigamy for Hindu males under some specific circumstances mentioned in the Codes of Usages and Customs of Gentile Hindus of Goa, it completely abolishes polygamy for other religious communities.
Is The Uniform Civil Code Necessary in India?
Being a culturally diverse country, the question of the necessity of UCC in India has surfaced many times. Countries like France, the UK, the USA, Australia, etc., have common law for their citizens. But the challenge for India is its diversity. The Supreme Court and High Courts have called for the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code several times by pointing out the principle of UCC that is enshrined in the Constitution of India. The framers of the Constitution felt the need for UCC to achieve equality and justice through it but did not want to push for it since the circumstances were unsuitable due to the traditional practices and customs that people closely followed (Mohanty,2021). The 2018 report of the Law Commission also suggested that UCC is “neither necessary nor desirable at this stage”.
Opinions on the need for UCC are mixed. The arguments favouring UCC state that it integrates India by bringing citizens together under a single civil code. It breaks the barriers of caste and religion and takes the country towards the path of progress. In time, it reduces vote bank politics which dominates the Indian elections. Supporters of UCC also argue that while minority communities have agreed on uniform criminal law, why not do the same for uniform civil code? They point out the scenarios of minorities in countries that have adopted similar practices. Furthermore, UCC ensures gender equality by removing religious life that restricts the basic rights of women and other gender minorities.
On the other hand, the challengers of Uniform Civil Codesay that since UCC is a direct principle, it cannot be enforced through a court. Also, it interferes with Article 25 that guarantees freedom of religion. But Article 25 states that “Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law regulating or restricting any financial, economic, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice.” Minority religious communities feel UCC as an infringement of their religious freedom and pressing for reforms by the majority community.
Implementation of UCC is a mammoth challenge due to its nature and misconception. Misinformation on UCC makes the minority communities believe it as a way of imposing the views of the majority on them. Lack of political will is another major challenge. While some national parties support UCC, other regional and national parties and religious bodies oppose the move. To the question on the need for UCC, the answer is still uncertain.
Relevance of Article 44 of the Indian Constitution
The Directive Principles of State Policy are a set of guiding principles for the state to govern the country, and it is the duty of the state to enforce these principles while making the law. The relevance of the Uniform Civil Code has been questioned during various judgments considered by the Supreme Court. The most important instance is the Shah Bano case of 1985. The Court ruled in favour of Shah Bano under the “maintenance of wives, children and parents” of Section 125 of the All India Criminal Code. The section applies to all citizens irrespective of religion and was challenged by her husband. The Court said UCC is a “dead letter”. A similar verdict was repeated in Jorden Diengdeh v. S.S. Chopra for accommodating a uniform code of marriage and divorce. In the Sarla Mudgal v. Association of India, the Court demanded UCC and held that basic rights identifying with the religion of individuals from any network would not be influenced thereby.
Pluralism and Secularism in India
The Preamble of the Indian Constitution states that India shall be a “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic.” According to the Oxford dictionary, secularism is ‘the principle of separation of state matters and religion.’ Indian secularism is entirely different from western secularism. In India, both state and religion often interact with each other in prescribed legal and judicial parameters, while western secularism completely separates state and religion. Pluralism, on the other hand, is upholding the beliefs, values, and ideology of not only a religion but also of other groups.
In the largest democracy in the world, while in secularism, the state does not appease any religious or political group, pluralism embraces both political and social inclusiveness. The state promotes these ideologies for peaceful co-existence, acceptance, and accommodation of interests of every individual of the society. Leaders such as Nehru and Gandhiji embraced India’s cultural diversity as the nation’s strength. However, the definition of pluralism changed by subsequent governments. With the recent rise of Hindu nationalism, pluralism has become a part of the national identity. Political leadership plays an important role in promoting pluralism. Excluding minority communities and playing vote-bank politics can also lead to fragmentation of a diverse society.
Protection of minority rights, incorporated by the framers, upholds religious pluralism by upholding the diversity of the country. However, DPSP is sometimes criticised for being against secularism and being pluralist, since the approach towards it can vary from government to government. Post-colonial India has accepted religious pluralism to keep up with the principle of the Constitution. Though India is a secular state, it adopts the features of religious pluralism.
Differences in Laws and Practices Among Religious Communities
Being the lengthiest Constitution in the world, the Indian Constitution defines all aspects of the country, from its federal structure to religion. For different religions, family laws are different and distinct. This system was started in 1772, by Warren Hastings, by creating separate provisions for Hindu Law and Muslim Law. After independence, a uniform law was brought for custody and guardianship, adoption, succession, domestic violence, and child marriage.
Muslims in India follow the Sharia Law or Islamic Law as their personal law. The portion of the fiqh-the Islamic jurisprudence, applicable to Indian Muslims as personal law, is termed Mohammedan law. Though it is largely uncodified, Mohammedan Law has the same legal status as other codified statutes.
Christians have the Christian Law which is mostly based on specific statutes and is a separate branch of law. It covers all Christians in India and their personal matters, such as family. The Christian Law is based on English Law, and it has sub-branches for divorce, custody, adoption, etc. In recent years, there have been considerable changes in Christian Law on Succession and Divorce. The Indian Divorce (Amendment) Act of 2001 brought considerable changes in the grounds available for divorce.
Similar to the Christian Law, the law for Hindus also developed as a separate branch. In the first Parliament, an attempt was made to bring a common Hindu Code. Though it was not successful at the time, various changes in the Law were brought through modern-day legislation. Hindu Law also comprises religious communities such as Jain, Sikh, Buddhist, Lingayat, Brahmos, Arya Samajist, and Santhals of Chota Nagpuri, if not varied by custom.
The Parsi community settled in India centuries ago, fearing persecution in Persia. Parsi Marriage, a form of contract, is governed by The Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936. The Act talks about formalities for marriage as well as for divorce. Bigamy in the Parsi community is punishable under the Indian Penal Code. The Act also recognizes the right of the wife to maintenance – both alimony pendente lite and permanent alimony. Under the Indian Succession (Amendment) Act, 1991, both sons and daughters of Parsi have an equal share in their parent’s properties.
All religious laws are rooted in their history and centuries-old codes. The major issue caused by different personal laws among different religious communities is that it is largely discriminatory against women in terms of inheritance, marriage, and divorce. For instance, Sharia Law allows unilateral divorce and polygamy for men and deprives Muslim women of maintenance after the divorce. Before the Lata Mittal case of 1985, Hindu women did not have joint-heirship for their paternal property. This was according to Mitakshara, a school of Hindu law which deals with succession (Patel,2017).
