Sunday, July 26, 2009


DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 25JAN07 - Nandan M. Nilekan...Image via Wikipedia

I don't usually write about non-job market related stuff on this blog. But every once in a while, I need to express my views on other issues. One such issue is the Unique Identification project headed by Nandan Nilekani. I believe that, though this is not directly connected with the job market now, soon the Unique Identification will be playing a major role in every aspect of our lives including our professional one, so in a way, I guess this subject is not entirely off-topic.

I am planning to keep a close watch on how the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is progressing and give unsolicited advice every now and then. Please feel free to voice your thoughts as comments to this post.

The first task that the UIDAI is planning to embark on is to create a database of the 1.17 Billion Indian population. Apparently, the database will help in the issuance of identification cards for every person in India.

I already have two issues to raise here:

The first is about the database. While I hope they use the existing databases for a start, for the UID to really work where the others have failed, they have to ensure that the large portions of the population that have always fallen through the cracks are covered this time. One example of such a population is the Bihari population that has migrated to all parts of India in search of work. Take for instance the Biharis who have moved to Chennai who form a large portion of the labour force that is working on the MRTS projects. They have completely uprooted themselves from their native land and have moved to Chennai, lock-stock-and-barrel. They have no home address, many times no homes at all (living under the partially constructed MRTS), and have precious little by way of unique identification.

Can we take two or three such clearly identifiable "problem" populations and see if the envisaged solutions work?
Some questions we should be able to answer clearly include
1. How can they uniquely identify themselves?
2. How can they register under the PDS scheme?
3. How can they ensure that their children get admissions in the nearest public schools?
4. How can these people enroll under the NREGS, NREGA schemes and avail the benefits?
5. How can we provide them with (and track) the basic health coverage that they require?

I hope we do not just concentrate on the low-hanging, easily identifiable, middle class, urban population.

My second issue is even more fundamental - is providing an identity card workable?
Given that a fair number of people don't have homes, or even pockets (Remember, Sarees have no pockets), will people be able to hold on to these cards for long periods?
How ruggedized can these cards be?
What percentage of these cards are expected to be lost on an annual basis?
How long will it be before people report missing or stolen cards?
What will it take to provide replacement cards?
Will one need to go to a police station and file an FIR to get a replacement card?
What identity proof does one need to provide to get a replacement card?

I am sure we can think of a million other issues that are specific to poor nations such as ours, that are non-issues in more advanced countries which have these identity cards. So here is my fundamental question - Do we need to provide cards at all? What if we record into our database the finger prints (of all 10 finger, if you will) and the retina prints of every citizen? Anytime we need to identify ourselves uniquely, we have all that is required right there with us. Would that work? what are the problems?

Please do leave your thoughts in the comments section.

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BUNTI said...

CONGRATULATION!!! MR NANDAN. it is a MEGASTEP towards unifying our country,limiting , accounting, countless labours moving day in dayout in search of livelyhood.U have chosen 16 digits to identify 2 billion population, I am surprized how can u control such movement. Can we think of the database to be generated.Although u can reach the middle class per by there PAN card database.Now a days each bank is computerized to give the location of a person holding account in INDIA. The mobile database is enough to identify any person.
Well I am willing to be a part of this team to get each indian under one roof- of PDS/CALAMITY(incase of)/ELECTION , etc GOODLUCK SIR!!


Anonymous said...

I think this post answers all questions relating to keep the system clean, if not do let me know.

As for availability, once this comes into practice, ID's can be made according to the location of a person in their knows hierarchy.

I too am concerned and have keen interest on the same :-)

Ravi said...

I dont think just taking finger prints and retina scans would work as UID instead of the card based system. Imagine the cost of installing the scanning and reading equipment in each and every merchendaise. Its not possible. Not all the shops in India have a credit card reader nor a computer. So i dont think the idea works.