Tuesday, February 7, 2012

170 million enrolled, 120 million UID numbers issued...What next for UID?

This is my 3rd article on UID Project or AADHAR. The previous ones posted are here - Article1 and Article2

First, a dedicated work personnel of Unique Identification Project Team (UID Team) has issued 120 million unique numbers by collecting 10 finger prints, iris scans and basic information such as name, address, date of birth and some other demographic information. While the actual enrollment itself is 170 million, but of this 120 million numbers have been generated. Several banks and registrars have now advertised they need AADHAR number to qualify or confirm your identity. Beginning from districts in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra - a lot of places have been covered. The UID camps continue to be set up, advertisements published and generate the letter and sent to beneficiary. Any time anyone submits AADHAR number to a bank and the banks connect to UID server the information that it gets back is you are found in the database and if it is same as you. There is nothing more that UID will send you back.

Second, let us congratulate the team to complete a mammoth 170 million. We have a long way to go to reach 1.2 billion but the rate at which the enrollments are being done it should be a matter of 4 years or so. 

However, at one point this whole project was under the threat of extinction. This was mainly because UID's clash with the Home Ministry's ambitious project of National Population Register (NPR). The NPR is the largest database of all people living in India and the main task that feeds data into NPR is the Census data. Earlier, there was a clash between the two and both were doing duplication task of biometric data collection. Why would any citizen or resident submit bio metric data to 2 different agencies? It is inconvenience. This had led to the tussle and finally it has been sorted out.

The people who have given biometric information to UID will no longer have to give to NPR. But those who have not given bio metric information to UID will have to do so for NPR. This would prevent duplication and if there is any it will lead to de-duplication. Well, the solution sounds good, but the question remains - Why would NPR now collect bio metrics and not UID? It is believed that in a case UID fails to detect the person's identity NPR is the sole or superseding database that will tell if that person's data is found or not. If NPR fails and UID succeeds then NPR will prevail. Does this make sense? It does not.

But why did all this confusion start? Is UID compulsory or submitting details to NPR?

Actually according to the Citizenship Act 2003 which was made in 2003 stated that it is compulsory that every Indian must go and register with NPR - "As per Rule 7(3) in the 2003 Rules, “It shall be the responsibility of every citizen to register once with the Local Registrar of Citizen Registration and to provide correct individual particulars.” Source

At that time the concept of UID Authority was not even created. It was assumed that the NPR data would generate the Identity Number. No mention of bio metric data was done. It was in 2005-06 that the idea of bio metric data was initiated and part of the NPR's job was given to UID Authority but limited to only 200 million. Now that the enrollments reached the figure and the budget has gone ten times high the Home Ministry began to question it. It looks like P.Chidambaram wanted the Home Ministry to supersede and control everything. 

Now, it has been made clear that you may or may not want UID number but you need to compulsorily give data to NPR. The biometric collection agencies are common to both NPR and UID which is good. In the long run however everyone will ask for UID number and the Home Ministry will have to include UID Number into NPR. This will happen. 

Should this project then continue? YES

Many people criticize this project. There are lot of concerns about privacy. However, only when the database is set up can the privacy laws be established. It is hard in a country like ours where the rule is set up first and the project started. We should reach 500 million mark soon. Once the NPR and UIDAI finish their job the legislation has to be introduced and the powers and limits be discussed. For now, UID will only tell you - "Who you are is what you claim to be" and nothing more. 

The major challenges that this project is facing are just visible. As this report by Usha Ramanathan published in the Frontline news magazine highlights it is very shocking to see the pitfalls in the system. For more can be read here, I paste some of them

In May, “unidentified persons” walked away with two laptops and a pen drive which held data pertaining to 140 persons from an enrolment centre in a school in Hadaspur, Maharashtra

In July, five persons were arrested in Bangalore for issuing fake UIDs. The UIDAI heard about the racket when they were approached with complaints that “Global ID Solutions” was selling franchises to customers to take up Aadhaar enrolment for a non-refundable fee of Rs.2.5 lakh an enrolment kit

In October, a software error resulted in hundreds of residents of Colaba in south Mumbai having their addresses recorded as Kolaba, Raigarh district.

Such events only make one lose confidence in the team and question the government's commitment level to this ambitious undertaking. 

Watch this video on youtube and you will be shocked that corruption has reached even this undertaking in cases where person who has nothing (no document whatsoever) is to be included into the system via an Introducer.

An excellent video was the reality report on this project on NDTV. This must be watched by everyone. The video clearly explains how difficult it is to enroll people who do not have any documents about themselves. The percentage of such people and such peoples' data being recorded with wrong proofs or introducers is getting higher. How will this system work transparently? It is a major challenge and seems to be that no one has talked about solving it.

However, any major change has issues and problems, but it should not be stopped. There are several people who even could not open a bank account are now able to do so because of AADHAR. Reserve Bank of India now legally accepts AADHAR for opening a bank account anywhere in India.

Unique Id project is truly a revolutionary undertaking and must continue despite criticisms and all pitfalls.