An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Aadhaar: Universal ID that promises to Unite India. Or will it?

aadhaar.jpgTwo years ago, India set up UIDAI (Universal ID Authority of India) with Nandan Nilekani at its helm. The goal is to have a Universal ID which will use the biometric technology, and called “Aadhaar” (or foundation) such that it can be used to identify all the citizens.

Its not that India doesn’t have any IDs. There are many:

  • Voters Cards through Election Commission
  • PAN Card from Income Tax Department
  • Driving Licences
  • BPL card for poor families
  • Gas Connection certificates
  • Passports

But none of them are universally used throughout the urban and rural areas of India. The two of the most prevalent would possibly be the PAN Card and the Voter’s Card. The level of corruption in the issuance of both is mindboggling and a great national security threat in its own way. The less said for the driver’s license the better!

As far as rolling it out is concerned, the target was to cover 600 million people in 5 years from its start. It is uncertain how such staggered approach could be useful – since it could be misused by some people.

There are many programs that government has started and often the beneficiaries overlap – the program goals and the target groups all seem to be overlapping in various programs. When the UID is implemented for the poorest of the population, then this can be theoretically obviated. There is a need to cover as much population with financial and social facilities and amenities. For example:

  • Only 5% of India’s population had bank or post office a/c until 2005 – which is around 20% now
  • Less than 10 percent of India’s villages have a bank or post office within 5 km.

About Aadhaar

The UID or Aadhaar will be a 12-digit unique number. It will be accessed via a centralised database and will be linked to the basic demographics and biometric information – photograph, ten fingerprints and iris – of each individual.

Progress

So far over 1 million people have been enrolled since October last year and the enrollments are growing every day.

There are several challenges of course:

  • How does one deal with loss or theft of the UID? It can be especially a big issue in the rural areas, where people don’t have great storage opportunities.
  • How does one deal with changes in life – marriage (married name), or change of name or even change of sex in some cases?
  • How does one deal with change in citizenship? What if an Indian citizen becomes a US citizen? Does s/he continue to have the UID?
  • What if the fingerprints of the peasants are unreadable after years of hard work?

The system at its peak will need to do an amazing 14 billion matches per second! Depending on where a person is being scanned, it would mean ability to access the universal database for the matches. And with that comes the question – Can this database be hacked?

The implementation methodology of the scheme however is very interesting and unique concept. It is to ensure that the project is implemented fast and on time (perhaps even earlier!)

There are three vendors: Accenture and L-1 Identity Solutions of America, plus Morpho of France. The firm that does the fastest, most accurate job gets 50% of the work; the others get 30% or 20%. This allocation is frequently reassessed, so if the second-best firm starts doing better, it picks up some work from the leading firm. This keeps everyone sharp.

Conclusion

The entire system can lead to a lot of pay offs for businesses, which can have a god send set of data for targeting their customers. But in a country which is in the cross hairs of the worst Jehadi terrorism, it could also be used by the evil minds in ways un-thought of! More importantly, it will end up legitimizing millions of illegal people who came in from Bangladesh and Pakistan. That will end up messing up the demography of India

But for now lets look at the good aspects – Microfinance, Medical facilities, banking, Fund disbursements etc. can get access to a wider population.

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