India's prestigious UID program faces bureaucratic and legal hurdles

A legal notice against Accenture along with working beyond 200 Million citizen registration limit have the UIDAI in a tough place.
Written by Manan Kakkar, Contributor

India's unique identification project, Aadhaar will soon be reaching its allotted 200 million citizen limit. A restriction not talked a lot during the program's launch is now being debated by India's Planning Commission, the Cabinet and the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India). Alongside one of the world's largest head count--India's 15th national census being conducted by the Census office was a project called National Population Register (NPR). According to reports, Aadhaar would've eventually rolled up into the NPR; after the 200 million citizens.

The friction arose when the UIDAI decided to hand out Aadhaar cards instead of issuing the UID on paper. Out of the said 200 million citizens, UIDAI has collected data on 120 million citizens and they expect to cover 160 to 170 million citizens by December. RS Sharma, director general of UIDAI talking to Live Mint rationalized that the Aadhaar smart cards would be issued to the remaining 30-40 million citizens which would not get them good prices on the cards. Apparently, the initial plans had NPR handing out smart cards with UIDs. UIDAI has abandoned their ambitious plans of issuing smart cards. The conflict between the UIDAI and Census commission came up again when the Census commissioner invalidated UIDAI's data calling it unreliable. The NPR database is being populated based on the 15th national census which, the Census commissioner considers more reliable. Funny thing is there are doubts about the data collected under NPR. Politician and Gujrat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wrote to the Home Minister of India claiming that the NPR is not verifying the nationality of those in the country. (Essentially a bureaucrat finds UID unreliable and a politician finds NPR unreliable.)

Since the UIDAI mandate of 200 million citizens is near, the organization wants to ensure its continuation and is in talks with the Planning Commission. Chetan Chauhan reporting for Hindustan Times says there are four possibilities for the Cabinet:

  1. amend the law to allow Census Commission and UIDAI to enroll
  2. limit UIDAI to 200 million enrollments
  3. let the Census Commission enroll
  4. let the Census commission and institutes like banks

While the UIDAI is trying to figure out a solution to the bureaucratic hurdles, one of the equipment partners, Accenture, has a legal notice against them. Filed in Karnataka by High Court lawyer, BT Venkatesh raised concerns about the ~$400 Million Accenture contract. The current UIDAI data collection setup, Accenture processes 5 out of every 10 fingerprints while Mahindra Satyam gets 3 and L-1 gets 2. (I have written some details on the companies involved in the UID project.) As it turns out, Accenture has cases of kickbacks, rigging bids and not sticking to project schedules against them in the US.

It will be interesting to see how Nadan Nilekani and co tackle overcome these issues.

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