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What ID card boss Nilekani plans to do

Last updated on: July 23, 2009 

Image: Nandan M Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys Technologies and head of the Unique Identification Database Authority of India.
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters

The first set of unique identification numbers will be issued to the citizens within 12-18 months, high-profile IT expert Nandan Nilekani said soon after taking over as the head of the newly-created Unique Identification Database Authority of India (IDAI) on Thursday.

"In the next 12 to 18 months we will be issuing the first set of unique identification numbers," he told reporters at his new office in Yojana Bhawan.

These numbers, he added, will not only provide an identity to citizens and will also help them in obtaining benefits of government scheme and also undertake with ease other activities like opening bank accounts and availing electricity connection.

"It is difficult to open a bank account. It is difficult to get an electricity connection. We hope if we can give every one an identity, basically the number, and that number is authenticated throughout the country. . . he can use is wherever he goes," Nilekani said.

The IT icon further said that he would set up a team, picking up best available talent from government as well as private sector, to prepare the database for every resident.

The government had earlier appointed Nilekani the chairman of the authority with a cabinet rank and allocated Rs 120 crore for the ambitious project in the current fiscal.

Nilekani, who was appointed as head of UIDAI on July 13, said it will take few weeks for them to "get the team together."

"We will use biometrics. . . but we still have not decided what that set will be. It will take us few weeks to stabilise and figure out the team size. It will take us few weeks to get our thoughts together," he added. Read on. . .

What ID card boss Nilekani plans to do

Image: A voter shows her voter identity card as she waits to cast her ballot in Bikaner, Rajasthan.
Photographs: Vinay Joshi/Reuters

Nilekani's ambitious mission

Nandan Nilekani is on an ambitious mission. It's a gargantuan task to identify and provide unique identification numbers to close to 1.2 billion people. And Nilekani, who is apprised of this staggering exercise, recently told a newspaper: "It keeps me awake at night, thinking what the hell have I got into."

In his new avatar, Nilekani -- as the head of the Unique Identification Database Authority of India -- says he will make sure every Indian has an identity card or a unique identity number. The number is quite like America's social security number. He hopes to make a difference in the life of every Indian.

The UIDAI would create a centralised, national database of Indian residents. The key issue was to ensure that there were no duplicates, Nilekani said.

What ID card boss Nilekani plans to do

Image: A man has his fingerprint scanned at a household registration office in Taipei to build a national fingerprint database by joining a global trend for biometric identity cards.
Photographs: Richard Chung/Reuters

Big challenge

"The big problem today with identity is that many systems have lot of duplicates which lead to fraud," Nilekani said.

The key issue was to ensure that there were no duplicates, Nilekani said soon after he was appointed as head of the ambitious project.

Nilekani plans to a national database of names, modeled on India's electronic securities depository, and use biometrics to ensure that every Indian an identification number.

The idea is to use biometric, fingerprints or whatever to make sure that people have a unique number. The UIDAI would then create a national network of verification so that people can verify that somebody is who he claims he is," he said.

The chairperson of UIDAI holds the rank and status of a Cabinet minister.

As for what his priorities would be with regard to the ambitious UID project that would create a 'national verification process', he said: "Give me more time. Wait till August 15."

What ID card boss Nilekani plans to do

Image: A homeless Indian boy waits for food beside a pavement as his mother cooks rice in Kolkata.
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters

Benefits of the card

Nilekani said the UIDAI would also create a national network of verification so that a person's identity could be proved.

The identity card will help every citizen to establish his/her citizenship and address security concerns.

The card can thus wipe out illegal migrants from neighbouring countries, who pose a threat to national security.

The cards can also reduce identity-related frauds and preventing loopholes in different government schemes, making sure the Below Poverty Line (BPL) families get their due.

A single unique identification number would eliminate the need for multiple identification mechanisms in India, making it foolproof.

However, this number will not be a substitute for other existing numbers, but will act as an additional unique number, cited along with existing numbers for different purposes, it has been learnt.

What ID card boss Nilekani plans to do

Image: A stopwatch pin.
Photographs: Reuters

Deadline for cards

The government plans to issue the first batch of ID cards in 12 to 18 months.

