Voting and its vices: Know Your Crooks

Doesn’t it make more sense to limit the painful verification exercise to only those accounts that arouse suspicion?

Voting and its vices: Know Your Crooks

Avay Shukla

Last week a voter enrolment camp was organised by the government in our RWA. While filling in the required Form 6, I realised that it was mandatory to provide a copy of one’s Aadhaar card.

Now the law as it exists today, and as reiterated by the Supreme Court, states that Aadhaar is a mandatory only if one is availing of the benefits of any government scheme such as MNREGA, Ayushman Bharat, PMGKY, subsidies, scholarships etc. It cannot be demanded for any other purpose, whether by government or private entities.

Voter enrolment is not a subsidy or government ordained benefit. It is a right and should not require an Aadhaar. But the official told me that if I did not comply then my application would be rejected. I had to perforce comply since I’ve just shifted residence and lack any address proof, without which I am as stateless as a Rohingya refugee in Cox’s Bazaar. It would appear that (as my experience indicates) whenever someone enrols himself as a voter, his Voter ID automatically links itself to his Aadhaar!

This is by no means an isolated example of governments violating their own laws and the apex court’s directions. Today, if you don’t produce an Aadhaar, you cannot avail of any government service. And it keeps getting worse: recently an RTI query has revealed that the Election Commission of India has collected the Aadhaar numbers/ details of 540 million voters. Why?

There is no law yet which states that it has to be linked to voter ID, so why is the ECI carrying out this mammoth exercise? What does it propose to do with the humungous store of personal data it has compiled? What steps has it taken to ensure that this information is safe from the regular ‘leaks’ that keep happening all the time, or will not be ‘allowed’ to be harvested by a private entity, as happened in Karnataka recently? Your guess is as good as mine, for this discredited body has lost not only its spine but also its tongue in recent years.

But an even greater cause for concern is the brazen manner in which private entities demand your Aadhaar for all manner of services, without any authorisation of law; mobile phone SIM providers, hotels, car dealers, insurance companies, banks and so on.

The banks have taken this harassment to an entirely new level: they have integrated the Aadhaar into their KYC process and any failure to comply is a good excuse to freeze your account and make you beg for your own money! A little more about this KYC nonsense is in order, I think.

KYC stands for Know Your Customer but trust me, the bank has no interest in knowing you, only in fingering your money and passing it on to our growing tribe of NPA billionaires. For the KYC is a regular ordeal for most of us, especially those who have changed addresses or those whose signatures don’t match owing to the ageing process or those who have forgotten their passwords, or those who are physically challenged.

It was bad enough when we had to go through this re-verification process every ten years, but now the RBI (which should be devoting its limited attention span to correcting the state of the economy) has decreed that the KYC shall be done every three years.

One’s life is becoming a litany of renewals and verifications if one is above 60—net banking passwords every six months, life certificate every year, debit cards every three years, driving licence every five years, car and health insurance every year, and now this ruddy KYC. We have now been ‘advised’ to update our PAN cards every ten years even if there is no change in any of the particulars. (As we all know by now, the word ‘advise’ in recent times has acquired an entirely new meaning: ‘do it pronto, or else!’). The latest is that from the 1st of January this year, taking out any type of insurance will also require a mandatory KYC. I sometimes wonder: has anyone carried out a study to determine if all this KYCing has achieved any fruitful purpose?

And don’t miss the Godzilla-sized irony in the whole thing: even while you and I struggle to prove that we are not crooks and pay our taxes and repay our loans on time, the real crooks continue to loot the government and the banks (our money, actually) like it’s an end of season sale— Rs 12 lakh crores of unpaid loans have been written off by the banks since 2014 and an average of Rs 2 lakh crore are being consigned to the shredder every year. The recovery rate is just 13 per cent.

Why is there no KYC (Know Your Crook) for these guys? Does it not make more sense, in every which way, to limit this verification exercise to only those accounts that arouse some suspicion in their operations or have defaulted in some way, than to continually harass the millions who go about their business in a quiet and legitimate way?

There is another category—the bankers themselves who need to be subjected to the new, crook-focused KYC, as the cases of Chanda Kochhar (ICICI) and Rana Kapoor (YES Bank) prove. More and more bank executives appear to share cosy relationships with their loanees. And what does one make of so many bank CEOs joining private companies soon after retirement?

This has become the standard practice, especially with CEOs of public sector banks (who, coincidentally, have the lion’s share of NPAs!). Now, if this is a coincidence then I am Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. How about a cooling-off period of at least two years for these worthies, madam finance minister, before they take their ambiguous talents to the fat cats?

Government data shows that ordinary folks (customers like you and me) are the best and most disciplined account holders. Default rates among credit/debit card holders, kisan, home and car loanees are by far the lowest among various categories.

The major defaulters and swindlers are to be found among the business and corporate loanees. So, doesn’t it make more sense for the RBI and the banks to concentrate on them rather than on the salaried, pensioners, self-employed, farmers etc. Have they not heard of the 80:20 principle of management—devoting 80 per cent of their effort on 20 per cent of the customers who are actually the ones who need to be regulated?

What kind of an inverted regulatory fishing net have the banks invented, one which allows the big fish to escape while capturing the small fry? No industry can work on this lopsided and absurd principle, and therefore one is not surprised that the banks are sinking deeper into a hole with every passing year.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned, folks. Without a KYC you are a pauper, and without an Aadhaar card you don’t exist. If you have been fortunate enough to have reached the age of 70 years (The Walking Dead), always keep an Aadhaar card in that empty wallet, and pin one to that coffin or saffron (what else?) shroud you may have ordered for your last journey, for sans that piece of plastic you’re going nowhere- you can be neither buried nor cremated.

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