The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has refused to divulge details on the money it spent on branding and advertising Aadhaar since its inception in 2009.
After an RTI was filed by economist Reetika Khera in November last year seeking details on expenses incurred on advertising and promoting Aadhaar, the UIDAI responded saying it is not liable to disclose the details, citing Section 8(1)’s clauses D and J of the RTI Act, reports The Hindustan Times.
Section 8(1) clause D allows the information officer to deny disclosing the sought information if its disclosure would "harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information."
According to Section 8(i), clause J of the RTI act, "there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information." It, however, also goes on to say that information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature must also not be denied to any person.
RTI Applicant Reetika Khera reportedly argued that it is in the interest of the public to know how much of tax payers' money has been spent. “As per the RTI Act, the UIDAI should be disclosing this (information) proactively on its website. The disclosure is in public interest and the nature of the information is such that it cannot be denied to Parliament.” the report quoted her as saying.
The RTI, according to the report, was filed on the basis of a 2014 report which claimed that the govt had approved Rs 30 crore a year budget for Aadhaar 'image makeover'.
The UIDAI, in 2014, had received the go-ahead from the government to spend Rs 30 crore a year on 'image-makeover' of Aadhaar. The Aadhaar-issuing body had put up a proposal to hire an advertising agency to dispel rumours and misconceptions over functioning of the Aadhaar. This also included new media strategy that would also cater to social media as well.
The UIDAI has been struggling to counter allegations over concerns surrounding the safety of citizens’ for years. Former UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani, had recently, admitted to security issues, and said that while Aadhaar has not been hacked yet, “but people (hackers) have tried to get users to do an OTP and give their details.”
The UIDAI had reportedly appointed Percept/H- one of India's top advertising agency- after the thumbs up from the Prime Minister. The agency's brief was to focus on implementing a national-level communication strategy to send customised messages on Aadhaar benefits, so that it reaches a large audience.
The UIDAI had also appointed the best of minds in the marketing sector for aggressive branding of Aadhaar, according to a 2010 report by the Live Mint.
"The organization’s branding and awareness team is headed by UIDAI official Shankar Maruwada and advised by a team of five of India’s top communications and marketing professionals, who are not on the organization’s payroll but meet frequently, discussing plans via email and teleconference and reporting to (then) UIDAI chief Nandan Nilekani and director general R.S. Sharma," the report said.