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What Nilekani, and the new ID system, will do

By BS Reporters in New Delhi, Mumbai
June 26, 2009 08:53 IST
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The Unique Identification Authority of India, to be headed by Nandan Nilekani -- who has decided to step down from the board of Infosys Technologies to head this body -- will have the responsibility to lay down plans and policies to implement the Unique Identity card scheme and shall own and operate the UID database.

The authority was notified on January 28 this year as an attached office under the aegis of the Planning Commission with an initial core team of 115 officials and staff. The scheme will be implemented in three years.

The UID project, however, has been in the offing for over six years.

For instance, in 2008, the government implemented a pilot project for a 'multi-purpose national identity card' in 13 districts of 12 states and one Union Territory wherein more than 1.2 million identity cards were issued to people above 18 years of age. Besides, to facilitate the project, Section 14A was inserted in the Citizenship Act, 1955 to issue a national identity card to every citizen of the country.

The MNIC project was initiated under the Vajpayee-led NDA government and continued by the current UPA government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The necessity for a centrally-issued ID was accentuated by the growing problems of illegal immigrants in various parts of the country. However, the events of November 26 in Mumbai accelerated the setting up of the UIDAI.

The body was set up on January 27, 2009. The initial phase of the project is expected to cover nine states and four Union Territories.

The UID will be issued to people living in the coastal villages of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal. The Union Territories of Dadar and Nagar Haveli, Lakshadweep, Puducherry and Andaman & Nicobar Islands shall also be covered in this first phase expected to deliver the identity cards by early 2010.

The government has earmarked Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) in the interim budget to kickstart the UID project. This pilot is expected to be on the lines of the social security number in the US and will help in identifying and providing better services to below-the-poverty line residents.

Industry estimates indicate the entire project will be worth at least Rs 10,000 crore (Rs 100 billion). It's a transformational project for the country as it will overlay many underlying projects, creating huge efficiencies for the country leading to enhanced governance and reduced costs.

The project envisages assigning a unique identification number to each resident in the country to eliminate the need for multiple identification mechanisms.

Moreover, the project will eventually become the underpinning of the Citizens Smart Card Project, which will enable citizens to avail subsidies on food, energy, education, etc, depending on their entitlements, according to the 11th report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission.

The unique ID will require creation of a database that links an individual to unique identifier that remains constant over his lifespan, like parentage, date and place of birth. The card automatically gets activated as a voter identity card at the age of 18.

The identification will act as a check against illegal immigration into the country as it is a serious threat to national security. The project lays special focus on the border areas of the country with illegal immigration in mind.

Almost all the firms with an India focus will be eyeing this deal -- players like TCS, Infosys, Wipro, HCL Technologies, along with smaller players like Spanco, Bartronics, Gemini Traze and NXP Semiconductors.

All about MNIC

The 'Multi-purpose National Identity Card' is a smartcard with 16KB of memory, designed to be in line with specifications laid out in ISO/IEC 7816 and Smart Card Operating System for Transport Applications. The cards are designed to retain data for at least 10 years.

The identity card has a microprocessor chip (imported) with a memory of 16 KB which is a secure card. Besides having several physical features in the design of the card, it is the cyber security using 'asymmetric key cryptography' and 'symmetric key cryptography' that has made the card secure against tampering and cloning.

The National Informatics Centre has made a major contribution towards developing the processes for database management and smartcard technology.

"A 16KB card will not hold much if the scope of data in the smartcard is humungous. An ideal memory would be around 64KB, which will help the government make the card have enough space to accommodate all service links," said Niju V, deputy director (automation and electronics), Frost & Sullivan.

Nevertheless, the project is certainly huge. Each card alone (the plastic and micro-controller chip) would cost around Rs 30. But if you add applications and other features, the cost almost doubles since it involves systems integration by IT companies, which accounts for a major part of the card's cost.

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BS Reporters in New Delhi, Mumbai
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