Absurd trade-off

Absurd trade-off

The reported compromise over the Aadhaar scheme between the Union home ministry and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) may have ended the turf war between an agency  which has major support within the government and an arm of the government, but may not answer all the questions raised by the scheme and the controversy over it.

The compromise involves only a territorial division of jurisdiction but the home ministry’s reservations about the scheme were more basic. The finance ministry also had objected to some aspects of the UIDAI scheme. A parliamentary committee had rejected the enabling legislation for the UIADAI on legal and ethical grounds and questioned the feasibility and purpose of the project. It had commented that the scheme was built on ‘’untested, unreliable technology and several assumptions’’.

According to the compromise, the UIDAI will enroll 40 crore people in 16 states under the Aadhaar scheme. The home ministry’s National Population Register will collect its own data through the Registrar-General of India in the remaining states. So, why there should be two identification projects in the country? The home ministry seems to be still unsure of the security and credibility of the data collected by the UIDAI.

Home minister P Chidambaram had written to the prime minister about the ministry’s concerns in this respect. That the ministry continues to be skeptical is clear from the fact that the UIDAI has to convince it within two months that the Aadhaar data collection meets the NPR’s standards and requirements. UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani has also said that the strategy of the project will be reviewed and its processes may be changed. The home ministry’s doubts about the UIADAI data are also clear from Chidambaram’s statement that the NPR data will prevail in case of discrepancies between the two.

Then why should there be two schemes running parallel to each other? If UIDAI is a voluntary scheme and NPR mandatory, as stated, would not those who opt out of the former in some states have to go in for the mandatory identification project?  Will the NPR find out those who are left out of UIDAI and go to them in states where it does not undertake identification work? A UID number is good if the data is secure, its collection is efficient and the privacy of the individual is respected.   It is too early to claim that the compromise has resolved all these issues.