Wednesday, July 6, 2011

UID is problematic

Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was created as an attached office under the Planning Commission, with a mandate to develop and implement the necessary institutional, technical and legal infrastructure to issue unique identity (UID) numbers to Indian residents.

Aadhaar, or the Unique Identification Project, is today expected and ‘loosely’ positioned to be the sole panacea that will transform governance, make Bharat part of the growth process, plug leakages and slippages into welfare schemes and bring about prosperity all around. What is essentially an identity number has been over-romanticized as an ‘enabler’ to put India on a fast-track growth path by virtue of becoming a pivot around which all anti-poverty measures will rotate and also deliver. From poverty alleviation to education, it seems to be holding answers to all problems that have plagued India since independence. While (Chairman UIDAI) Nandan Nilekani's contention is that he has not promised any such thing, the fact is that he has also never denied the frenzied media reports on UID as a fix all solution.

It is feared that UID is attempting to impose technology to foster centralisation rather than promote de-centralisation and coming up with magical remedies in technology for problems that perhaps have solutions only in governance reform and institutional regeneration. Sometimes, technology can even be used as a quick bypass to constitutional provisions. Panchayati Raj Institutions being deprived of their right to 'identify' its people as the main UID registrars is a case in point. Focus is instead on 'identifying the already identified' who open bank accounts or have ration cards or even PAN cards. Arguments for conditional fund transfers instead of unconditional fund transfers and technology duplication efforts like the Aadhar enabled RuPay card to do exactly what all cards do anyway are some of the cases in point. There is also little clarity as to how the government will integrate the UID with the National Population Registrar (NPR). Considering the multifarious agencies and the issues involved in the work of capturing biometrics and digitizing the demographic information it certainly is a gigantic task. Is does not seem to have happened at least in Tembhli where the information captured by private enrolment agency for the card is not quite at par with the details earlier collected by the census enumerators.

To end on a lighter note, a close associate of mine who hails from Kumaon hills was recently given an Aadhaar card. His biometrics, photo and other details were captured at the time of application. The person who delivered the card demanded a photo identity to match the photo on the Aadhaar card and handed over the card on seeing his PAN Card ! So much for biometric technology.

Source: Sameer Kochhar in Inclusion 

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