"Even if it costs a bit of money, if a few hundred million poor people get better public services, it's worth its weight in gold," Nilekani said.

The Unique Identification Database Authority of India will lay down the plan and policies to implement the UID, own and operate a database and be responsible for its updation.

The Unique Identification Database Authority of India is being established under the aegis of the Planning Commission.

What ID card boss Nilekani plans to do

Image: Liquefied petroleum gas, or cooking gas, cylinders.
Photographs: K K Arora/Reuters

How to tap data

Nandan Nilekani plans to tap the massive database of oil and cooking gas consumers that covers nearly half of India's population.

PAN card holders and the Election Commission's list of voters and census figures would also be considered for the database.

Currently, there are more than 10 crore (100 million) LPG customers enrolled with the oil marketing companies, which cover 50 per cent of the population of the country.

Nilekani said the oil sector's database of consumers was a 'huge attraction and resource towards accomplishing the task in his hand'.

The ministry officials also underlined that synchronisation of the data, standardisation of the biometric information and the technology will go a long way in serving the purpose of the authority and the oil sector.

"The identification of the customers will help in better targeting the subsidised products like LPG (domestic) and PDS kerosene," the oil ministry statement added.

The oil ministry will soon launch a pilot project in Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad and a few villages for issuing smart cards to the consumers of PDS (public distribution system) kerosene and domestic LPG.

"The experience of the pilot project would be shared with the Authority as also utilise the expertise of the personnel with the Unique ID Authority in further expansion of the programme," the ministry stated.

What ID card boss Nilekani plans to do

Image: A man swipes a smart card.
Photographs: Rick Wilking/Reuters

The pilot project

In 2008, the government implemented a pilot project for a multi-purpose national identity card (MNIC) in 12 states and one Union Territory where more than 1.2 million identity cards were issued to people above 18 years of age.

The MNIC project was initiated under the Vajpayee-led NDA government and continued by the current United Progressive Alliance government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The rising problem of illegal immigrants led to the development of such cards.

The UID will be issued to people living in the coastal villages of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal.

The Union Territories of Dadar and Nagar Haveli, Lakshadweep, Puducherry and Andaman & Nicobar Islands shall will be covered in this first phase.

The project is based on computer application called SCOSTA.

What ID card boss Nilekani plans to do

Image: The new gargantuan exercise will cost a lot of money.
Photographs: Tim Wimborne/Reuters

The huge expense

The government has earmarked Rs 120 crore (Rs 1.20 billion) to start the UID project, the biggest citizen database project. That is the amount that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said would be given for the project while giving his Budget speech in Parliament on July 6.

According to industry estimates, the project is estimated to be worth worth at least Rs 10,000 crore (Rs 100 billion).

What ID card boss Nilekani plans to do

Image: S Ramadorai (right), CEO, Tata Consultancy Services speaks to N Chandrasekaran, CEO-designate.
Photographs: S Ramadorai (right), CEO, Tata Consultancy Services speaks to N Chandrasekaran, CEO-designate.

IT majors eye ID project

Analysts said the identity card project could cost anywhere between $2 billion (Rs 9,722 crore) and $10 billion (Rs 48, 610 crore).

IT majors are eyeing this big project. Infosys Technologies, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro, HCL Technologies, Spanco, Bartronics, Gemini Traze and NXP Semiconductors.

Are in the race to bid for the ambitious unique identification card project.

"We do bid for e-governance projects and continue to bid. We will bid for this project too," Infosys chief executive and managing director S Gopalakrishnan said.

What ID card boss Nilekani plans to do

Image: Ram Sewak Sharma, the CEO of UIDAI.

Dream team

Nilekani said Ram Sewak Sharma, a 1978 batch Jharkhand cadre IAS officer, will take over as Secretary and CEO of the organisation.

Nilekani had handpicked Ram Sevak Sharma. Sharma, who is from the Jharkhand Cadre of the 1978 batch, has the rank of an Additional Secretary.

Apart from Sharma, Nilekani hopes to rope in some top IT talent to create his dream team. A recent media report stated that Nilekani may hire about 40 top IT professionals from the private sector to help implement this ambitious project.

While Nilekani would be able to find impressive IT talent, the limitations of the government's payscales might be a major hurdle.