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Aadhaar reportedly to be merged with India’s census database


Unconfirmed newspaper reports claim that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) might be merged with India’s National Population Register (NPR).

The NPR is a comprehensive identity database used for India’s census which is maintained by the Home Ministry, while the UIDAI maintains Aadhaar, the world’s largest universal Civil ID program.

Aadhaar is the biometric database used to provide social services and reduce welfare fraud. To date, Aadhaar has issued 630 million Aadhaar numbers, and has enrolled approximately 850 million people.

The database is actively used for monitor school attendance, issue natural gas subsidies to India’s rural poor, and to send wages directly to people’s bank accounts. The system, a landmark legacy project of India’s previous Congress Party government, also provides identification to people who do not have birth certificates.

Unidentified sources in the national government have stated that it is counterproductive to spend “humongous amounts of money” on generating Aadhaar numbers, only to link the data to welfare programs. The government, according to anonymous sources, is considering merging the system with the NRP database, to create efficiencies.

BiometricUpdate.com reported that Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week scrapped the standing cabinet committee that examined decisions concerning the UIDAI in an effort to focus on “more governance” and “less government”. The national government now led by the Bharatiya Janata Party notes that on a go-forward basis, Aadhaar issues will be handled by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs. Prime Minister Modi had also ordered India’s new home minister Rajnath Singh to examine new policy options to address the Aadhaar system last week.

During the election campaign, the Bharatiya Janata Party sharply criticized Aadhaar as a fraudulent scheme devised to financially benefit Congress politicians. The BJP in the past has characterized the biometric system as a “political gimmick” and has questioned whether the system adequately addresses control of migrants and national security concerns.

The new government also supports the view that the establishment of UIDAI was potentially unconstitutional and duplicates existing population registration efforts undertaken by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India.

“As the UIDAI has no legal backing, a decision would soon be taken to scrap it and in its place the entire exercise would be handed over to the NPR, which will not only provide Unique ID number to a person but also establish bonafide citizenship,” sources told the Deccan Chronicle.

This change, if pursued, will be a first step in addressing the many problems plaguing India’s biometric identification bank. Recently, the Aadhaar system has run into major problems with private companies that enroll Indian citizens into the program. Private businesses that are engaged in Aadhaar enrollment are protesting the high penalties being levied on them by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), due to enrollment errors. In response, the Aadhaar Enrollment Agencies Association (AEAA), the lobby group representing the businesses has warned that they will be forced to stop work across the country and seek legal action to address rising fines.

The system has also encountered a serious number of problems including Indian banks that are resisting processing Aadhaar subsidies, India’s Supreme Court ruling that Aadhaar numbers are not mandatory for receiving government services, and reports in The Hindu newspaper of Aadhaar cards found dumped on the side of the Nanjundapuram Road in Podanur, a neighbourhood in the city of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.

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