Thursday, October 27, 2011

Common Mobility Cards (Big brother is watching in India too)

A trickle of media reports over the last year or so have been hinting about a new single unified ticketing system or fare collection method being pushed through various big and small cities. That sounds promising, but is there more to it that we should be considering? (Venkatesh Nayak. Access to Information Programme . Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative)

The Ministry of Urban Development (MOUD), Government of India has been working on a programme to provide 'Common Mobility Cards' (CMC) for commuters in major cities around the country. In simple terms CMC aims to provide seamless travel for individuals across public transport facilities like buses and railways. When a commuter buys a CMC card from an authorised vendor he may use it like London's Oyster Cards and travel from place to place without actually buying separate tickets for each journey. (For more information on Oyster Cards click on: The applicable fare for the journey will be deducted by ticket collectors using computerised machines. Your card will allow you to travel only as far as the card value permits you. Of course these cards can be topped up at the notified service providers.

We are told Jaipur has already started implementing this system (for news clippings click here:

Bengaluru and a host of other cities are next in line. So a commuter need not bother about carrying loose cash or coins any more if CMC is operationalised. Eventually the programme seeks to make the CMC valid across cities and States. The same card can be used for paying parking fees and also tolls on highways and pay-and-use roads.

Is this not a cool, convenient and efficient system? So why crib?:

CMC links directly to personal data protection which in turn links to personal security and every person's fundamental right to privacy guaranteed under Article 21 by the Constitution of India. When CMCs become fully operational every journey of mine and yours using CMC cards - from point of origin to destination anywhere in India will be recorded in a database which will be manned by a central agency.

Every transaction of ours using a CMC card will be recorded with that agency. CMCs are expected to be expanded to allow for payment of tolls on highways. And of course law enforcement agencies will have access to this database in the name of looking out for terror suspects. NATGRID has already been established to provide such background check services for any individual for law enforcement agencies.

All this is happening on a canvas where two crucial elements are absent:- a) absence of a legal framework for protecting the individual's right to privacy . Please note that unlike the right to information (RTI) which is an implied right under Article 19(1)(a) currently available only to citizens, the right to privacy is an implied right under Article 21 (the right to life and liberty) which is available to any person within the jurisdiction of the Indian State. So the right is available to a much larger set of people.; and b) something even more basic - people's right to know more about CMCs . Is there citizen-friendly information about CMC anywhere on the MOUD website?

Apart from a brief compilation of documents in complicated technical language available at MOUD's website there is very little information in the public domain about CMC cards. I am told this compilation was prepared for the RFQ process initiated by MOUD (for these documents please click on: CMC is a new system that will collect data about every individual who uses CMC cards as explained above.

So it will affect every commuter in the country. Yet MOUD has not thought it fit to comply with Section 4(1)(c) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 which mandates every public authority to publish facts and figures while announcing important decisions or policies. This is a major policy decision which has not received as much attention as it should.

Agencies such as NATGRID, CBI and National Investigation Agency which will have enormous use for this database have also been kept out of the RTI Act by the Government of India this year.

Information about CMC type programmes should ordinarily be available in the annual reports of the concerned ministries. This is a statutory requirement under Section 41)(b)(xi) of the RTI Act. yet only one biref para (para #7.4.3) is devoted to this subject in the Annual Report of MOUD (click here to access the full report: All that it tells us about the hiring of UTI Technology Services Ltd., Mumbai, a public sector enterprise under the Finance Ministry to roll out this programme across india. UTITSL, incidentally is responsible for issuing Income Tax PAN Cards across India.

Who authorised the commencement of the CMC programme?

There is no indication if there was a Cabinet decision on this subject. A press release issued by the Press Information Bureau (PIB) in August 2011 quotes a reply given by the Minister of State for Urban Development in response to a question raised by an MP in the Lok Sabha (for the text of the PIB press release click here: (for the text of the question and answer tabled in parliament click here: The answer given by the Minister indicates that CMC is being proposed for rollout in 2011-2012.

But is not 'public transport a subject on the State List ( List II) of the 7th Schedule of the Constitution? Yes it is. This is why no separate budgetary allocation is being made for the CMC programme. Instead CMC is being made part of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) under which assistance is provided by the Central Government to the States.

Any public transport authority who wishes to buy low floor buses will have to implement this CMC system. Does JNNURM website have any detailed information on CMC? I tried hunting for it, but came up with digital crumbs, not a wholesome sandwich describing the programme in simple terms. Perhaps you may have better luck. All that I know is that one para (para #21) from the National Urban Transport Policy drafted in 2006 talks about a single ticketing system (for the complete text of the policy click on: and the CMC has evolved out of this para.

CMCs will become compulsory The MOUD's service level benchmarks for urban transport under JNNURM include performance of States in implementing the Integrated Ticketing System (see para 1.4 and further on in the document accessible at: So while as citizens we have not yet debated the desirability of CMC, it has become compulsory for the States implementing JNNURM projects. Later we will be compelled to use CMCs or go settle down to walking wherever we want to go .

We are compelled to provide a range of personal data including our movements without any control over who will have access to that data and in what manner will it be used by which agency. The Draft law on the Right to Privacy leaked last year from one of the GOI's Ministries is more about empowering the State to conduct intensive and extensive surveillance and less about giving an individual control over his/her personal data held by a public or private agency.

Cost of implementing CMCs I am not a technological expert. I pay my taxes. So I would like to know how much this roll out of CMC will cost us. A look at the RFP documents reveal that the infrastructure requirement is huge. Millions of fare collection machines will be required to make the CMC operational. So the small number of companies making such machines will rejoice.

We do not even know who they are. We do not know how much CMC roll out will cost the exchequer in every State. Nobody has bothered to inform us yet.

There are other social costs as well. All meter-making companies for threewheelers (autorickshaws) and taxis will eventually shut shop because CMC will be made applicable to such modes of transport as well. We do not now if the same companies will make the automatic fare collecting machines. Techno-experts may have many other queries about the viability of the CMC programme. I leave it here for now. Effectiveness of CMCs While surfing for news about CMCs I stumbled upon a news article in the DNA about the alleged failure of such a system in Mumbai. The story is available at:\ _1447695

So while convenience must be created for commuters it is always better to look before taking the leap. People must be informed first about the pros and cons of the system before States and public transport authorities are compelled to adopt CMC programme. Legal safeguards for ensuring safety and security of personal data must be put in place. Any person using the system must have access to and control over the data about him/her that is held by any agency participating in this programme. This requires extensive debate at all levels throughout the country.

Is anybody listening? Big Boss is watching of course.

# # #

Venkatesh Nayak
Programme Coordinator
Access to Information Programme
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
B-117, 1st Floor, Sarvodaya Enclave
New Delhi- 110 017
Tel: +91-11-43180215/ 43180200
Fax: +91-11-26864688
Skype: venkatesh.nayak

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