In the Christian community, while women cannot obtain a divorce from their husbands on the grounds of adultery, husbands can do so on the same grounds. An amendment was made to Christian Divorce Act 1869 in 2016. Parsi daughters cannot ask for heirship if they are married to a non-Parsi, and a non-Parsi wife can only get half of her husband’s property. Women are also discriminated against in guardianship of children by these laws. These personal laws also lead to honour killing due to inter-caste and inter-religious marriages, disputes on properties, increasing adultery, polygamy, etc. (Patel, 2017).
Seventy-four years after independence, India is still looking forward to implementing the Uniform Civil Code. But, implementing and maintaining UCC is not an easy task. Fear, among minority communities, of undermining their rights and beliefs is a huge constraint in executing UCC. Awareness must be raised among the citizens about the Uniform Civil Code, its domains, and the impact it can have on their lives. UCC should be implemented keeping in mind the best interests of religions and should be able to protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of their caste, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. It is a sensitive topic, and hence, religious groups should be consulted to make it inclusive. Bringing in legal experts can ensure that UCC maintains evenness. Implementing UCC could be a difficult process due to its sensitive nature, even though it is not impractical. With past judgments, it is understandable that there is a need for UCC in our country, and many people are open to this idea. It should be a tool to bring an end to the struggles faced by citizens over their personal matters due to differences in law. There is a need to change and modify legislation according to the changing time, and UCC can be the tool to bring about equal protection and equal treatment of citizens with dignity.
From time to time, the government of India has adopted numerous policies focusing on malnutrition and hunger among children. But most of these policies are ineffective. It was in 1975 when the government adopted a new holistic policy with a compact package of services, known as the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), for the well-being of children (Dasgupta & Sachdev, 2001).
The program focuses on children below 6 years, pregnant women, lactating mothers, and adolescent girls both in rural areas and urban slums. The Anganwadi, meaning “courtyard shelter” in Indian languages, was launched under ICDS for the effective implementation of health, nutrition, and early learning initiatives (Anganwadi Functions, n.d.). Being the backbone of ICDS, many Anganwadis still lack basic infrastructure facilities such as electricity, proper buildings, play zones, and so forth. Furthermore, the pandemic has adversely affected the delivery of the services. In ensuring better amenities and service delivery in Anganwadis, the Kerala government is going the “smart” way.
Smart Anganwadi Project by the Government of Kerala
In February 2021, the Department of Women and Child Development of the government, sanctioned ₹9 crores for 48 “Smart Anganwadi Project”. Under this project, the conventional Anganwadis will be transformed into smart structures with better amenities to provide more child-friendly spaces for both the mental and physical development of children. The amenities include a study hall, kitchen, dining area, storeroom, creative zone, garden, swimming pool, and outdoor play zone, as per the availability of land.
The project will be carried out in a phased manner by replacing regular structures with a more modern one, along with the financial funding worth ₹5.74 crores from the local bodies (‘Smart Anganwadis’ to be a reality in Kerala; Rs 9 crore granted, 2021). The design for the Anganwadis would be selected subject to the geographical location and availability of land. The department proposed six new designs, named in alphabetical order from A to F, which ensure quality standards, better ventilation, and safety features.
The department is collaborating with Kerala State Nirmithi Kendra and the College of Architecture Thiruvananthapuram to build “smart Anganwadis”. According to the official statements, the government is trying to cut down the number of Anganwadis in the state to ensure better and quality child care (MOHAN, 2019). There are nearly 33,000 Anganwadis in Kerala, most of them in miserable condition (MOHAN, 2019). The new “smart Anganwadi” project would be creating more than just a four-walled building for children.
Analyzing the Impact of “Smart Anganwadi” Project
The deplorable plight of Anganwadis is not just the case of Kerala. Many Anganwadis across the country face deplorable plight. With the flexible role of state governments in ICDS, the governments are granting the latest technology and gadgets to Anganwadis to tackle the digital divide. Lack of electricity is indeed a challenge for this novel opportunity. Also, the government has started to roll out children to keep track of the number of beneficiaries. For families earning meager income, Anganwadis are the only source for their children to have healthy food for their growth. A study conducted by Harvard University in 2021 states that the existence of malnutrition among children aged 0-5 is acute at the state level, district level, and village level (Raghu, 2021).
The existing pediatric malnutrition has gotten worse during the pandemic. The Department of Women and Child Development of Kerala has been delivering mid-day meals as raw materials to the beneficiaries since March 2020 (COVID-19: Anganwadi centers in Kerala deliver mid-day meals to beneficiaries at their homes, 2020). Recently, Malappuram district ICDS in Kerala has introduced the smart diet scheme with nutritious and delicious food, three times a day (Bhaskar, 2020).
A striking feature of the Anganwadi system is that it also targets the welfare of mothers. With a high risk of infant mortality and maternal mortality, regular health check-ups, and immunization, the well-being of both mother and child is ensured. The adult education of ICDS also helps women in ensuring the health of her family and the household economy (Yatsu, 2012). Self-help groups and local communities among women are helping them with social and economic empowerment. While discussing other facilities included in the scheme, it is also important to remember the need for infrastructure with specific needs for children, such as to live, play and learn. The infrastructure should also be accessible for children of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds (Tiwari, Kaur, Seth, & Surbhi, 2019). Children are open to vulnerability and there is a high possibility for abuse and violence. Improved infrastructure along with a safe and secure environment is also vital for the growth of children.
Anganwadis Need More Than Just a Makeover
Being the backbone of ICDS, it is certain that Anganwadi centers (AWCs) need to be reformed. But the effective implementation of the scheme is not just focusing on one or two aspects of the AWCs. Currently, there are almost 13.77 lakhs AWCs in which more than half of the centers lack drinking water facilities while 36% of them do not have sanitation. Lack of adequate infrastructure and assured nutritious food is making the beneficiaries think again about this free service. While it is difficult for low-income families to choose private daycare centers and nurseries, financially sound families choose the paid options. In a study conducted in Coastal-Karnataka on the utilization of ICDS, it was found that the reason for increasing enrolment in private daycare centers is the little trust in ICDS.
