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Tapping a billion plus people

02 February 2010

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R. S. Sharma, Director General and Mission Director of the Unique Identification Authority of India shares the work in progress on the massive UID scheme, in an interview with eGov magazine.

What are the basic principles behind the Unique ID scheme? Can you throw some light on the different dimensions attached with UID?

Two parallel approaches were followed while formulating the Unique ID scheme.

RS Sharma - UIDAI

The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India proposed issuing a card for all the citizens. Additionally, the Ministry of Communications and IT wanted to target the social sector schemes through providing unique identity numbers to the citizens, including the eligible beneficiaries for developmental schemes like National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP) and Public Distribution System (PDS).

In 2006, the Empowered Group of Ministers held a number of meetings for the basic formulation and harmonisation of the above two schemes for which the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was set up. Essentially, the aim was to target the social sector.

As the poor citizens do not have an identity proof, compared to the elites and the middle class; the UID will be a motivation for this section of the population to have a separate identity of their own, which will be a portable identity - can be proved anywhere, anytime.

What would be the road map that UIDAI will follow in enumerating 1.2 billion population without duplication? 

UID has the assurance of uniqueness. Every citizen will have just one number. We will a check in the database through biometrics, that the data about an individual has not been duplicated.
We will also develop infrastructure, offering real time online authentication to the citizens, under which, a person having a biometric-enabled cell phone can, on the press of a button, get the authentication reply.

For higher uniqueness and to avoid duplication of records, the biometrics will be based on face, eye and thumb print recognition.

We have a biometric committee headed by B. K. Gairola, Director General, National Informatics Centre that will confirm the exact biometrics to be used for identification purpose, in its report.

So far, biometrics have not been used by any other government department and body, save Andhra Pradesh where the data is being refined presently with the help of biometrics, for identity authentication and de-duplication.

As the size of the population is unprecedented in India, the UID project has huge risks and challenges.

On one side, what will a UID number mean for a rural or urban poor living below the poverty line? On the other, what it will mean for the industry and the economy as a whole? How do you see the role of Indian IT players in the project?

UID does not assure any rights and benefits. It will enable setting up e-Infrastructure and help in the Identity Management of the citizens.

The domestic migrants, daily wage earners like construction workers do not have an identity. With the help of UID, they will be able to move to banks for micro-credits and opening of no-frills accounts. The rural folks on the run to different places in search of work, will be able to claim their identity, as and when required.

For the industry, the project throws opportunity [particularly] to device manufacturers, and the banking sector has the opportunity for Financial Inclusion. The people involved directly with the project will certainly be able to catch hold of the opportunity.

As of now, we have proposed to have a single managed service provider overseeing the Central Identity Data Repository (CIDR). The database will be managed at the central level only as it is easy to manage the data at one point rather than at several points. Data storage in all the states will only add up to the already existing complexities. A pilot Data Centre has been set up for testing the initial operations and the services.
We have floated a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a consultant, who will prepare the detailed project reports, and help us in selecting a managed service provider.

There are concerns in certain sections, about the integrity, safety and secure usage of the public data, similar to that in UK, where the UID has been rejected. How will you address these concerns?

We are not seeking information that is a secret and which would cause any harm in case of revelation. We are just seeking information about an individual, his/her name, father’s name, date of birth, and address. 

There is a Committee on Demographic Data Standards and Verification Procedure headed by N. Vittal, former Central Vigilance Commissioner who submitted the report on October 9, 2009. The report dealt with issues such as what data needs to be collected and how the verification has to be done. The committee’s recommendations have been accepted.

Can you throw some light on the cost of enrollments and the overall project cost?

We have got the first clearance of Rs 147 Crore from the Cabinet. The main cost of the project is the cost of enrollment and the maintenance of the data repository. 

How are you planning to target the rural population, who are not enrolled in any of the development schemes and its database?

We are to finalise the Special Research Groups, which will be doing the field work and engaging the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and bodies working in rural areas to identify sections of the population which have not been covered under any database, including tribal population, and the migrants.

We have also started voluntary services through which an individual can assist in data collection.

Source : eGov

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