Identity politics of a different kind

Clash of egos must not be allowed to derail the crucial initiative of UID

samirsachdeva

Samir Sachdeva | January 24, 2012



The unique identity (UID) initiative seems to be the latest causality of a turf war between the finance ministry headed by Pranab Mukherjee and the home ministry headed by P Chidambaram.

The discomfort between the two senior Congress ministers was evident in many cases whether it was the reported bugging of the finance minister’s office or the finance ministry note to the PMO on the 2G scam. 

There appears to be no reason of the home ministry’s opposition to UID at this stage as all the key decisions related to the UID project are taken by the cabinet committee on UID which has the home minister as its member from its inception in October 2009. The issues of duplication of effort or issues of national security cannot come up suddenly.

But a national initiative as promising as UID becoming a causality of a clash of egos is alarming and requires immediate intervention of the prime minister. The turf war over the control of the biometric data and the project budget appear to be additional areas of concern. 

UID should get bouquets rather than brickbats for quick implementation and decision making. UID has already facilitated close to 20 crore registrations within two years and NPR is still sitting at a few lakhs though the idea has been in currency for a decade. The authority has generated 12 crore UID numbers and plans to issue 20 crore Aadhaar numbers by March end. UID has demonstrated the scale and speed with which it can deliver results. On the other hand the home ministry in over 10 years has just made five lakh identity cards after collecting biometrics of one crore people. The UID Authority has developed an infrastructure which will help to capture one crore biometrics per month whereas in a decade NPR has captured only one crore. It was only last week that home minister handed over the first set of ID cards in Andaman and Nicobar islands.

Also there is a marked difference between the two schemes. The UID Authority give a non-duplicated, foolproof mechanism to ascertain the identity of an individual whereas the national identity cards to be issued as part of the National Population Register (NPR) are to become a proof of identity and are issued in spirit of section 14A of citizenship act.
The home ministry highlights that the resident who does not have any proof of document can enroll for UID through an introducer which is a security concern. But MHA fails to suggest any alternative mechanism to include such people. 

However, the advantages of UID are far more than those of NPR. The UID database will be able to check bogus ration cards, channelize NAREGA funds and help in financial inclusion. It will help a marginalized farmer with no proof of identity to get a ration card, job card and a bank account.

It is also important that from the citizen privacy point of view, the data in CIDR should not come under the purview of MHA as the ministry has a reputation of keeping track of phone calls, e-mails and even social media messages.

The issues in duplication of effort must be addressed quickly and the prime minister must bring in truce between the two warring parties in national interest.

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