The study highlighted the need for improving meals provided to the beneficiaries (Anand & Verma, 2020). The number of AWCs with suitable play zones, recreations, and other learning facilities is limited. An approach that combines both play-based learning and nutritious food can make learning more fun and interesting. ICDS is a combined effort of Anganwadi workers (AWWs), ASHAs, and ANMs. But efforts for improving the skills and service condition of the workers remain indistinct. The government is also providing smartphones and tablets with installed apps for AWWs, to track the distribution of take-home rations and supplementary nutrition services. This helps in bringing further improvement in the scheme. (Anand & Verma, 2020).
Both central and state governments are taking measures in improving the condition of AWCs. In 2015 NITI Aayog proposed plans for refining drinking water and sanitation facilities, ensuring a stable power supply and availability of basic medicines in the centers. The central scheme, POSHAN Abhiyaan has adopted steps for the capacity building of AWWs. The Saksham Anganwadi Scheme by the central government aims to upgrade 2.5 lakh AWCs which promptly need a boost. For the electronic gadgets provided to AWWS, the Telangana and Andhra governments geotagged Anganwadi centers to enhance service delivery. Similarly, the Anganwadi centers of Gujarat digitized the supply chain of take-home rations and real-time data is being used to minimize stock-outs (Anand & Verma, 2020).
Adopting the Kerala Model
Through the new “Smart Anganwadi” project, Kerala is again setting a model for states to bring improvements in the AWWs. Apart from infrastructure development, Kerala is ensuring comprehensive training for AWWs and mobilizing communities to boost the performance of the centers. The AWWs in Kerala are provided with a pension, free medical care, festival allowances along with a basic monthly salary of Rs.3,500. An Anganwadi helper can be promoted to Anganwadi worker and later to supervisor if they have ten years of experience with graduation. It also generates employment for rural women.
Performance and management of the centers are constantly assessed by supervisors. Best performing centers are awarded by district collectors and panchayat members. Training programs and on-site visits by the supervisors help to address the performance of the workers and ensure effective delivery of services. Other than supervisors, retired teachers are also included in conducting training programs. Teachers are equipped with designing activities and experimenting with new designs to help children with activity-based learning. Kerala introduced ‘teacher banks’ to keep track of vacancies in AWCs. To ensure community involvement, committees composed of parents, ASHA workers, and panchayat members are created (Dang & Sarangi, 2020). Since the pandemic, the ASHA workers and AWW are facing stress from overwork. They are overworked and underpaid. The workers were also part of the COVI-19 battle in Kerala. Though they are respected for their role in society, efforts for better pay are often ignored.
Best Practices: Delhi and Rajasthan
In 2017, the Department of Women and Child Development of the NCT government announced substantial reforms in the Anganwadi centers through a massive inspection drive. The government also proposed new reformative measures such as decentralization, use of technology, and capacity building for employees. The government created an Anganwadi hub and introduced incentivized upgrades by bringing Anganwadi workers, supervisors, and Anganwadi Support & Monitoring Committee (ASMC) to work together. Furthermore, the government approved for providing smartphones with CAS (ICDS- Common Application Software) application pre-loaded and internet data pack reimbursement to Anganwadi Workers worth Rs.500/- per month for using the application (NIPCCD, 2018).
The Rajasthan government’s Department of Women and Child Development developed Social and Behaviour Change (SBC) Communication to improve the nutritional outcome of the child and mother. State Nutrition Strategy – ‘Nourishing Rajasthan – Vision 2022’ was set up to ensure the convergence through government departments to address undernutrition. Schemes such as Khushi Anganwadi Programme, Praveshotsav-Anganwadi Chalo Abhiyaan, Nanda Ghar Yojana were introduced to boost the efficiency. Rajposhan Software was developed to successfully monitor and operate Anganwadi schemes (NIPCCD, 2018).
Today, ICDS has expanded its horizon through adapting to modern technology and development in the field of telecommunication to reach millions of children and women by providing nutritious food and education. But the question of the scheme’s achievement still stands. Some centers don’t even have their own building and are unable to provide clean drinking water and proper sanitation. The absence of these basic needs creates a reluctance in beneficiaries. Instead of a total upgrade, what the AWCs need is improvement in their basic needs. Along with new buildings and healthy food, clean drinking water and sanitation is also inevitable. The standard of the services should be upgraded.
Southern states like Kerala, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu are comparatively better than other states in terms of skill development and capacity building of AWWs. Along with these drives, regular evaluation of the work of AWWs can help in understanding to bring further improvement in ensuring service delivery. Moreover, adopting the best practices from other states can help to advance the existing schemes or in drafting new ones (Anand & Verma, 2020). Collaboration with architectural colleges can also be adopted by bringing young minds to this initiative. As a community initiative, participation of local communities should be ensured for the scheme to attain its goal. While learning from new practices, the need for ensuring basic facilities should also be noted.
In India, almost 76 million people do not have access to safe and clean drinking water. This has been a prevalent issue that has existed in our country, despite policies and schemes implemented by the Centre and State Governments.
The challenge of clean, safe drinking water is especially faced in the state of Punjab in India. More than half of the water available in Punjab is considered contaminated because of hazardous chemicals, heavy metals, and radioactive material. Before any steps were taken by the Government to address this issue, even the clean and safe groundwater in the state began to get rapidly depleted. This led to a severe water crisis in Punjab.
According to a report by the Central Water Board and other organisations in Punjab, there are a few reasons that have led to groundwater and surface water contamination in the state. Punjab saw drastic changes in its conditions as a result of a rapid increase in population, industrialisation and urbanisation. They started to focus on the green revolution which caused them to adopt intensive agricultural practices, requiring the increased use of fertilisers and pesticides for better quantity and quality of crop yield. This caused serious pollution of the ground and surface water. In addition to this, rapid industrialisation and urbanisation that took place simultaneously, required an increased usage of groundwater and surface water for a multitude of purposes, which also worsened water scarcity in the state.
In April 2016, the Punjab Pollution Control Board released a report on the water quality from the locations where Sutlej river flows in the state. It was found that Ludhiana is the worst polluter of the river, since domestic and industrial waste and sewage keeps getting dumped in the river. Further, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) declared that Punjab was among the top ten affected states in India, in terms of percentage of groundwater depleted. The extraction of groundwater in the state increased from 149% in 2013 to 165% in 2018. The Punjab Government is well aware of the fact that groundwater is fast getting depleted. That is why in 2019, the Chief Minister of Punjab decided to focus on a comprehensive crop diversification model which would perhaps shift the pressure away from groundwater. However, the farmers in the state are reluctant to shift from cultivating paddy to cultivating other crops because the Government agencies only purchase rice and wheat at minimum support price, which puts the farmers in a difficult position.
