Tuesday, June 30, 2009

National Identification Number - Worth it?

In what can be said best about the Social Security Number (SSN) system in USA is the fact that this one number can give an entire horoscope of an individual. In an attempt to have one such for India, in 2000 the then NDA Govt led by Vajpayee did a serious feasibility study. The study led the Govt believe that it is the most daunting and challenging task because the number of fake documents held by people outnumber the original and genuine ones. The project was put in cold storage. The need for this came up again when the attack on Parliament took place in Dec 2001.

Even during Manmohan Singh's first tenure the project was revived under the pressure of the second administrative reforms. Now, again Singh has personally asked Nandan Nilkeni (now former Infosys CEO) to personally lead this project. He is responsible for planning, and execution of the project. Has been given a cabinet minister rank and full powers under the Planning Commission. His team (National unique Identification Number Authority) will create, own and maintain this huge database of 1.2 billion plus people.

There are lots of technical issues. How and from where will data be collected? What could constitute primary data? How will the number be generated for those who are dead? How will family lineage be established? What about space/storage issues? Where will it be hosted? Will it be centralized? What abt security issues? Of course, these issues have been addressed to a good extent and that is why a person like Nandan has been asked to lead such a arduous project to assess and execute matters not addressed yet.

But is it worth? The number is a necessity, but is it the first thing in ensuring governance mechanism improves and national security is enhanced? As far as governance is conerned, it will help if this number will be utilized by the govt in ensuring that money flows and reaches the required person in a way that this number will become the sole determining factor. As far as security is concerned, a number wont help as long as simple police reforms are not addressed. What will a police constable do having a NIN (National identification Number) if he doesnt have sophisticated weapons to handle criminals, leave apart terrorists? If police has no faster way of reaching a place to protect citizens,how will this number help? If police doesnt have a proper way of recruiting right and efficient officers, how will this number help?

Had Kiran Bedi been asked to lead the police reforms in the country, there would be no person like me who would have been happy. It is the need of the hour that a woman like her lead this most challenging reform. If police force and the way it works improves, our security system is enhanced by almost 200%. We have no single formula for this, but surely is the need of the hour . The recent commission report on 26/11 poses a serious question on how our country's top police officers are treated with utter negligence w.r.t weapons.

Unless we dont reform police, we wont see the impact of this unique number. Down the lane say in 3 years or 4 if this project gets implemented, it will take almost a decade to really see the impact of this at every stage. I am sure that this number will be fitted with biometric security system. Here's an article on how technical issues delayed this project in 2003 in Delhi

Rs.100 crore alloted to it is an utter waste if police reforms are not addressed. Had the same amount of money been invested in our coastal security, we would have gone a great deal ahead. Had the same money been put up in sealing the eastern borders we would have stopped infiltration from bangladesh which is the root cause of all deadly blasts in the last 5 years. How is this issue being addressed? Can a NIN help if these infiltrators can get fake documents and prove themselves to be genuine citizens? Never, the process of identifying someone as a citizen itself is a big question mark.

Nevertheless, here's an article that says that such a number helps in 4 areas (1) welfare delivery and tax collections, (2) financial inclusion, (3) voter registration, and (4) national security

I hope that a person like Nilkani is given due respect and the govt seriously gives all required resources and help in this matter. It makes me definitely proud of this fact that the Govt chose a person like him to head this daunting task...

Thank you Mr.Singh...Please do a big favor by appointing Kiran Bedi to head the Police Reforms and you will go down as one of my favorite PM's ever.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A dream economic team after a decade

It is almost exactly after a decade there is new hope from a ruling Govt with some fresh ideas to take India forward. It was in Oct 1999, when the then Vajpayee government created a core economic team which people were not aware of it. Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and many others were a part of such a team which made the stock markets and industrial circles very skeptical. With faces never seen in power and administration were incharge of key portfolios. But very soon India saw some breakthroughs and a new life was given to the economy.

Within 100 days i.e before Dec 1999, the government came up with a massive program of bills and reforms policies which brought revolutionary changes in the country. Examples include scrapping of Urban Land Ceiling Act which had stalled new businesses from setting up their stores on new lands. The other example include denationalization of insurance sector thereby bringing foreign players and revamping existing LIC (which was perhaps the only insurance company till then in the country), reforming and constituting a FIPB (Foreign Exchange Promotion Board) which became the regulator for overseas investments and inflow of foreign currency. Within the first 100 days, new Companies Act 2000 replaced 1956 Companies Act which brought in new legislations on how companies can do businesses in India including limited liability partnerships . The draconian FERA (Foreign Exchange Regulatory Act) which prohibited people from having foreign currency in excess and led to raids every now and then and filed criminal cases against individuals instead of civil ones was replaced by the new FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act) which brought in new life to the country.

These were all path breaking initiatives by this economic team which received appreciation even from Congress economist Jairam Ramesh whose economic knowledge even I admire.

India started on having a flexible exchange rate system. The tarfiif on imports came down to 25% from 100% till 1999 and all industrial licensing quota was abolished. Public sector control were brought down to 3 sectors from 18 and changed the way how private investments can bring in new competition and efficiency.

Such an impact the Govt provided to the economy within 100 days.

Manmohan Singh in his second innings has raised such hopes by having some real experienced and talented people in certain key portfolis. The team led by Pranab Mukherjee, Anand Sharma, Murli Deora, Praful Patel and others give great hope to the long pending reforms. I hope that in the next 100 days, we see some drastic steps. The new team is far more known to the public than that of 1999 and therefore expectations have doubled.

There is great hope after 10 years in 2009. Esp in infrastructure growth with KamalNath taking in charge and removing the corrupt, inefficient T. R. Baalu, Manmohan has done a great favor to the country.

Let's hope that this second innings delivers to the economy which very badly needs smart and tough decisions