|Unique identity crisis|
|Monday, 03 October 2011 00:00|
Nothing illustrates the stasis in the government better than the predicament of the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI). Suddenly, out of the blue, the much-lauded project run by one of India’s most successful professionals has become the focus of the ire of various arms of the government for rather disparate reasons—just as it successfully completes the first anniversary of the Aadhaar programme enrolling more than 10 crore people and generating more than 3.75 crore Aadhaar numbers. The problems came into fore a few weeks ago when the finance ministry rejected UIDAI’s request for a R14,000-crore expenditure programme. After this, the Planning Commission too jumped into the fray, suddenly awakening to the deficiency in the structure and functioning of the authority. Adding to the confusion were the apparently negative comments made by the ministry of home affairs (MoHA) on the flaws in the enrolment process and the security of the biometric data. The home ministry’s apparently nervous of the UIDAI’s efforts to extend its Aadhaar enrolment mandate, as the office of the Registrar General of India, an arm of the ministry, is simultaneously compiling a national population register (NPR), which is a comprehensive identity database, as a part of the 2011 census operations currently under way. The confusion about the turf of UIDAI and the MoHA is rather surprising, given the fact that an EGoM was constituted as early as 2006 to collate the two schemes, namely the NPR and the unique identification number project, as Aadhaar was then known.
RBI made the waters murkier by first going against the finance ministry notification that was issued in 2010—to permit the use of Aadhaar numbers as an officially valid document to satisfy the know your customer (KYC) norms—by limiting the use of the Aadhaar numbers to “small accounts”. It then retracted, by allowing use of Aadhaar numbers to all bank accounts without any limitations, but only after again insisting that the banks must satisfy themselves about the current address of the customer. RBI’s reluctance to fully accept the Aadhaar numbers for the KYC norms is surprising, given that more than a dozen leading banks in the country are partnering with UIDAI to deliver Aadhaar numbers to the citizens, and also when the Aadhaar numbers have been accepted by the insurance companies and Sebi for meeting KYC norms.
The rumblings against UIDAI are too synchronised to been seen as random occurrences that happen in major projects in vibrant democracies. It is now for the Cabinet Committee on UIDAI Authority, headed by the Prime Minister, to quickly step in and resolve the issues so that the Aadhaar project moves unhindered and provides a unique number to every citizen. Keep in mind, Aadhar is probably the most ambitious project the UPA-2 has come up with and, if used judiciously, has game-changing potential.