One of my favorite day-dreaming topics was a project that will assign every India a unique identity number. I believed (and still believe) that such a project would go a long way in improving the implementation of government schemes and improving national security. So, I was elated when Nandan Nilekani joined the present government to head the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). I am a big fan of Nilekani who is one of the co-founders of Infosys and has written Â “Imagining India”,Â a great book on the different things hindering India and the opportunities in front of her.
UIDAI has been in news with pilot projects being kicked off in various places. When I went back home to Ranchi this summer , I was glad to know that the state government is pushing Aadhar (UID project’s name)Â heavily by making various student grants available only if the students and their families have UID cards. But, unfortunately, the great Indian red-tape has caught up with UID project. Business Standard reports :Â
What a difference two years can make. In 2009, the Unique Identification Project spearheaded by the governmentâ€™s then golden boy, Nandan Nilekani, was a much publicised and pampered one. Today, it has become everybodyâ€™s favourite whipping boy.
The Home Ministry has refused to use / trust the data collected by UIDAI and is insisting that data should be collected by its own National Population Register. This will mean that over INR 1000 crores ($200 million) spent by UIDAI will go waste. This seems much better than the scenario if both NPR and UIDAI go about doing parallel work of collecting citizen data. UIDAI’s estimated cost for the project is INR 18,000 crores ($3.6 billion) while NPR projects a cost of INR 14,000 crores ($2.8 billion) Not only will we be spending twice the money, but we will also end up with two possibly conflicting data sets. Â If that is not enough, the RBI now says that a UID number will Â not be enough to open a bank account, beating one of the main goals of the project, which is to increase financial inclusiveness.
I hope that the government sets its house in order and stops this embarrassing in-fighting between its own ministries and pushes ahead with this project. UIDAI will be an important step in improving India’s security and governance. Lets hope that the government doesn’t mess it up.