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Why did Maharashtra's UIDAI project fail to meet the hype

Last updated on: March 30, 2011 16:28 IST

Why did Maharashtra's UIDAI project fail to meet the hype

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Masoom Gupte, Shivani Shinde in Mumbai

Ashok Bhil, a 25-year-old graduate from Navalpur, 7 Km from Tembhli, is disappointed with the way the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is rolling out Aadhaar in Maharashtra.

Last September, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government chose Tembhli, a small village in the predominantly tribal Nandurbar district, to launch its ambitious Unique Identification (UID) project - now known as Aadhaar - giving it a special mention in history.

The pre-launch days saw a flurry of activity in this sleepy village. From new roads and electricity to a freshly-painted water tank being set up, the village got it all. On the other hand, Navalpur, one of the villages shortlisted for this pilot, wore a deserted look.

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Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launches the Aadhaar Number under Unique Identification Authority of India, at Tembhali village, Nandurbar, Maharashtra on September 29 alongwith Congress President Sonia Gandhi
Photographs: Courtesy: PIB
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The concrete coating work, which had been initiated on the dirt roads there, was left mid-way. Bhil, who is among the few graduates in Navalpur, and his friends, all educated at least till matriculation, believe they would have made better use of UID cards.

"Educated youth venture out from our village to cities each year in search of jobs. This card would declare us as bonafide residents of Navalpur and take care of any documentation required as identity proof, giving us good opportunity while applying for jobs. It would have also reduced the paper work," he said.

But the delayed rollout would mean that they would either have to continue taking jobs within the region, at least for now, or doing manual labour, or remain unemployed.

For many, Aadhaar seems to be an elusive dream. Take the case of Chabi Bai, the sarpanchika of the group gram panchayat of Tembhli, Asus and Jhingapur.

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Photographs: Reuters
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While the Prime Minister distributed Aadhaar cards to 1,592 residents of Tembhli, Chabi Bai was clearly omitted.

On being prodded about the launch and the card, she replied: "I do not know why I didn't get the card. It would have helped me get free foodgrain or even pucca houses sooner than promised."

Chabi Bai is also among the thousands of residents of this adivasi region who do not fully know what Aadhaar can do.

For her, it is promise of a pucca house and free power and ration. For Ranjana Sonawane, the first woman to receive the unique 12-digit identification number, it means better access to loans, to start a new business, and better hospitals.

The ignorance about the card is across the region. Another example is 40-year-old Kamroonisa Sheikh Ismail, a resident of Shahada.

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Image: UID card holder Ranjna Sonawane with her son Hitesh
Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
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After patiently waiting for half-an-hour, she gets ready to fill in her details for Aadhaar. She asks if this is another voters' identity card being issued by the government.

When asked why she is there, she replies: "My son told me I have to get this done, that's all." Shahada, 20 km from Tembhli, is the first district that has seen Aadhaar rollout after Tembhli.

For 63-year-old Sheikh Hussain Sheikh Ibrahim, who is waiting in the queue with his two grandsons, Aadhaar will be an additional identification card.

"This will validate that I am an Indian citizen." When asked how Aadhaar is different from a passport and or voters' identity card, he says: "I don't know about that, but this will be the final stamp on my identity."

"The government has said it will be useful. As of now it is just an identity card, but in future it may come in handy. I don't want to be left out," explains Prabhakar Kunkari, a 64-year-old retired school principal.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Kunkari plans to also get his other family members registered, for similar reasons. He adds, "An extra identification will do no harm."

So far as those who have already been issued Aadhaars are concerned, they have not made use of it even for opening bank accounts.

D N Nerkar, branch manager, Central Bank of India, Shahada, says: "So far, no account has opened on the basis os Aadhaar. We currently have about 3,000 accounts for BPL people. Most of the work has been done by local NGOs or some of the existing government programmes."

The operators and supervisors in charge of these registrations accept there is a dearth of awareness. Due to this, the number of registrations is not picking up as quickly as hoped.

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"The public is generally unaware of the applicability of the card. Besides, the concept of biometric registrations is also very novel," says Amit Kudge, supervising the registrations in Shahada.

During registration, the questions are as much about the use of the card as about the process.

Sample this: Does the iris scan spoil the eyes? Just one of the many questions Kudge and his team must contend with on a daily basis.

Lack of awareness is evident among the government machinery, too. Nandurbar Tehsildar Pratap Singh S Rajput, the person directly linked to the rollout, does not have any idea on the use of Aadhaar or the way forward.

When asked why the rollout has been patchy, Rajput blames the census exercise.

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Image: A UID application form
Photographs: Prasanna Zore/Rediff
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The way ahead

According to Vijayalakshmi Bidri, Maharashtra's IT director, these are just a few glitches and will get sorted in a few months. "Tembhli was a pilot for us. After that, we immediately took out tenders for the entire state and decided the rollout would happen in one go rather than demarcating districts and conducting it in phases," she said.

So far, Maharashtra has rolled out 1.2 million Aadhaars (the UIDAI portal says the state has rolled out 0.37 million).

The infrastructure constrain was evident at Shahada, where Hyderabad-based Tera Soft team started work a fortnight back.

It is yet to get internet connection to upload data in real time. The team of five people is enrolling 150 people a day.

Bidri agrees that infrastructure constraints have been delaying the number of Aadhars being rolled out, especially at the district level.

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"The chief minister has said Maharashtra will complete the rollout by March 2012. At present, we have 1,800 centres. To achieve this target by 2012, we need 2,700 centres and we are in the process of doing that," she said.

The state government is also in the process of announcing two initiatives that would prepare it to look beyond the rollout.

First, the government will, in a few months, start a competition across educational institutes in Maharashtra to create application prototype for Aadhaars. Bidri feels this would create enough awareness among the youth about Aadhaar.

Second, the government has already identified five nodal departments that will start working on pilot applications for their area.

These five nodal agencies are - health, finance, education, rural development and the public distribution system.

The Department of Information Technology (DIT) will handhold these departments for the pilot project.

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Photographs: Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters
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Once the applications are ready, the government will select one backward Taluka where this would be piloted. This exercise would include both the services and authentication process of Aadhaar.

"Our aim is to be ready with services and applications, before the rollout is completed. These applications will be ready commercial use by March 2012. The mandate given to these departments is that these should be piloted and accepted," adds Bidri.

To start with the pilot project for the food and fuel distribution is already underway in Satara.

"We have received in-principle approval from the chief minister and we are evaluating different models to take this forward," said Bidri.

One of the methods being considered is making use of handhelds at the point of sales. These handhelds will be used for fingerprinting authentication.

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To tackle the awareness issue, the state has already released Rs 5-10 lakh in the first phase. "The total budget for advertisement and media plan is about Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million). We are working with UIDAI on this and will soon start the process," she said.

With Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee saying that the government would roll out a million Aadhaars on a daily basis from October 2011, Ajay Bhushan Pandey, deputy director general, UIDAI regional office, Mumbai, believes the authority would be prepared to manage the rollout.

"Our participation in applications will mainly be for online authentication. Theoretically, we are geared up to provide it even now, however, practically it will not help much, unless all the substantial numbers are rolled out and most people in the target segments have Aadhaar cards. In terms of application, we will work on a 'proof of concept' basis to help other government agencies develop applications for UIDs.

This means, we will carry out pilot studies to illustrate the benefits of using UID-based applications. The final decision will, however, be taken by the agency or department concerned," said Pandey.

 


Photographs: Courtesy: UID India
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