The Malwa region in Punjab, particularly faced the issue of groundwater contamination. According to the Arabian Journal of Geosciences, the water in Malwa is unfit for drinking and irrigation. This has led to ailments in much of the population of Malwa. It has become more imperative than ever to ensure that the water in the Malwa region goes through proper remediation, to reduce the adverse effects of contaminated groundwater.
The question still remains what is still causing the contamination and depletion of water and why it is going unchecked, despite the initiatives being taken by the State Government.
Har Ghar Jal Har Ghar Safai Mission
Considering the water and sanitation conditions in Punjab, the Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, launched the “Har Ghar Jal, Har Ghar Safai” campaign earlier this year.
The campaign was initiated to accomplish the goal of providing 100% potable piped water supply in all rural households in Punjab by 2022. Singh claims that half of the households are already taken care of with individual water supply and connections. Moreover, 92% rural habitations are covered under the piped water supply network even before the launch of the mission. If these numbers are accurate, Punjab should be successful in accomplishing their goal under the mission. As of now, Punjab has managed to provide potable piped water supply to 76.13% of rural households.
The State Government of Punjab is also implementing large surface water schemes in over a thousand villages that have been impacted because of the higher concentration of arsenic and fluoride. This will achieve the goal of long-term sustainability in the severely impacted areas in Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur, Patiala and Fatehgarh Sahib. These projects will supposedly benefit 15.26 lakh rural population.
The scarcity of safe drinking water in urban and rural areas, open defecation and the lack of sanitation are some of the key challenges prevalent in Indian states. The “Har Ghar Jal, Har Ghar Safai” mission aims to address challenges like these in the state of Punjab and is aligned with Goal 6 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), that is, Clean Water and Sanitation. This goal focuses on availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Punjab’s rank in the SDG India index is seven.
Along with the efforts to provide clean and potable water to the residents of Punjab, the state is also making concerted efforts in ensuring proper waste disposal through solid and plastic waste management. On World Environment Day, Punjab Chief Minister launched Mission Tandarust Punjab to focus on safe food, clean water, and waste management.
The “Har Ghar Jal, Har Ghar Safai” mission in Punjab, in some aspects, resembles the Central Government’s national programme, Clean India Mission programme, also known as Swachh Bharat Mission, which was launched in 2014. Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, by 2017, 11 districts of Punjab were declared as Open Defecation Free, that is nearly 6000 villages. To maintain this status, the State is also building Sanitary Complexes so as to cater to the needs of migrant labourers, visitors and poorer households. The Swachh Bharat Mission claims that 100% of rural households in Punjab have access to toilets.
According to the Swachh Sarvekshan rankings of 2020, Punjab was at the number one position in the north zone for the third consecutive year and ranked at number six rationally. Bathinda, Patiala and Ferozepur were in the top 100 cities in the report, with Bathinda having a national rank of 79 and number 1 rank in Punjab. Swachh Sarvekshan is conducted to assess the cleanliness of a state, which includes citizen involvement and feedback.
Best Practices Pan-India for Safe and Clean Water
The Punjab Government made a paradigm shift in its policies to prioritise availability of safe and clean water for drinking and irrigation purposes. They are focused on ensuring that they cover quality-affected villages. As a result, potable piped water is being supplied to over 23 lakh rural households, 6 lakh of which were added during the pandemic. During the transitional period, before the supply of surface water reached certain areas, the Chief Minister of Punjab launched a project, as part of the Har Ghar Jal, Har Ghar Safai mission, to provide interim relief to 54 villages that are known to have high arsenic concentration in groundwater. In addition to this, he also inaugurated a multi-surface water supply project for 85 villages of Bagha Purana and Nihal Singh Wala of Moga district. The blocks in these areas are uranium affected. This treatment plant will provide 24×7 potable water to over 60,000 households, having a population of 3.64 lakhs.
Punjab can also learn from existing campaigns for clean water and sanitation that have been launched in other states. Here, let’s focus on Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh.
The Karnataka Jnana Aayoga (KJA) focused on drafting new policies to address water scarcity and contamination in the state. They focused on reducing water demand by suggesting low input sustainable agricultural practices and encouraging shift from water intensive cultivation towards millets and pulses and incentivising farmers to do so. They also encouraged, in urban Karnataka, maximum use of treated wastewater, using lakes for storage, recharge and recreation and monitoring and implementing water pollution standards. Karnataka also launched a water conservation scheme called Jalamrutha in 2019, which primarily focused on water literacy, rejuvenation of water bodies and creation of new ones and development of more afforestation activities, particularly in rural areas.
The state of Uttar Pradesh was among the first states to begin work on the Centre Government’s Jal Jeevan Mission. The project is to begin in stages with it commencing at the Bundelkhand region. The government is also partnering with the UN Office for Project Services and the Government of Denmark to help with tap water connecting to districts in U.P struggling from water scarcity. The Government also launched the “Har Ghar Nal Yojna” in November 2020 with the objective of ensuring water supply in at least 3000 villages in U.P. The Uttar Pradesh Government also decided to launch over 80 new projects in collaboration with the Union Ministry of Rural Development. These projects are to focus on harvest and utilisation and reuse of rainwater, with focus on identified drought-prone and water scarce areas. Out of the 2.6 crore households in 97,000 villages, 30.4 lakh (11.3%) households have water supply. In the last 21 months, with the Jal Jeevan Mission, 24.89 lakh households, that is, 9.45% households, were provided with tap water facilities. However, even then over 2.33 crore households do not have access to tap water yet.
Punjab: The Case Study
As of now, Punjab is facing three critical challenges including contaminated groundwater, depleted groundwater and polluted canals and rivers. The state of Punjab has apparently been working with Israel’s national water company Merokot, to come up with a comprehensive plan to address the issue of water scarcity and contamination. While Israel recycles 80% of its wastewater, Punjab barely recycles 10% of it. Thus, by studying the water usage and contamination in Punjab, Merakot is to provide recommendations.
Around 15-25% of the groundwater is saline and not fit for use, especially found in areas in Muktsar, Bathinda, Mansa and Sangrur. In addition to these districts, Barnala, Fatehgarh Sahib, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Moga, Mohali, Pathankot and Patiala are also very badly affected. As mentioned above, the Malwa region of Punjab is worst affected as a result of groundwater depletion, both in terms of quality and quantity. While the government is taking initiatives like the Har Ghar Jal, Har Ghar Safai mission, encouraging rainwater harvesting and watershed management and other irrigation practices, there is still scope for significant improvement.
