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India to identify all citizens in three years, issue new biometrics card


India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh gave government officials a three-year deadline to identify citizens through the National Population Register (NPR). The NPR is a comprehensive identity database used for India’s census.

Recently, the NPR was conferred as India’s favored national identification scheme by the new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. During recent national elections, the BJP promised both to end the Aadhaar biometrics registration project and to crack down on welfare fraud.

The BJP has argued that Aadhaar, which is the world’s biggest biometrics database, was a fraudulent, unconstitutional and costly scheme devised to enrich Congress Party politicians through impartial contracts. The BJP’s view is that the Aadhaar system, designed primarily to provide access to social programs, does not adequately delineate between an actual citizen and a migrant worker. Therefore, non-citizens may have access to social programs under the Aadhaar system, to which they are not entitled.

The BJP also notes that the Aadhaar project duplicated existing population registration efforts undertaken by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India. As a consequence, the BJP has decided to re-focus on NPR through a series of actions.

Firstly, a reported recently in BiometricUpdate.com, the BJP government wants to merge NPR operations with that of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which operates Aadhaar. Secondly, in a further effort to provide social services only to Indian nationals, the new government also wants its officials to conduct door-to-door verification of residents across the country. Thirdly, the BJP government intends to issue national identity cards with biometric-readable features. These cards will be issued to all Indian residents and will be able to be read with handheld readers. According to news reports, the new identification cards will be used to provide services through the direct benefits scheme, along with access to polls during elections.

Unnamed government officials have stated that the national government may de-link social benefits from Aadhaar cards within the next budget. The new government however will continue to use biometrics to combat welfare fraud. According to a new report in the Times of India, the government recently issued biometric cards to 500 people living below the poverty line as part of a pilot project to reduce fraud under the national rural employment program. The cards are designed to ensure that people show up and actually work to under India’s 100-day guaranteed labor program.

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