June 8, 2012 -
The Times of India yesterday reported that the Union Cabinet of India intervened to settle the turf war between the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) led by Nandan Nilekani and the Home Ministry, headed by P. Chidambaram.
These two government agencies have been at odds regarding the collection of biometric data of 1.2 billion Indians. A decision, following the second complaint of Chidambaram, directed the UIDAI to accept the biometric data collected by Registrar-General of India under the Home Ministry in order to give unique ID number to every citizen.
“Despite clear orders from the cabinet,” wrote Chidambaram, in a complaint letter filed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, “the UIDAI is objecting to the conduct of the National Population Register (NPR) camps in certain states and is also refusing to accept the biometric data of NPR for de-duplication and generation of Aadhaar number.” This rendered the NPR project “almost at a standstill.”
Chidambaram accused UIDAI of failing to appreciate the core purpose of the National Population Register.
It should be noted that the Government of India has beefed up its unified ID through UIDAI, which has conducted the Aadhaar enrolment process by which biometric data are gathered from the citizens. The citizens, especially the marginalized sections of society, are provided with unique identification numbers which they can use anywhere in India to identify them and access benefits and services.
On another front, the government has taken important steps to enforce coastal security after the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008. One of these was the NPR project which was conducted in selected coastal villages as priority areas and expands to include all other coastal villages and towns and subsequently across the country. It has completed to a large extent the coastal data while for the rest of the country will still be collected along with the Census 2011. Basically, the NPR goal is to provide resident identity card which will later lead to a citizenship card.
As Chidambaram said, “regrettably the collection of photographs and biometrics has been facing hurdles at every step on account of the approach of the UIDAI.”
In January, Chidambaram filed his first complaint to the highest level of the government, pointing out the non-acceptance of UIDAI of biometric data collected by the RGI. A truce was declared then as UIDAI had promised to accept the NPR data.
In fact, in January, a cabinet committee on UIDAI had settled the turf war between the Home Minister and Planning Commission, which UIDAI belongs. The agreement then was that UIDAI would issue 600 million cards in 16 states and union territories while home ministry covers the remaining 600 million.
However, the issue persisted and the strong opposition from the Home Ministry eventually led to the government directing UIDAI to accept the biometrics data collected by NPR.