A story in The Hindu examines the issues of groundwater depletion and scarcity in Punjab in even more detail. On speaking to a local farmer in the Sangrur district of the state, it was found that farmers are apprehensive about growing any other crop apart from paddy. It was also revealed that people prefer to extract water from motor-operated tube wells, as opposed to using canal water. This showed that most local residents prefer to use groundwater for irrigation, domestic and other use. In Fatehpur village, a farmer who tried to grow potatoes had to stop as it resulted in him facing significant financial losses, because of the market crash. Since then, he has resorted to safer means by continuing to grow rice and wheat.
Can Punjab Learn from its Previous Campaign and Existing National Policies?
Punjab Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project
The State of Punjab and World Bank launched the Punjab Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project (PWRSS) in 2015 to improve the water supply in at least 3,000 villages in Punjab that were declared to have less than full coverage. This project ensured that maintenance, funding and operations are decentralized to the village level. The selected villages were asked to form local water committees that would ensure that the project for water supply is conducted smoothly. The villages were responsible for generating the funds to set up the operations and maintenance of ensuring adequate water supply.
According to a study, it was found that those who enrolled in this program were more likely to have access to potable water and toilets in their homes, as opposed to those who did not participate in the program. The project, however, should have identified a larger number of impoverished households and ensured that they are given full coverage as well. This would have also helped address the existing inequalities in these areas which, more often than not, prevent certain families from access to basic amenities. This is definitely something the State Government should keep in mind while implementing the “Har Ghar Jal, Har Ghar Safai” mission.
Swachh Bharat Mission
In 2014, the Government of India launched the Swachh Bharat Mission with the aim to achieve a clean India within five years. The problems of open defecation and irresponsible disposal of industrial and domestic waste are some of the primary issues tackled under this mission. The Government decided to follow a strategy which includes social messaging, education and communication. Since the launch of this project, 100 million household toilets have been built in over 6,00,000 villages that still do not have any other proper facilities. Unless and until those toilets are functional, well sanitised and used by the common people, those areas cannot be declared as ODF. In 2019, the Government of India declared urban India to be Open Defecation Free (ODF).
However, National Sample Survey’s (NSS) data shows a different picture, and contradicts the claim that India is now Open Defecation Free. According to the survey results, while Swachh Bharat Mission claims that 100% of rural households in Punjab have access to toilets, in reality, 93.4% do. Rs 853 crore has been spent on construction of individual rural toilets.The National Statistical Office (NSO) released a survey that claimed that about 28.7% of rural households in India still did not have toilets and out of those who do have latrines, about 3.5% do not access it. The results of this survey and the data by the Swachh Bharat Mission clearly contradicted each other.
For this year, Rs 114 crore was allotted in Punjab for the Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban). The Government of Punjab launched the “Swachh and Swasth” Punjab mission, in alignment with the second phase of the Swachh Bharat Mission, for construction of community-use toilet facilities. The objective is also to provide privacy and ensure safe disposal of human waste. Environment-friendly technologies and appropriate management of faecal sludge were top priority as part of this mission. Because of dependency on groundwater, the mission also mandates treating and re-using water for flushing. However, whether Punjab has the resources to sufficiently carry this out remains to be seen, or else, they would have to adopt a more decentralized approach.
As a result of the Swachh Bharat Mission, open defecation reduced significantly in a short span of time, that is, 7.3-7.8%. The number of households that then got access to “safely managed” toilets increased by a little over 6%. The mission also increased hygiene awareness among adults and children which led to behavioural changes.
Jal Jeevan Mission
Then there are national policies that exist with the purpose of providing sustainable water management systems. The most recent initiative of the Central Government, the Jal Jeevan Mission offers a water conservation program by identifying areas of concern and identifying and leveraging local water resources to address water scarcity. Within a year of the launch of the program, more than 180,000 inhabitants across states and Union Territories claim to have access to clean water. This project strongly reinforces UN SDG Goal 6, that is, clean water and sanitation for all. However, in order for the Jal Jeevan Mission to be successful, it is important for the relevant stakeholders to recognize the different local contexts and create specialised task forces and carry out data analysis accordingly. Moreover, with realizing the existence of localised diversity, comes the need to keep a flexible approach in the planning and execution processes. The project must have an all-inclusive bottom-top approach instead of the other way round.
Under the Jal Jeevan Mission, Punjab is all set to achieve “Har Ghar Jal” by 2022. Between this year and next year, the state aims to provide 8.9 lakh tap connections, which will essentially ensure tap connections in every household in rural Punjab. In the last year and a half, under this mission, Punjab has already provided 9.09 lakh tap connections. To ensure transparency and accountability, the state is also setting up a grievance redressal system through a 24×7 call centre. This year, Punjab is supposed to receive Rs 750 crore as funds for the mission from the Centre. Last year, the Centre provided the state a little over Rs 362 crore in funds to ensure water supply in rural households in Punjab.
Jal Shakti Abhiyan
Another national campaign, the Jal Shakti Abhiyan focuses on water conservation and water resource management. With the purpose of strengthening the Jal Jeevan Mission, during the campaign, the geotagging of water bodies will be carried out which will play a role in rejuvenating water bodies all over the country. Both the campaigns aim to address the “water stress” that is being faced by nearly 600 million Indians.The focus of the campaign is on rainwater harvesting, rejuvenation of water bodies, treatment and reuse of wastewater and plantation and most importantly, public awareness on the importance of water conservation by individual households as well. The Jal Shakti Abhiyan must ensure that it adopts a more holistic approach and does not just focus on rainwater and wastewater harvesting, but also implement policy measures for regulated availability and use of safe and clean water.
Sangrur district in Punjab is in the first position in Punjab and 10th in the country under the Jal Shakti Abhiyan campaign. Approximately 3000 awareness campaigns, renovation of about 9000 ponds, increased number of plantations, 50 recharge water pits and conservation of rainwater and drip irritation were some of the measures taken in the district, under the Jal Shakti Abhiyan, to tackle the challenge of water scarcity. To conserve the rapidly depleting groundwater, the campaign soon turned into a mass movement.
