Tuesday, June 29, 2010

An update on Unique Id Project - AADHAAR

Nandan Nilekani, Chairman, UIDAI at the unveiling of the brand name- 'AADHAAR' and its logo in New Delhi on Monday. The name 'AADHAAR' communicates the fundamental role of the number issued by the UIDAI. PTI

UNIQUE ID is the greatest, toughest and the most complex test for Indian software industry's expertise and efficiency. If India is the world's software services mecca, Unique Id is its biggest challenge to show its prowess. UID can bring out a social transformation never seen before and if it fails, it will be the biggest disaster in Indian software industry. 

There are literally millions of people across India who cannot get a SIM card, cannot get a ration card, cannot get a PAN card, can't open a bank account simply because there is no proof of their identity. On the other end millions of people manage to get fake Driver Licenses, fake Ration cards, fake Electoral ID and even fake PAN. This is a headache not only for govt and government agencies, but also for Election Commission. One of the main reasons corruption thrives is also because of this extremity.


India has

  • 70 million PAN cards
  • 60 million passports
  • 90 million Drivers License
  • 240 million bank account holders
  • 170 million LIC policy holders
  • 150 million Below Poverty Line cards (BPL)

Quick Update:

In my earlier article, Unique Id is it worth it?, I did mention that there are huge challenges in implementation, technology, storage and usage. The project though has gone far ahead from then till now and there is a proper structure with efficient people, and honest officials and have already begun to implement the Unique Id in certain districts and villages.

Very recently, there was a competition which received 2000 entries and finally the logo was unveiled by a farmer and the project was named AADHAAR - which means support.

Tumkur, Mysore, Nalanda (Bihar), some villages in Andhra - the pilot biometric collection has been kicked off.  The targets that are set up are 2500 profiles within 20 days and so forth.

Note: I made all tables below based on several articles in paper and news media.

For these, refer to Documents section under http://uid.gov.in/. There are lots of documents, memorandums of understandings, how the process will be executed and so forth.


While UID will not be mandatory, slowly everyone will mandate the usage forcing everyone to have one. The ENROLLMENT FEE IS Rs. 25. However, the coastal and border region inhabitants will have to mandatorily enroll to know who is an illegal immigrant and who is not. This is very crucial. The non-availability of distinction is one of the main reasons a lot of terrorists escape.

A crucial area where UID is expected to make wonders is the way of identifying extremely poor people (people below poverty line or BPL). Once their biometrics are identified, the systems will be changed to ensure it is only those who get the real welfare benefits like food, subsidized kerosene, employment benefits, etc. Even if UID is able to achieve a 15% change, it will force it to become more than 70% as Govt would want to call itself transparent and garner votes. 42% malnutrition and 75% of Indian children suffer from anemia - data is enough to understand how corruption cuts off the real beneficiaries from Govt's welfare programs.

Another huge scope of this project is bringing banking to people who are outside its gambit. Almost 50% of people don't have any bank account. Even if we reach 100 million through UID, it would have done great wonders to Indian economy and people. Currently, government has mandated all wages, government payments, pensions, compensations, etc to be dispersed only through bank accounts. But with absence of bank accounts, corruption thrives and there is no way to track them. Hence, RBI has tied up with UID so that it can provide banking services to all those whose names enter UID database.

LIC has tied with UID to share its database to ensure the UID can verify the identity as majority of them would not give wrong address on an insurance policy.

Income Tax is planning to issue biometric PAN once UID is in place so that the number of fake PAN will reduce.

Rampant corruption has plagued those places where people work as laborers under Rural Employment Gaurantee Program and the govt has decided to use biometric verification to plug the leaks in wages being sent to people who do not have bank accounts.

What would be the attributes of Unique Id?

If you notice, Unique Id will only act as an identification service. So, it can be used as a web service and interfaced with all other agencies and govt/private organizations to verify people in their respective databases are indeed the right people. So, UID won't store more than this, but is going to be the single point of confirmation/verification for all departments and agencies.

So,what is the enrollment procedure?

