Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis on the UPA’s Aadhaar project, and his aim of universal coverage under the scheme by mid-2015 has resulted in renewed activity at the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). The UIDAI, which had gone near dormant after high-profile chairperson Nandan Nilekani quit earlier this year, has drawn its work strategy afresh under a group of senior officials.
The UIDAI was constituted and notified in 2009 with the objective of providing a unique identity for each resident of India, but was hobbled by teething problems and tussles within the UPA government. Nilekani was the project’s brain, whose two key roles, according to sources, were laying down the vision for Aadhaar, and managing external stakeholders. The Authority’s internal affairs were handled by its director general.
Broadly, the UIDAI has eight divisions: Authentication, Enrolment, Financial Inclusion, Administration, IT, Finance, Media, and Knowledge Management and Training. Nearly all the officials running them were handpicked by Nilekani.
D-G V S Madan, whom Nilekani chose last year, manages the show, attending all high-level meetings, including with the Prime Minister. Madan, a 1981-batch IAS officer, is assisted by a team of key bureaucrats.
DDG (Enrolment) Sujata Chaturvedi handles the core aspect of Aadhaar — enrolling residents, and keeping close track of all updates, while also being in charge of the Authority’s legal and media related activities. Chaturvedi was a part of Nilekani’s core team, having been with UIDAI since 2011. Her term, however, runs out soon.
The Authentication Division, another key function of the unique ID, is headed by DDG Shreeranjan. He joined only earlier this year.
ADG (Financial Inclusion) Rajesh Bansal heads the crucial division that looks after the integration of Aadhaar with the financial sector, including the Direct Benefits Transfer scheme. Bansal has been with the Authority since 2009. All three — Chaturvedi, Shreeranjan and Bansal — operate out of the Authority’s Delhi office.
DDG Ashok Dalwai, in-charge of the Bangalore tech centre which handles the backend operations of the project, too has been with the Authority for several years.
Keshni Anand Arora, DDG, Chandigarh regional office, is in charge of states such as Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. She is a key member of the team that runs UIDAI; her importance stems from the fact that the Authority conducts most of its pilot projects in areas under her jurisdiction.
The UIDAI works closely with several ministries, including Finance, Rural Development, Health, Telecom and Petroleum. Among themselves, the DDGs have meetings with the relevant joint secretaries nearly every week.
While the Authority is within the jurisdiction of MoS (Independent Charge) Planning Rao Inderjit Singh, sources say it is monitored directly by the PMO, which is in touch with UIDAI officials on an almost weekly basis. Modi had his first meeting on Aadhaar on July 5, and most instructions have since come straight from the PMO.
While it remains unclear whether the government will appoint another high-profile chairperson to follow Nilekani, the sharper focus on UIDAI, and its increasing need to communicate better, is indicated by the fact that it decided finally to appoint a spokesperson in September — the first that the Authority has ever had.