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Future of Nandan Nilekani's UIDAI hangs precariously as home ministry prepares for a kill

Thursday, 22 May 2014 - 7:05am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

As Narendra Modi-led BJP government places itself firmly in power, a big question mark looms over the continuity of UPA's controversial Aadhaar project - the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

The Union home ministry that fought a bitter but losing battle against Nandan Nilekani's UIDAI under the UPA regime for collection and safe keep of biometric data of residents (citizens and non-citizens) is hoping to open up the closed subject again.

Top sources in the home ministry said they are planning to raise objections about the efficacy of Aadhaar scheme and to pitch their own multi-purpose national identity card (MPNIC) scheme based on national population register (NPR) to Narendra Modi.

Incidentally, the NPR project was initiated by the NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002 on the recommendations of a Group of Ministers (GoM) that took the decision on the basis of Kargil Review Committee, appointed to look into flaws in the system in the wake of the Kargil War in 1999.

The GoM called for giving all citizens MPNIC and issuing non-citizens identity cards of a different colour and design to check infiltration and ensure national security.

When Congress-led UPA government came to power in 2004 it carried forward the plans of the NDA government but enlarged the scope of MPNIC project to use it to check subsidy through targeted welfare schemes. This change from security-centric to welfare approach resulted in replacing MPNIC project with UIDAI.

"The efficacy of Aadhaar project under UIDAI was always under question. Despite ministries and departments raising issues against Aadhaar, including prime concern of security and protection of the data, the UIDAI managed to wrest control not only on securing biometrics through independent registrars of its choice but also to keep the data," said sources.

According to the original mandate given to it, the UIDAI, set up by an executive order of the government and not through an Act, was supposed only to de-duplicate the biometrics data captured by the offices under the registrar general of India and generate a unique ID number against each name.

But the mandate was later enlarged by Manmohan Singh who gave UIDAI the power to capture the data, store and it and link it with various targeted socio-economic government schemes by seeding with the bank accounts of individuals.

The UIDAI has so far spent a whopping Rs3,500 crore to enrol nearly 55 crore Indians but is still very far from doing the real work of de-duplication exercise, without which the unique ID number has no value and loses its purpose. But revamping Aadhaar could be a tough call for Modi, claim votaries of UIDAI. "After resisting Aadhaar initially in Gujarat, Modi used it for targeted delivery system. He may let it remain there and add some security features that have gone for a toss," a source said.

However, in home ministry's favour goes the 42nd report of standing committee of finance on national identification authority of India that was chaired by BJP leader Yashwant Sinha and was entrusted to judge the UIDAI bill.

Coming heavily on UIDAI in its report submitted to the parliament in December 2011, the standing committee had raised several question marks on the whole process, including dubious verification of information of individuals that can have far reaching consequences for national security.

"As the National Identity Cards to citizens of India are proposed to be issued on the basis of aadhaar numbers, the possibility of possession of aadhaar numbers by illegal residents through false affidavits / introducer system cannot be ruled out," it said.

Noting that the security and confidentiality of information of aadhaar number holders and duplication and security of data still remain unresolved, it rejected the UIDAI bill by 31:3 members and recommended data already collected by the UIDAI to be transferred to the NPR. It also suggested the government to reconsider and review the UID scheme in all its ramifications and bring forth a fresh legislation.

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