The process is explained visually from the document published on the site,

If you notice there is the usage of the word "registrar" which could be any agency/organization which can help in verification. These are (could be more than the list below) listed as below:

The real open ended questions are many. Some of them that struck my mind are as below:
  • How will UID be generated for people who have no identifiable documents? They will be introduced into the system without proper identification. In some villages the only verification registrar used is panachayat offices and Election Commission records. But will all those records be genuine? If not (so many are full of errors), what is the way the person will be identified other than by generating a number for them?
  • No one knows how much personal information will be exposed and to whom and how. It can be serious privacy breach. Hence, Nilekani is working towards a draft legislation which has to be passed in Parliament and there is going to be a fierce discussion on this. 
  • Can states misuse the info if they are allowed to manipulate? Who will be given read-only access?
  • What private agencies can share this data and what rules govern their usage?
  • Will people remember their 12 digit number? 
  • When the verification step is involved, will it be done against all the registrars or only a few of them? If few are involved, will it be genuine? If all are involved, will it not be an overkill?
  • One of the listed registrars is Gas agencies. How can gas agencies verify if they don't have any computerized mechanism? Definitely, not all have it.
  • All other agencies which plan to use UID will have to modify their softwares (if at all they have) to adapt to the data in the format UID will provide. This may be a headache only for banks as only they have computerization to the maximum extent.
Plans of promoting UID Enrollment:

Practical Challenges Seen in the Pilot test in selected villages:
Interesting Case Studies can be read here

Who is providing the biometric gadgets to this project?
An Indian based company 4G Identity Solutions: Website: http://www.4gid.com/
Florida based Crossmatch Technologies. Website: http://www.crossmatch.com/

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why Left, BJP - both are correct on Nuclear Liability Bill?

Imagine an American nuclear supplier is operating a nuclear plant and there is a leakage and it spreads everywhere killing hundreds of people and paralyzing generations after that. Imagine the radiation bringing infertility to women. Imagine in such situations, these suppliers go scot-free and no compensation is given by them. All that the govt has to do is pay and eventually because of corruption the money never reaches the victims. More so, these companies can't be tried by the court. This is exactly going to happen if PM Manmohan Singh passes this legislation in India. We will be digging our own grave. Manmohan Singh would be creating the 3rd biggest foreign policy mistake ever (The first two done by Nehru regards to Kashmir and China). INDIAN LIFE IS NO CHEAPER THAN AMERICAN ONE !!!!!

India does not have a law that can try any such companies (national or international) in courts in case of an incident like Bhopal Gas tragedy.
The below clause was added and then American nuclear suppliers were upset that they can be subjected to Indian lawsuits and thereby pressurized Manmohan Singh to remove it. This infuriated both the LEFT and the BJP. Their contention was simple. If Bhopal Gas Tragedy doesn't open the eyes of the Govt, what else will?

Section 17(b) allows nuclear operators, who are otherwise strictly and absolutely liable for any nuclear accident, to exercise a ‘right of recourse' against their suppliers if the latter have been grossly negligent in any way. And Section 46 clarifies there will be no derogation from existing Indian laws on criminal and tort liability for any company whose negligence along any part of the nuclear supply chain might be responsible for an accident. Both of these provisions, U.S. nuclear industry sources say, would expose American suppliers to law suits in India.

2 major objections to the draft which is drafted only to please American companies:
1) Compensation amount:

Nuclear radiation is even deadlier than the Iso Cyanide Gas that killed lakhs of people. For such deadly radiation effects, the liability cap is Rs. 500 Crore, which is peanuts. While the same suppliers liability would be in billions in the US, they want to sell the risk at a low premium. Any charges beyond Rs. 500 Crore up to Rs.2133 Crore will be borne by the Indian Govt - which means taxpayer money used for a fault of an external operator? Such an enormous amount is neither in the capacity of the Govt (unless they use taxpayers money) nor will the money reach the victims ever in the case of an unfortunate incident.

The government is convincing everyone by saying that there is a civil and criminal liability amount which is not capped at Rs.500 Crore but will apply later, if required. This won't happen as the case that would be presented would be that Rs.500 Crore is the settlement amount these companies will give and escape.

The claims period is 10 years. Any claims made beyond this period is invalid. Can't the govt have a clause that one can claim only if sufficient evidence is provided...but no, Govt won't do it.
The LEFT VIEW IS clearly stated in the article

Their view point is absolutely correct. While the US puts a cap of $10-12 billion, why India gets only Rs. 500 Crore?

2) No easy way of putting the companies to court in case of an unfortunate leakage/radiation:

This article (click here) clearly shows that these American suppliers will wash their hands off when gross negligence is caused by them and the Indian Govt will have to bear the liability charges and no way they can be subjected to Indian courts.

BJP's point of view in addition to compensation amount is that while FDI is not allowed for foreign players to enter into India, why not add the clause that only Indian public sector companies operate in India so that private American players have no role to play.

Another good article to read why BJP and the Left are opposed to the Bill is this (Click)

People should remember that a few days ago there was radiation scrap found in Delhi Univ outskirts and it killed one person and the hospitals and the doctors were not equipped to deal with such a mess.

So, the government should think twice before falling to the trap of the corporates.

