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Friday 9 December 2011

UPA's pet UID project set to be trashed

UPA's pet UID project set to be trashed

Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi hand a tribal woman her UID card.
parliamentary committee is set to reject the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010, inflicting a severe blow to Unique Identification Authority of India chairman Nandan Nilekani and raising doubts about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's pet project.
Former IT czar Nilekani, who holds cabinet minister rank as UIDAI chief, had been keen on the enactment of the Bill so that a statutory National Identification Authority could be established. The Bill, tabled in December last year, is geared to bolster the Aadhaar scheme under which every Indian " resident" will be assigned a unique ID (UID) number.
Parliament's standing committee on finance, headed by Yashwant Sinha of the BJP, held deliberations on the controversial Bill for a year. Among those it consulted were experts and representatives of government departments. Nilekani had also appeared before the parliamentary committee and given his views on the subject.
The committee's draft report giving the thumbs down to the Bill is ready and will be adopted on Thursday. Sources in the panel indicated that the decision to recommend that the government should withdraw the present Bill and bring a new one was taken "unanimously". Even Congress members found the project "directionless".
It is learnt that the draft report has recommended that the government should review or reconsider the project by a bringing in a fresh Bill. The committee has said that the Bill and the project are not acceptable in the present form.
So far, over 5.75 million UID cards have been issued countrywide. The cumulative revised budget estimates of the project, launched in 2009, is Rs.1,660 crore for 2010- 11 and 2011-12 put together. More than Rs.556 crore has already been spent on the scheme.
The project has also been opposed by the finance ministry, the home ministry and the Planning Commission, further strengthening the committee's reservations to the bigticket scheme.
Sources in the panel indicated that MPs like S. S Ahluwalia (BJP), Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI), Bhartruhari Mahtab (BJD) and Rashid Alvi (Congress) were most vocal in opposing the scheme. The draft report is of the view that the UID scheme has been conceptualised with no clarity or purpose.The standing committee's draft report on the legislation also reportedly noted that the project is riddled with serious lacunae in its content and execution.
It is, however, up to the government to accept or reject the report of the standing committee in full or in part.
The project had faced opposition on four main counts - inclusion of " residents" as opposed to "citizens"; issues related to privacy of those being assigned the UID numbers; duplication of the work being done for preparing the National Population Register ( NPR) using the same biometric attributes; and the massive expenditure that the project entails.
The committee felt that the ongoing implementation of the project is "directionless". Sources said the panel is of the view that there is confusion within the government and the implementing agency on the funding, technology, privacy aspects and implementation of the project.
The standing committee on finance "strongly disapproved" of the " hasty manner" in which the scheme is being implemented. The committee, sources said, feared that since private organisations and individuals are involved in the implementation process, the data collected for Aadhaar could end up in the hands of private players and misused.
The committee has questioned the technology used in Aadhaar. The draft report is learnt to have termed the technology as "unreliable and untested". It has also cited the experience of foreign countries with similar schemes and said that many European nations withdrew their UID projects after opposition from the public. Noting such discrepancies, the committee has recommended that the Bill is not acceptable.
The committee is learnt to have noted the opposition by finance ministry, home ministry and Planning Commission to the project.The finance ministry has reportedly expressed concern at the " lack of coordination" with the implementing agency and the government. The ministry is learnt to have told the panel that this lack of coordination is leading to duplication of efforts and adding to the expenditure of the project.
The home ministry is learnt to have criticised the efficacy of the interlocutor system in implementing Aadhaar. The ministry has reportedly pointed out that the project can create a security concern as "somebody interested" can identify a citizen using the project.
The plan panel also objected to the project. Incidentally, the UIDAI is at present working under the Planning Commission.Starting as a small office in Yojana Bhavan, the authority shifted its headquarters to a multistoried complex in Connaught Place while opening regional offices across the country.
The standing committee's report is likely to be adopted without any dissent notes."Key ministries are opposed to the project. Members, cutting across party lines, have raised concerns in the implementation," a member of the panel said.

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