Relevance during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Since the onset of the Covid-19 second wave, availability of clean water has become more significant than ever globally. The increasing demand for water is coming at a time when water supply and quality of water are already major challenges that India, as a nation, is facing every single day. Further, the absence of efficient sewage-management systems can lead to even more dire consequences of the coronavirus disease. Thus, it is more the need of the hour now than ever to make a paradigm shift from the centralized water management approach to an approach that focuses on reusing, recycling and managing the existing water resources efficiently.
Recommendations and Way Forward
The main causes of water scarcity in Punjab, as mentioned above, are urbanisation, industrialisation and green revolution. It is important to address each of these factors to help tackle the challenge of water scarcity. Firstly, It is very important to treat sewage properly because if that is done, it can be used for irrigation purposes which would reduce the pressure on groundwater. Reusing and treating water must take precedence so it can be used for different factors that usually consume groundwater. Secondly, Punjab needs to move away from paddy in Punjab as this would reduce water consumption to a large extent. Farmers in Punjab need to be incentivised to grow other crops and remove focus from paddy. Thirdly, while Punjab is encouraging rainwater harvesting, as part of the Har Ghar Jal, Har Ghar Safai mission, the individual households must also be encouraged to carry out harvesting practices at a micro level. Lastly, the cleaning of the water bodies and regulation of disposal of effluents is also a critical step that needs to be taken in the state
There are a few lessons that the “Har Ghar Jal Har Ghar Safai” mission can learn from the previous and existing state and national policies. The need to adopt a holistic, flexible, all-inclusive approach to address the challenge of water scarcity and sanitation in the state of Punjab is imperative. All things considered, the mission already has far-reaching impacts in the state with the assurance that at least 80% of the households will have potable water supply.
Just like the Covid-19 pandemic being faced by the whole world, water scarcity is also an urgent problem that needs to be addressed sooner than later. When sanitation and the use of water because of the virus is becoming a priority more than ever before, we are reminded of the reasons to tackle the issue of water scarcity and sanitation.
“The Sustainable Development Goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere” (UN, 2015). Achieving the targets of SDGs is crucial for a developing country like India to improve in the areas such as health, education, and gender equality. It requires a multi-pronged strategy and convergent set of interventions at different levels of government on a sustained basis. Given the importance accorded by the Government of India to achieve the SDGs, NITI Aayog decided to estimate the progress through a single measurable index, which is the SDG India Index.
SDG India Index and its significance
NITI Aayog launched SDG India Index in 2018, which spanned 13 out of 17 SDGs and was computed with 62 indicators at that point. By 2020-21, it covered all 17 goals, 70 targets, and 115 indicators. The index traces the progress on the outcomes based on the socio-economic-environmental status of the country and of States and Union Territories in their attempt towards achieving the SDGs. It also fosters the competition between the States and Union Territories in achieving them. The SDG India Index scores range between 0 to 100. The higher the score is, the greater the distance to targets of SDGs achieved. Based on these scores, the states and Union Territories are classified into four categories- Aspirant (0-49), Performer (50-64), Front-Runner (65-99), and Achiever (100).
The index is a policy tool to formulate, adopt and implement new development actions in line with the global SDG framework. The index can help to identify and fill the gaps related to the tracking of SDGs. It has been successful as a tool of advocacy to generate sustainability, partnership, and resilience.
India and Sustainable Development Goals
India has played a vital role in moulding the Sustainable Development Goals. According to Voluntary National Review (2020), “India has made a paradigm shift to a “whole-of-society” approach with the Government of India engaging sub-national and local governments, civil society organizations, local communities, people in vulnerable situations and the private sector.” Based on the SDG India Index by NITI Aayog, the country has developed the SDG localization model revolving around the adoption, implementation, and monitoring at the state level.
The Sustainable Development Report 2020 states that India’s rank dropped by two places from 115 to 117 compared to last year. It is identified that there are several challenges in the country, particularly in gender equality, hunger and food security, innovations, and sustainable industrialization. The SDG score of India is 61.9 out of 100 globally. On perceiving the scores, India ranks below other South Asian countries – Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.
In the SDG India Index 2021, the country’s score had increased to 66 from 60 in 2019. This was primarily due to the progress on Clean Water and Sanitation and Affordable and Clean Energy. The performance of India in the areas of attaining zero hunger and achieving gender equality is not satisfactory. India has to be more active with its programs towards the targeted population to better score globally and achieve the SDGs by 2030.
SDG India Index 2020-21: Which states are doing better?
The SDG India Index 2020-21, the third edition, is more robust than the previous editions on more comprehensive coverage of targets and indicators. This edition gave preference to the social equality indicators such as the percentage of women and SC/ST representation in the State legislatures and Panchayati Raj institutions. Kerala scored 75 points and retained the top position. The other top States in the ranking are Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Maharashtra. The worst performing states are Bihar (52), Jharkhand (56), and Assam (57). Twelve states found themselves in the Front-runner category (65-99).
Why Kerala is at the top?
The SDG India Index score of Kerala is 75, while the country score is 66. Kerala has made a considerable jump in SDG 7- Affordable and Clean Energy within one year. It had achieved 100 percent from 70 in 2019. Kerala performs well in other goals: Poverty, Gender Equality, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Climate Action. It has adopted inclusive policies and programmes such as a unified registry scheme for children (9 months -18 years), special anganwadis for disabled children, policies promoting gender equality and women empowerment, and community study centres for e-learning of tribal children.
Institutions such as the Kerala Institute of Administration (KILA) have been responsible for promoting the SDGs in the local development planning through the capacity building of stakeholders of local governments followed by the elected representatives, officials, and citizens in the regional planning. It has set up a specialized centre- Centre for SDGs and Local Governments, containing professionals responsible for designing, implementing, and monitoring the capacity building programmes and disseminating SDGs. KILA developed DashBoard for setting targets and monitoring SDGs that enable the functionaries at Sub-national, district, sub-district. Local Governments in Kerala prepare local development plans and budgets that cover most of the thematic areas of SDGs. Also, introducing SDGs in these local plans makes their initiative transformative at the local level and integrates SDGs with Missions/Flagship programmes of higher tiers of governments.
Status of Northern states in the index and how could they move up
When compared to the southern states, the northern states are not performing well in achieving SDGs. The northern states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand, have improved their scores from last year, but their performance is not satisfactory. States like Punjab and Haryana are doing well compared to other northern states. Moreover, Haryana is one of the top gainers in the index 2020-21, with an increase of 10 points. Haryana and Punjab, who were in the categories of ‘performer’ states, are promoted to the ‘front-runners’ in the latest index. Chandigarh remained at the top among the UTs. The worst Performer, Bihar, has improved its score from 50 to 52 in one year. The changes in the scores reveal that the states are moving in the right direction in achieving their targets of SDGs.