To understand more, watch the videos


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

BP Oil Spill and Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984

Bhopal Gas Tragedy - INDIA's HIROSHIMA in 1984
Imagine you are sleeping in the night. As you have even begun to sleep, you smell toxic gases and feel suffocated. You end up either vomiting and later die or fall unconscious and eventually die. Imagine you are not alone and 14,999 more people experience the same and becomes a blatant case of  a genocide committed by someone who let these gases out. This was what happened on the fateful night of Dec 3, 1984. So many people killed and lakhs of people post the tragedy were affected over the next 5 years. Even today there are so many born with deformities remnant of the tragedy. IT WAS CLEARLY INDIA's HIROSHIMA. 

I  was just 3 years old and so were many 3 year old who died. Thousands of children of my age died even before they smiled. Even before their innocence was lost, they were lost forever. Death came so suddenly and so cruelly.

If Jallianwallah Bagh massacre was one of the most tragic events in the early 19th century Indian history, this Bhopal Gas Tragedy is the next most tragic event in the latter part of 19th century. It is recorded as the worst industrial disaster, ever.

Even 25 years later the lakes around contain the toxic gas and people still drink it. Partial blindness, paralysis, impaired immune systems all struck lakhs of people in just a few years.

People who committed this crime and people involved in letting the criminals escape - hell is too less a punishment and any sort of mercy to such criminals is a limitless sin.

Just to recap: On the fateful night of Dec 3rd, 1984 - Water was sent in the pipes to clean up Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. Water had to be kept in isolation from this gas called METHYL ISO CYANIDE. The safety norms were not adequate and water reached tank 610, set off a reaction and deadly gas METHYL ISO CYANATE leaked out of vent gas scrubber tower and reached outside killing people instantly (around 15,274 on the spot and more than 5.73 lakh victims maimed). The gas when reached outside was too late for people to respond and evacuate.

Union Carbide was a plant (factory) set up in Bhopal and was an American company headed by Warren Anderson. His Indian arm was headed by 7 people (all of whom were sentenced to only 2 years of jail and Rs.25,000 fine and eventually got bail within hours of the judgment). There is no case which can be worse than this, to say - JUDICIARY IS A BLOT on the Indian democracy. Such decisions not only reduce faith, but eliminate any hope of justice people have in the country's law.

Within 5 days of the leak, the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh - Arjun Singh's personal aircraft was sent to Warren Anderson and he flew and so far is absconding. He has never returned for a trial.  This is the highest level of inhuman tendency and no demon or beast I can recollect can be worse than this. Carnivorous animals kill out of their own natural Karma, while the cruelty of such people (both Warren Anderson and the people who helped him abscond) is born unnaturally out of their own minds just to indicate they are a blot of humanity and human values.

In 1996, the criminal charges(Section 304) that could give sentence of 10 years reduced to a case of negligence (Section 304A) whose punishment could just be 2 years. This was done under pressure from the Ministry of External Affairs led by the Congress Govt in 1996. This act is the highest level of utter negligence by any democratically elected govt towards its own people.

The company was running its operations post 1984 and later bought by Dow Chemicals USA, and Dow now says it is no longer connected with it.

My faith in God has so far not shaken, but events like these shake my faith in God. More so, I ask God  - "Why do you wait to take innocent peoples lives so cruelly and let off the cruel people so mercifully. At your doorsteps justice is always delivered, but justice after death makes no sense as the living must see how powerful you are."

Today, BP Oil spill is creating an outrage in the US. Every newspaper and everyone including the President has called for strict action and have sued the company. The disaster is enormous. While the US can put pressure on a company causing eco disaster, shouldn't it also consider handing over Anderson at least once for a trial? In a press statement, US says it is satisfied with the judgment on the Bhopal gas tragedy - how can a democratic nation be so merciless at commenting on a judgment involving so many thousands and lakhs? While the settlement amount for Gas tragedy is 473$ million (which is peanuts), the liability amount that US has raised on BP is $10 billion.

While Obama in a press speech said he wants to know whose a** to kick, the Indian govt cannot take such a step because it involves extradition from the world's super power which is near impossible. When India can't get Dawood, it can never get Anderson. It is the weakest response to ever expect from any country. The dubious standards of Indian govt in 1984 or 1989 - the turning points in the case is the worst manifestation of governance of complacency and reminds us of NAZI period of Germany where toxic gases were used to kill the living people.

India neither has the courage nor the adequate laws to handle such cases and nothing more can be done. I expect PM Singh to consider the matter with utmost concern.

Chief Judicial Magistrate who gave the judgment made a correct statement (although the judgment is a mockery of judiciary) -  Reference Link

"Bhopal tragedy was caused due to worst of American, Indian cultures" (Court's judgment)

For more of the tragedy, read: