Aadhaar set for a makeover

BJP has been critical of it, but it would prefer to convert it into ‘citizen ID card’ project

shubhendu

Shubhendu Parth | May 16, 2014



For the party that believes information technology is a big enabler for empowerment, equity and efficiency, will the ascent of BJP into power mean the end of road for Aadhaar?

While Nandan Nilekani, the former chairman of the unique identification authority of India (UIDAI), and the Manmohan Singh government had been projecting Aadhaar as the essential tool to drive several social projects, BJP and the prime minister-to-be Narendra Modi have always been critical of the project.

Raising questions on UPA’s decision to approve the big-ticket Aadhaar project, Modi had been demanding that the project should be discussed in the National Security Council, often accusing the government of allowing issuance of Aadhaar cards to “illegal immigrants” (read Bangladeshis) and to those without proper citizenship documents.

The party had also highlighted the fact that the citizen data, including the biometric details were being handled by a US company that was also handling a similar project—the National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) driven by Pakistan’s ministry of interior.

The other big objection that the party had was the manner in which the Congress-led UPA pushed the project without securing parliament’s approval for the same and despite the parliament’s standing committee rejecting the National Identification Authority Bill 2010 on December 13, 2011.

Given the background, and the BJP’s known stand on illegal migrants from across the border, particularly Bangladesh, the question about Aadhaar’s future has been asked time and again. In fact, not many were surprised when the 52-page BJP manifesto for 2014 Lok Sabha elections did not have a single mention of the project. This, despite the fact that the manifesto had a detailed section on eGovernance and Aadhar continued to remain one of the single largest eGovernance projects in the country.

So, will the Modi-led government scarp the Rs 3,800-crore project that has already enrolled over 600 million people? Going by the sheer scale of the project, it has assumed a critical mass that will make it difficult for the new government to just do away with it.

Sources close to the BJP top brass indicate that the party will certainly review it in totality and convert it into a citizenship document, which at present Aadhaar is not. It would be interesting to note that the project was first mooted by the ministry of home affairs (MHA) as national ID card initiative during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA regime.

For record, the project which was initially called Common UID (the word ‘common’ was later deleted), however, got stuck as the MHA was not sure how to handle the legal verification process that was key to identifying a citizen. It was later converted into a resident ID project but never took off till the planning commission decided to adopt it to enable better implementation of development projects.

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