|Should U ID or I?|
|Monday, 23 January 2012 00:00|
Cabinet to decide on turf wars for flagship project
Home minister P Chidambaram’s letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, exhorting him to clarify the data collection mess for the UID project, is a good move. The flagship UID project, which seeks to obtain biometric information for all Indian citizens, has the potential to revolutionise the way PDS activities and other social spending is carried out, reduce the huge leakages and bring about several other benefits associated with a secure centralised database—low-cost money transfers through mobile banking is one such and, given this will take place through banking correspondents in each village, citizens won’t have to waste time (often several days) going to distant locations to collect various forms of subsidies. Given the government spends R2,50,000 crore on subsidies each year (including that by oil PSUs) and the Food Security Bill could add another R2,00,000 crore to it, going by the CACP chairman’s estimates, the need to get UIDAI functional is critical. If a third of the expenditure doesn’t reach the targeted beneficiaries, that is R1,50,000 crore, an amount not much higher than the median estimate by the CAG of the loss in the 2G scam!
It is a shame, then, that the project has been held up in a turf war for so long. As things stand, data collection for the project has been simultaneously carried out by two different agencies—the Registrar General of India that works under the home ministry and the UIDAI that works under the Planning Commission. The home ministry’s view is that RGI is tasked with collecting biometric data under the law and that there are errors in the data collected by UIDAI—UIDAI was given clearance by the Cabinet to collect biometric data for 200 million citizens. While RGI’s method is to actually visit households and obtain the data, UIDAI invites people to designated centres, where data collection is done by hired organisations. The latter approach, the home ministry has said, leaves room for errors and misuse. Last year, Chidambaram also wrote a letter to deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia saying that the data collection methods of UIDAI left room for fake identities being created, since documents were not verified when the data was collected. UIDAI, however, argues its methods allow much faster data capture and that the home ministry’s fears are irrelevant since the biometric exercise ensures no one person can get two IDs. The Cabinet will now take a holistic view of both arguments, keeping in mind the strong need for a system to curb rampant leakages in government expenditures.