Divided we stand

In favouring compromise, government missed the chance to strengthen UID initiative

samirsachdeva

Samir Sachdeva | February 16, 2012



The government’s decision to divide the work of biometrics capturing between the unique identification authority of India (UIDAI) and the registrar general of India (RGI) is an example of the division of labour that exists among different organs of the state.

This division exists in many stakeholders in the area of e-governance too. Various government agencies often claim that a subject matter under its domain has been taken over by some other agency. The department of information technology (DIT) has this ongoing rift with the department of administrative reforms and public grievances (DAR&PG) on e-governance subject areas. DIT claims that ‘electronic’ in e-governance is its responsibility whereas DAR&PG claims that governance is its domain. The national informatics centre (NIC) has always been complaining that the national institute for smart government (NISG) has taken over many of its projects.

The cabinet committee on UID (CCUID) under prime minister Manmohan Singh was expected to give a decisive mandate to UID but it chose a middle path and divided the enrolment work between UIDAI and RGI, which is part of the home ministry. The committee gave a go-ahead to the Nandan Nilekani-led UID authority to enroll additional 40 crore residents beyond the 20 crore already enrolled. The committee observed that in the states where UIDAI has enrolled substantial number of residents, the enrolments through non-RGI registrars will move at full speed within the ceiling of 60 crore (20 crore + 40 crore).  It also pointed out that in the case where state/UT governments have given commitments for Aadhaar enrolments and plan to integrate Aadhaar with various service delivery applications enrolments in such states will also continue.

The committee also approved that the national population register (NPR) enrolment will continue as envisaged, but in case of a person who is already enrolled for Aadhaar, the biometric data will not be captured by the NPR. Instead, the Aadhaar number/enrolment number will be recorded in NPR and the biometric data will be sourced from the UIDAI.

This proposed solution is defective in its implementation. Firstly, UIDAI has stated repeatedly that it will not share data with any agency and will only authenticate the information. It will only give ‘yes/no’ for answers. But now it is asked to share biometric information with NPR. Thus it will fail in the first promise made to the people. If it’s NPR today, it could be the national intelligence grid (NATGRID) and crime and criminal tracking network & system (CCTNS) tomorrow. This will only strengthen the claims of anti-UID campaigners who have cited privacy concerns.
But it is also strange that the UID baiters have not raised any voice against NPR, CCTNS and NATGRID initiatives which are already under implementation. The passport seva project (PSP) getting implemented across the country by a private company is already collecting biometrics and there are no protests.

Also the supreme court-appointed committee for the PDS under chairmanship of justice DP Wadhwa suggested the use of smart card enabled with biometrics to check loopholes in the system. Any such recommendation would have factored in the privacy concerns of the citizens. In any case, the demographic information of voters is available online, citizens submit their information to get ration card, driving licence, passport, PAN card and so on, and no privacy concerns have been raised so far.

The CCUID decision on limiting the work in select states is a cause of concern for the private sector as there is no roadmap for the registrars/private enrolment agencies for the states where the mandate will be given to NPR. The private sector companies in these states, having invested in the UID equipment, training of staff, etc will become bankrupt overnight. The decision will not only open routes to legal challenges but also add to the trust deficit of the private sector when it comes to e-governance projects. The private sector is already suffering delays in payments for enrolments from the registrars.

On the whole, CCUID could have taken a bold decision and strengthened Aadhaar. Instead, we have got a decision that is neither here nor there. The best solution could have been to allow UIDAI to capture the biometrics and let the NPR capture the demographic details and issue the national identity card. The government has to realise that the purpose and process of the NPR and UID capturing are entirely different.

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