The Southern states are performing better in the index. Many factors are contributing to their top position. The area of the state can be an essential factor as it promotes better governance and penetration of schemes and policies towards its people. The states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the larger states regarding their size, proved that there are other factors rather than the size. The political scenario or the political culture of the southern states are playing a crucial role in their policies and programmes formulated for the targeted population.
The northern states are being continuously criticized for the influence of the rich in politics, which pulls the government away from developing better policies for its people. The southern states are doing good in terms of social spending by differentiating their priorities in various sectors such as education, health, water, and sanitation. The state governments are allocating a significant amount in achieving gender equality, mainly through education for women, absent in the northern states.
To attain SDGs, the states have to identify their weak points to determine the areas they need to improve. These areas include promoting gender equality in education and workspaces, encouraging inclusive schemes and policies, ensuring water and sanitation for all, and so on. The states shall focus on various sectors simultaneously for constant change rather than addressing one goal after another. The northern states can study southern states’ welfare programmes and policies and formulate their policies based on their population and criteria. They can also have better institutional frameworks by forming institutions such as the Centre for SDGs for conducting constant assessments and monitoring their progress for a better implementation.
Can India achieve the SDGs by 2030?
Based on the Voluntary National Review Report 2020, India must increase its spending by an additional 6.2 percent of GDP to achieve the SDGs by 2030. India has launched several flagship programmes to address poverty, health, gender equality, and education. These programmes include mid-day meal schemes, free LPG connections, rural employment guarantee programmes, among others. India is seen as the most rapidly developing country in its improvement in various goals such as ending hunger and ensuring better health and infrastructure. In the SDG Index, India had increased its score to 66, which denotes that India is running fast, even when the socio-economy was hardly hit by covid-19 last year, which is appreciable.
The goals such as clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, industry, innovation and infrastructure, life on land, peace, justice, and strong institutions are already steering towards the targets of 2030. According to the SDG Index Report 2020-21, India has positive trends in all the SDGs. Some of the qualitative improvements made by India include : (i) over ten crore toilets have been built since 2014, and over 5.9 lakh villages have declared open defecation free (ii) The National Action Plan on Climate Change has reduced the emission of greenhouse gases per year. On perceiving the policies of India till now, the country has focussed more on the elimination of poverty through various programmes.
The continuous efforts of the country in all the goals are improving year after year. There is a significant gap in the required data to effectively assess specific policies and projects’ effectiveness. Rapid attempts and their implementation are necessary in the case of India. The partnership and coordination between the centre and state can help the country attain a better and quicker global standard. The timely implementation and monitoring, primarily through SDG localization, can help India pull off the SDG targets in 2030.
It is a considerable hurdle for India to recognize the SDGs that need more attention and improve them to compete with other countries to achieve the targets by 2030. The areas such as healthcare and health insurance, opportunities for micro-enterprises, housing have improved on a large scale but far from the targets. Immediate and intensive care is required to address these areas, and formulation of better programmes and their implementation is necessary. SDG localization shall be ensured in the cities and villages, rather than concentrating it at the state level. There is a need for cooperation between the states, and each state has to be supported based on their rooms of improvement.
The states have to make sure that they are collecting the data in a certain period to analyze the progress of the programmes implemented at a micro-level. The target population of the SDGs has to be recognized. Formulating the policies for the targeted population in every region can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the policies. Accurate and up-to-date data is required for further action. If the data is accurate and the target population is highly recognized, the programmes aimed at them can steer the goal scores, and India can achieve the SDG targets by 2030.
Every citizen is unique, so is their identity. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), provides a unique identification card called ‘Aadhaar card’ with 12-digit Unique Identification Numbers (UIN) for the citizens of India by taking biometric and demographic details. The UIDAI is a statutory body established under the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 (“Aadhaar Act 2016”). The Act was enacted on 12 July 2016 by the Government of India. Before its statutory status, the UIDAI was part of the Planning Commission, now NITI Aayog. The first UID number was issued in November 2010. It is a digitally signed card encrypted with a QR code. Citizens can use this card for identity verification anywhere in the country. Today, this unique number card is linked with bank accounts, PAN cards, and ration cards of public distribution systems, government schemes, LPG subsidies, to receive food at a subsidized rate, and so forth. Eleven years later, the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is planning to implement a single Aadhaar for the entire family for better welfare distribution (DUTTA, 2021).
Universal Family ID
A common family ID will be a breakthrough in India. According to government officials, the universal family ID will help in keeping track of beneficiaries of both the Central and State government schemes by making each family an “identifying unit” (DUTTA, 2021). The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY) will carry out studies to plan and develop the project together with the National Informatics Centre (NIC) and the National Informatics Centre Services Inc (NICSI). As per the MeiTY, this project will make government welfare schemes more effective by eliminating “inherent deficiencies and gaps” due to “non-standard beneficiary identification”. Under the universal family registry, each family will be provided with unique IDs. This will also help to identify “family-based beneficiaries” for all Central and State government welfare programs. A common national digital platform will also be developed. In April 2021, a meeting of various patrons to discuss the implementation strategy and the involvement of ministries for smooth accomplishment was held. A nodal officer will be appointed by various central ministers for the enactment and for coordinating data sharing. A statement given by a government official said that they are studying a similar project implemented in Haryana to understand the system of the project.
Impact and Challenges of the Project
Through the implementation of the Universal Family ID, the Government will be able to ensure delivery of services without the hassle of documents and even without physical presence. Though Aadhaar contains the details of individuals, the unique number is different for all family members. Even the ration card does not have sufficient family records and it is not updated regularly. In the Universal Family ID, every detail of the family members shall be regularly updated so that the government can keep track of beneficiaries. People will no longer have to wait in government offices for schemes and certificates they need to receive. Migrant workers shall also benefit from the labour welfare schemes, the government ration scheme, and the street vendor schemes implemented through this project. Medical facilities, including health insurance, can also be linked to this ID so that universal access to health care is ensured. By linking the ID with one’s bank account, employees can track their salary as well as future benefits such as pension schemes they are eligible for. Further, social welfare schemes such as unemployment and disability benefits could be tracked easily and regularly. It also allows the government to know about the employee’s contributions and eligibility to calculate future benefits. Besides, the ID can also be used for paying taxes and to check eligibility for various loans including student loans. As the family ID includes details of family members, it will be easy to access these details for obtaining a passport and driving license.
