India's Unique ID project all but dead

Project termed directionless and expensive.

An ambitious government project headed by a successful private sector leader was exciting. Started to a huge fanfare, India's Unique Identification initiative ran into several issues as I reported earlier. A quick recap of what's happening:

  • National Population Register (NPR)—a project started along with India's census was going to create a single database of Indians in India
  • Unique Identification program headed by Infosys' Nandan Nilekani started in parallel to NPR
  • UID was limited 200 Million Indians and end up rolling into NPR
  • Nearing the 200 Million limit, UID  was hoping to remain active after the mark
  • A parliamentary committee was setup to look into the matter and make recommendations

The parliamentary committee rejected the formation of a UIDAI raising several concerns over the viability of the project. The political fallout of this will be felt by some high profile bureaucrats in Manmohan Singh's government. According to a report, Montek Singh Aluwahlia, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's tag team partner in economic reforms is being targeted for approving UID. The parliamentary committee has called the project "directionless." Headed by one of India's successful IT entrepreneur—Nandan Nilekani—the parliamentary committee's observations are disturbing. The National Identity Bill which if passed would've ratify the UIDAI was unacceptable to all those part of the parliamentary committee. The scathing observations and remarks against UID were unanimous. Two of the main concerns being talked about are:

  • Cost involved
  • Residents, not citizens getting the number

The finance ministry is against the UID project since it is quite expensive. (It is odd that the ministry did not raise the concerns during project implementation and vendor selection.) The security concerns raised by the committee seem to be more grave. According to the fine print, any resident of the country can get a UID, the person does not have to be a citizen. The implication as seen by many is around illegal immigrants obtaining these numbers. (This is a concern raised against the NPR too.) UID was designed to eventually roll into the NPR and given the new developments, the only positive that can be seen are the lessons learnt from the UID exercise. Nikhil Pahwa at MediaNama has a concise list of the committee's observations. What happens to the issued UIDs and whether the government will be merging UID with NPR remains to be seen.

PDF of the UIDAI Bill

Parliamentary Committee's report on the bill

An old interview of Nandan Nilekani talking about the benefits of UID and how it can help reduce corruption: