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No work for UIDAI after January! Is that the end for it?

Last updated on: January 5, 2012 08:30 IST

No work for UIDAI after January! Is that the end for it?

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Santosh Tiwari in New Delhi


The work at the United Progressive Alliance government's much-hyped initiative to provide unique identification numbers, 'Aadhaar', to all Indians may get stalled from February.

Even after almost two years of the creation of the Unique Identification Authority of India under the chairmanship of Nandan Nilekani on January 28, 2009, the project is still awaiting a clear mandate.

In the absence of a clear direction from the government, UIDAI may well stop its operation of enrolling people for 'Aadhaar' numbers from February next year.

According to UIDAI officials, the authority has already enrolled over 165 million people and by the end of January, the number is set to touch 200 million, as it is adding around one million people every day across the country. And, the authority can't go beyond that number till it gets permission from the government.

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Image: UIDAI chief Nandan Nilekani.
Photographs: Reuters

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UIDAI has the mandate to enrol 200 million people for Aaadhar numbers till March 2012, but with the authority slated to reach that number in January itself, the fate of the whole project is hanging in the balance.

The authority has already issued more than 101 million Aadhaar numbers to people across the country.

Why delay in directions?

The responsibility of finding an answer to the extension of UIDAI's work now rests on the Cabinet. Now that's tricky.

Government officials told Business Standard that a decision in this regard might have come earlier, if the home ministry had not raised security concerns over UIDAI's enrolment process.

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Photographs: Reuters

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With the home ministry's reservations on accepting Aadhaar verifications in the ongoing National Population Register (NPR) creation, there is duplication in identification work as both the bodies are collecting biometric records.

"Now the job of finding a solution to the problem so that UIDAI can be given a clear-cut direction has fallen on the government's principal trouble-shooter, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. As Mukherjee is already over-laden with work and Budget is around the corner, a workable model for UIDAI will emerge only after he gets time to apply his mind on the deadlock," said a senior government official associated with the process, requesting not to be identified.

A Cabinet note, giving various options including a coordinated approach between the two agencies to avoid duplication of work and wastage of government money, has already been circulated.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wants the matter to be resolved in Cabinet.

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Photographs: Reuters

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The Cabinet, in fact, was to take up the matter this month itself and it was expected that the clouds over UIDAI's work would be clear by the end of the year.

The political heat over the Lokpal Bill, however, played the spoilsport as the finance minister was involved in handling of the issue in Parliament and he was likely to take it up, at the earliest, only after the rumblings on the issue subsided, said the official.

An abandon mid-way?

The recent rejection of The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, which seeks to provide statutory status to UIDAI, by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, has added to the problems of the government in extending the ambit of UIDAI work.

The panel has cited concerns and apprehensions about the UID scheme, particularly the contradictions and ambiguities within the government on its implementation as well as implications as the reasons for not accepting the Bill in the present form.

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Photographs: Reuters

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However, various arms of the government - including the law ministry and the Planning Commission, under which UIDAI is currently functioning - have stated before the panel that the authority had been created through an executive order and it can function like that till it receives the statutory status.

Besides, discontinuing mid-way the programme, which also enjoyed the support of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, would be unproductive politically too.

Cost implication

The estimated cost of Phase-I and Phase-II of the UID scheme spread across five years is Rs 3170.32 crore (Rs 147.31 crore for Phase-I and Rs 3,023.01 crore for Phase-II).

The estimated cost includes scheme components for the issue of 100 million UID numbers by March 2011, and recurring establishment cost for the entire scheme up to March 2014.

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Photographs: Reuters

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The authority has allotted over 93 million Aadhar numbers. The Budget for Phase-III of the scheme to the tune of Rs 8,861 crore has also been approved.

As far as NPR project is concerned, the data collection in all the states and UTs has also been completed along with the first phase of Population Census 2011. Data digitisation in English and regional languages has been completed for more than 330 million people.

Over 8.8 million biometric records have been collected under the project. The budget for NPR in 2011-12 is set at Rs 4,123 crore.

Critical component of govt policy

From the cash transfer of subsidy to PDS and the Food Security Bill, Aadhaar has been identified as the vehicle for identification by the government.

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Photographs: Reuters

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The banking and financial system in the country has also started using it as sufficient 'KYC'. Across party lines, states are showing tremendous interest in utilising the scheme. These are some of the developments that the government cannot ignore.

Possible solution

Officials indicated that one of the options suggested in the Cabinet note - UIDAI to accept the biometric record of those who get enrolled in NPR system while registering for Aadhaar and registrar of census to take UIDAI verification on board for NPR.

They indicated this was the solution around which the final road map was likely to be carved out, as it would avoid duplication and a mechanism could be developed through which concerns on UID verifications and record gathering could be changed in line with NPR requirements.

The other two options could be allowing biometric record collection both in NPR and UID schemes and either of the two being entrusted with the job of collecting biometric records that both could use.

Headed for a halt?

  • UIDAI enrolment for Aadhaar crosses 165 million
  • Enrolment set to touch 200 million by January-end
  • Authority registering one million people every day
  • UIDAI can't go beyond 200 million, for which it has the mandate
  • Cabinet yet to take a final call on UIDAI future direction

Photographs: Reuters
Tags: UIDAI , NPR , UID , Aadhaar , KYC

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