Governments are now adopting more advanced technologies to deliver their schemes and services. As a consequence, hacking has become a major threat to the government’s data storage. In 2019, the rate of cybercrimes reported by the National Crimes Bureau (NCB) was 63.5%, of which nearly 60% were cyber fraud. Lack of enough security can make it easy to access sensitive public information from the data center through an application programming interface (API) calls. The non-existence of strong cyber law is a serious concern in the effective implementation of the universal family ID project. Due to the absence of data protection, there is a high chance for potential abuse of the collected data. Establishing and maintaining error-free links between the person or the family and the associated number is quite challenging (The Use of the Social Security Number as the Basis for a National Citizen Identifier, 1997). The absence of privacy or leakage of data can lead to identity theft, which makes it compulsory for people to change their existing ID numbers.
The new universal family ID project can learn from the various aspects such as the right to privacy and data protection of the Aadhaar for better implementation.
Similar Practice: Parivar Pehchan Patra, Haryana
The government of India is looking into the Parivar Pehchan Patra (PPP) scheme introduced by the Haryana government for its future universal family ID project. The PPP identity card with 8-unique digits was introduced to enable smooth delivery of the state government’s scheme to the citizens. The card ensures that no citizen is left behind in the welfare schemes and will automatically deliver the services using the code. Under this card, each family is considered a single unit. The PPP will contain personal as well as geographical details of the family. It is mandatory for families to have a PPP card to receive state government services and schemes and also for State government employees, failing which their salaries may be held back. A similar scheme is being planned to be adopted by Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka.
As part of the PPP, the government takes the Aadhaar once and puts it into the Aadhaar vault. The government can verify the individuals of the beneficiary families through this vault. Without exposing the data, PPP can be linked to all family schemes. The minority PPP family ID card was later revised by the government to “voluntary.” But to benefit from any kind of government services, the PPP card is mandatory. With a PPP card, the government can maintain a complete database of all citizens residing in the state. The government is compiling the details of families from the 2011 census (Bhatia, 2020).
Recently, the PPP came under the watch of the Punjab and Haryana High Court after a petition was filed. According to the petition, there is a chance for abuse of family data by the ruling party for its political gain and the government’s move to make Aadhaar mandatory to enroll in PPP (Sura, 2021). The government announced that PPP is completely voluntary and not mandatory for the residents of Haryana state. But the mandatory requirement of PPP cards to avail the government schemes and other basic services places people in uncertainty. Technical issues in PPP enrollment are also another side of the story. Though the project was able to make an impact, especially during the pandemic, the issues of privacy, mandatory requirements, and technical aspects still prevail.
Some International Practices
Similar to the Aadhaar card, various countries including the US, the UK, South Korea, Singapore, etc. have a Social Security Number or Resident Registration Number.
The Social Security Number (SSN) in the US is a nine-digit number issued to the citizens, permanent and temporary (working) residents in the US. It is mandatory to have SSN to avail all social security benefits, government schemes, and other services like financial services. Since the number is used for various services, the fraudulent risk and identity theft are also high. In the past few years, a number of child identity theft cases have also been reported.
National Insurance Number or NI or NIN is the UK version of SSN used primarily for tax purposes. As NIN is used for financial purposes the risks of identity theft are low. However, there are reported cases of scam calls to obtain the financial or personal details of victims.
In South Korea, the government issues a Resident Registration Number (RRN), a 13-digit number for every resident, regardless of their nationality used for identification and tracking private transactions like employment and banking.
Every Singapore permanent resident and citizen is assigned a unique card known as National Registration Identity Card (NRIC). The NRIC is used for identification, voting, and availing of financial and public services.
The primary purpose of the identification numbers is to ensure the efficient delivery of public services. The threats relating to identity theft, cyber crimes, and privacy rights exist in every identification number issued by the government. Even in a technically advanced country and a major tech hub of the world like South Korea, the citizens had to face serious intrusion in 2011. The government later adopted strict punishment. One thing we can learn from such incidents is that in India, we need to adopt strict privacy laws and punishments for cybercrimes, including identity theft. The government needs to address privacy concerns and cybercrime issues associated with the identification scheme.
Data Protection and Right to Privacy: An Indian Scenario
Legislatures are often criticised for assigning the least priority to issues relating to the right to privacy and data protection. The first attempt towards data protection was made in the form of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which equally incorporated the technology sector along with other sectors. Three provisions of the Act, Section 43A, Section 72A, and Sections 72 refer to personal data protection and the punishments for misusing the data. Even though the right to privacy is not mentioned as a fundamental right in the Indian constitution, in the 2017 Justice K S Puttaswamy and Anr. Vs. The Union of India case, the Supreme Court defined it as a fundamental right under Articles 14, 19, and 21. Following the judgement, a committee headed by Justice B.N. Srikrishna was appointed, which later submitted a report in 2018 to the Ministry of Electronics and Information along with a draft for the Data Protection Bill, 2018. The 2019 Data Protection Bill, which deals with privacy and data protection, is based on one of the recommendations of the committee. The Bill is still under the consideration of the Parliament. In December 2020, a member of the parliamentary committee representing the Government said that the current bill won’t be passed, stating the Bill “itself is something that is not working” (Waris, 2021). In the 2018-19 Economic Survey released by the Government, Section 4.12 justified the actions of data surveillance because of the increasing needs and for improving the economy (Rai, 2020). Considering the justifications and past legislations, little has been done by the government to ensure privacy and data protection to users.
The government has adopted various policies to ensure the smooth delivery of services to the citizens. With the advancement of technology, the challenge of protecting the privacy of people has become imperative. Owing to the large geographical area, the existing digital divide in the country is acute and this has become an important point of consideration for better implementation of the project. While the government is focusing on ensuring the effortless realization of schemes, it is also essential to acknowledge as well as work towards finding a solution to this issue. Partnership with private companies can contribute towards resolving arising technical challenges efficiently. Strong security on the database can also be verified through the partnership. Further, the government can carry out mass awareness campaigns about the project and its benefits. By highlighting the cross-sectional benefits of welfare schemes and programs, the government can use the Universal Family ID to register the property of families to the databases so that it can prevent fraudulent transactions and clarify the ownership of the land (Parivar Pehchan Patra and Privacy Concerns, 2021). Apart from easy accessibility to government welfare schemes under the project, effective implementation of these schemes should also be the grail of the government’s approach in executing the universal family ID project.