UID may have problems, but scrapping it could sting

Cabinet committee postpones meeting to decide on project's fate


Samir Sachdeva | January 25, 2012

The cabinet committee on UID postponed its Wednesday meeting where it would have taken a call on the fate of the Rs 18,000 crore project. Though sources maintain that the decision to postpone had nothing to do with a sting operation by a TV channel which claimed that Aadhar (the unique ID number) cards were being obtained submitting fake documents, the issue, nevertheless, has fanned some of the security concerns raised by the home ministry earlier.

Sources within the UID Authority question the timing of the sting operation aired by the news channel just before the meeting of the cabinet committee. They highlight that the sting operation itself has many flaws.

The news channel claimed in the sting that it had obtained UID cards immediately based on submission of the fake documents. However, it needs to be noted that the only thing obtained by the TV journalist is enrolment slips which only signify that a person has registered for the Aadhaar number. The issuance of UID number is only after the de-duplication process (a process which will identify the duplicates) and in case the scribe has already registered with UID he will not be issued the Aadhaar number. In case he is registering for the first time, he will not be able to change his identity in the future.
Also, the Aadhaar number is to certify residence, not citizenship. Any person residing in India is entitled for an aadhaar number so the purpose of a sting operation remains unclear. Also, if a public servant is issuing recommendation letters without verification it is his liability. Such letters can be misused for obtaining voter cards, MNREGS job cards and even passport (which is a proof of citizenship).  

Various schemes/ initiatives have gaps which need to be addressed with time. Junking a scheme for some operational issues may not be a right approach.
The key decision before the cabinet committee when it meets in the future will be to extend the mandate of UID authority to carry out enrolment beyond 20 crores. UIDAI is likely to complete its target of issuing 20 crore Aadhaar numbers before the deadline of March 31, 2012. 

The foremost issue before the cabinet committee is duplication of work as carried by UID authority and registrar general of India (RGI) of capturing biometrics. The RGI under home ministry (MHA) is capturing biometrics to generate a national identity card for addressing the security concerns of the nation. The UIDAI under the planning commission wants to create an authentication mechanism to establish the unique identity in order to channelize the welfare schemes to their rightful beneficiary.

The decision point before the cabinet committee will be to authorize either MHA or planning commission to carry out the collection of biometric data. MHA has raised security concerns with respect to collection of data by private agencies under the UID enrolment process. However, UID authority has proved its efficiency by enrolling close to 20 crore people within a short span of two years. The RGI on other hand has been able to capture biometrics of only one crore people in an effort of over a decade. The UID has also demonstrated an accuracy of 99.965 per cent in terms of duplication detection. Obviously the process adopted by UID is more efficient and accurate; however, the cabinet committee has to also take a call on security concerns highlighted by MHA.
In a note to the cabinet the planning commission has suggested four options. The first being the national population register (NPR) accepts the biometrics collected by UIDAI. The second option is that the UIDAI continue with the enrolments; however the funds will come from ministries planning to use the Aadhaar number. The third suggestion is that MHA may carry out creation of NPR without collecting biometrics. The fourth option as suggested is that enrolment process be carried out by NPR registrars only.

However, each option as suggested by the planning commission has some merits and some flaws. The first option of MHA accepting biometrics collected by UIDAI has perceived security concerns as raised by MHA. The second option will mean duplication of effort. Third option of national ID cards without biometrics will not address the security concerns as raised by MHA and the last option will be demotivating for the India Inc. There are 174 enrolment agencies carrying out enrolment for the UIDAI. Such a move will be discouraged them from future investments in government IT projects.

Anyhow, whatever may be the issues the prime minister has to intervene between the two organs of his government and settle the debate at the earliest. 



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