Nilekani out at UIDAI

Aadhaar loses its unique identity, Nandan Nilekani to quit (Financial Express)

ique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairman Nandan Nilekani on Friday said he would resign from his job by March end to join mainstream politics and contest the Lok Sabha election on a Congress ticket, causing many to wonder if his absence at the helm would derail the Aadhaar project, vital for slashing India’s subsidy expenditure and increasing the efficacy of welfare programmes.

Also from the Financial Express…

Editorial: End of Aadhaar?

See also this post from September 2011 for some background on Nandan Nilekani and the UID project: India: Is UID Under Siege?. At the time, we said…

Nandan Nilekani is the animating spirit of the UID project. He knows technology through education and experience among the founding generation of Unisys. He knows management, evidenced by his rise to become CEO of that firm. He knows India (inasmuch as India is “knowable”), having attended Indian schools at every level of his education and having lived in several places there. And he knows government through his service on various committees and advisory groups. He is, perhaps, the only person capable of pulling this off.

Hopefully, as he has indicated elsewhere, the UID project no longer requires Nandan Nilekani to sustain it.

UPDATE: Event Video Added — Round-up of news on Nilekani’s Washington DC appearance

UPDATED & BUMPED:

The Center for Global Development has posted a video of the event 

Original post follows:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


India’s Biometric IDs Put Its Poorest on the Map (Bloomberg)

That’s because it was an audience of development specialists, and the benefits of universal ID in poor countries are potentially huge. In advanced economies, proposals to gather biometric data and associate them with universal ID numbers immediately raise civil-liberties concerns. Not long ago the U.K. abandoned plans for a national ID card, partly on grounds of cost and partly because the idea was unpopular. This contrast in attitudes is worth pondering.

In recent years many developing countries have embarked on biometric ID programs. The Center for Global Development’s Alan Gelb and Julia Clark have surveyed 160 such projects and written an indispensable guide: “Identification for Development: The Biometrics Revolution.” As they and Nilekani point out, India’s project is unusual for its scale and scope, and because its aim was to create a system of identification independent of the uses to which it might be put — a platform that can support many uses, rather than one specific application (such as checking eligibility for poverty relief).

Could a program tracking identities of 1.3 billion Indians be the secret to ending poverty? (Washington Post)

This is not, Nilekani insists, a scary example of government intrusion. Rather, he and others described the effort in near revolutionary terms during a lecture Monday at the Center for Global Development in Washington.

Suddenly, said Nilekani, tens of millions of people born without a birth certificate or any formal registration “exist” in the eyes of the government – and can demand services and benefits, get a mobile phone or open a bank account. Putting all the data on the cloud, he said, breaks the monopoly of civil servants over the distribution of such things as food and fuel subsidies.

Once you’re in the database, your identity can be verified at any government office, distributed from a bank, or transferred automatically to a bank account. It’s efficient. It cuts down on opportunities for corruption, such as bribes or what economists call “rent-seeking,” the skim off the top an official might demand for delivering a service.

600 million Aadhaar cards by 2014, says Nilekani (The Statesman)

“Today we have enrolled 380 million of the 1.2 billion people. Our daily processing is about a million people a day. Our goal is to reach 400 million this year and 600 million by 2014,” he said, adding there are between 25,000 to 30,000 enrolment centres in the country.

Noting that this unique identification number is now becoming “an internal passport and gateway” to various services for Indians, Mr Nilekani said by working with various regulators they have ensured that this ID is sufficient to get their services. It enables one to get services quickly and in a hassle free manner, he said.

Indian State of Uttar Pradesh Isn’t Waiting for UID

Uttar Pradesh to give foodgrain via biometric cards (Thaindian News)

Uttar Pradesh will computerise the public distribution system and issue biometric smart cards to its residents, an official said Thursday.

Chief Secretary Javed Usmani said foodgrain would be provided to people only through smart cards to flush out fake ration cards from the system.

In the first phase, 18 districts would be covered as pilot project.

Uttar Pradesh Isn’t Waiting for UID. Judging by the scant information in this article, they’re forging ahead anyway.

We mentioned here how Nandan Nilekani was creating competition for India Post in order to gain access to better services for delivering UID numbers to individuals.

Could the shoe now be on the other foot?

Is UID going to have to improve its performance in competition with states who appear willing to set up their own systems?

ID Rivalry Reignites in India

In the Dec. 6, 2011 post, India: How Much Fraud is Acceptable in NPR, UID, we touched on the philosophical differences between NPR and UID and the men behind the two efforts.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s biggest point has always been that his organization’s database, the National Population Register (NPR), is for Indian citizens only with a view toward issuing a citizenship card. His concern is that loose enrollment standards will lead to issuing the citizenship card to non-citizens and doing that exposes India to intolerable security risks.

The UIDAI, led by Nandan Nilekani is more concerned with providing everyone in India with a legitimate identity. The implicit assumption is that in a situation where a significant portion of the population will be unable to prove with scientific precision who they are (because they don’t have ID), you’re better off getting everyone an ID and then trying to sort things out later.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set the conditions for both efforts to proceed in parallel, sharing tasks and infrastructure (in areas such as de-duplication) when possible, and otherwise staying out of each other’s way.

Though he never really seemed to accept the legitimacy of the pro-UID point of view Chidambaram took his medicine on January 24, 2012, in essence proclaiming “Rivalry! What rivalry?” See: UID: Home Ministry Climb-down.

Three days later the truce was sealed. UID would enroll 600 million people in 16 of India’s 28 states, and the NPR would issue 600 million credentials elsewhere. See Compromise reached on Biometric ID in India (January 27) which predicted that the rivalry would soon heat up again.

…which brings us to today:
Chidambaram, Nilekani spar over collection of biometric data (Times of India)

Sources said the cabinet again discussed the issue on Thursday after Chidambaram recently wrote to the Prime Minister complaining that the NPR project had “come to a standstill” because of the UID scheme.

“The collection of photographs and biometrics has been facing hurdles at every step on account approach of the UIDAI, which, it seems, has failed to appreciate the core purpose of the National Population Register,” Chidambaram said in his letter.

He also slammed the UIDAI for allegedly not following the cabinet’s orders.

“Despite clear orders from the cabinet, the UIDAI is objecting to the conduct of NPR camps in certain states and is also refusing to accept the biometric data of NPR for de-duplication and generation of Aadhaar number,” he said.

Versions of this article are all over the news today. I chose this one from the Times of India for the quality of the discussion in the comment section.

Of course, all this is highly political. But as we say around here all the time: Biometrics is about people. That applies across the board. It applies to the relationship between the individual and the ID management system, and it applies to the political and managerial people who implement and operate ID management systems.

Politics will always play a part in national biometric deployments and they should. What’s interesting in this case is that the political battle isn’t between pro- and anti-biometrics forces. It’s between two giant biometric deployments and, yes, the people who run them.

Translate »