Sunday, July 5, 2009

Multi-Purpose National Identity Card

The Union Government has formed an agency to steer the ambitious scheme of creating a multipurpose unique identification database of all citizens in the country. Former Infosys Deputy Chairman Nandan Nilekani has been appointed as head of the agency. With this, the Government has laid the foundation of a new era.

Idea of Multi-Purpose National Identity Card
The idea of every citizen in the country having a Multi-Purpose National Identity Card was mooted by Atal Behari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government in 2002, and was later taken up by the UPA. Thus, it would be fair to say that the project has the support of the bulk of Parliament. The Centre had already earmarked Rs 100 crore for it in the interim Budget for 2009-10 presented earlier in the year, and the Unique Identification Authority of India has already been set up. Recently, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said that the National Population Register will be ready by 2011 and Multi-Purpose National Identity Cards will be issued to all residents by 2011.

According to the plan, all citizens will have a biometric Multi-Purpose National Identity Card. Suggestions to this effect were being made for some time in view of increasing terrorist incidents. L.K. Advani, who was home minister in the National Democratic Alliance Government, often referred to such a smart card. It was also included in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) election manifesto in the 2009 general elections. Therefore, the Government and the main opposition party, the BJP, are in total agreement on the issue. An allocation of one billion rupees has been made in this year's budget to convey the union Government's determination to start the project immediately.

Outline of Project
Under this plan a database of India’s citizens will be maintained. A unique identification number will be assigned to each resident in the country that will be permanent. This project is long overdue as the necessity for it has been felt for many years. Hence, further delays are not warranted.
The outline of the project has yet to be worked out. It will be a Unique Identity Card. All details of concerned citizens will be available in the data stored. They can be easily availed through computers. It is believed that terrorists who infiltrate into the county will find it impossible to acquire such cards. They can, hence, be easily identified. At the same time, it will be useful to help track the Government's social welfare schemes.

The Unique Identity Number will be issued at first to registered voters by building on the electoral database and other persons will be progressively added. This identity card, perhaps, will make separate cards for proving identity unnecessary. For example, a citizen now requires a voter identity card, ration card, permanent account number card, passport, and below poverty line card. It is not yet known whether the Multi-Purpose National Identity Card will serve all purposes or whether others will also be required. If other documents are still required, citizens will have real trouble to keep all these cards safely.

The Implications
Undoubtedly the implications that the project has for the national security can easily be seen. In the absence of such a card it has been possible for foreign nationals such as Bangladeshis and Pakistanis to illegally migrate to our country. Some of these foreigners have been found involved in nefarious activities including terrorism. A national database with each citizen having a unique identification number will help overcome this problem of illegal immigration and will significantly help in combating terrorism. On the other hand, it will also ensure that some of the problems in the delivery of Government programmes to the intended beneficiaries are removed. The database will allow the number of people living below the poverty line to be easily identified, thus, ensuring the correct delivery of the benefits intended for them.

Election Commission’s Efforts
Despite the best efforts of the Election Commission, two-thirds of the country's populations are yet to receive their voter identity cards. A large number of the people do not have a photo-attested identity card. Hence, they cannot vote for lack of documents to proof their identity. In the last one-and-a-half decade, the Election Commission has spent billions of rupees. Yet, it has failed to provide identity cards to all citizens. How can it then be assumed that the new agency will be able to do the needful?

In view of the daily birth rate in India, it is difficult to imagine that every person will receive this unique identity card. Similarly, the death rate is high. Collecting all this information is a stupendous task. How the agency stands up to people's expectations will be seen in the days to come.

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