Ever since the Unique Identification (UID) project rolled out,it has had to weather hit-and-run attacks. Concerns about privacy and budgets have been mounted from influential staging posts in attempts to derail the project altogether by isolating the UID Authority of India within the government. Yet the promise of the project,aimed at offering every Indian a secure proof of identity,is so powerful that its momentum remains unchecked. Tens of millions of people have already showed up at the appointed venue to register their biometric markers primarily fingerprints and iris scans in the hope of finally having a single proof of identity. However,now the mandate of the UIDAI is on the verge of lapsing,and it is squarely up to the Central government to address the issue or risk obstructing the project altogether.
It is not clear why the UPA government would countenance internal resistance or even the impression of such resistance to take the sheen off its big-ticket reform. It certainly consolidates the impression of a government at odds with its bold first instincts. However,Home Minister P. Chidambarams appeal to the prime minister to bring the issue before the cabinet and sort it out should serve to catalyse purposeful action. In his letter to the prime minister,he has explained the need to clarify who will capture the biometric data,the UIDAI or the Registrar General of India. The latter office falls under the home ministry and has been,in an exercise parallel to the UIDAIs,creating a biometric database through the National Population Register. In the absence of clarity on this procedural question,there has abounded speculation about battles over turf and political influence and the letter alludes to the danger inherent in this. If Chidambarams letter does not galvanise the cabinet into taking up the matter,it is difficult to guess what else could.
The UID is too important to be cast aside because of administrative differences. It has the potential to target welfare scheme to the rightful beneficiaries by identifying leakages,whether on account of bureaucratic lapses or outright corruption. Equally,it would dramatically empower individuals. A non-duplicable,tamper-resistant proof of identity could relieve every Indian of cumbersome paperwork and possibly greasing palms to get an ID and also of the requirement to duplicate that effort for myriad purposes and for every change of residence. It is the last mile we need to cover in the pursuit of economic,financial and social inclusion.