Thursday, March 3, 2011

73 - UID Round-Up: All The News on AADHAAR : For IT, Against It ? By Siddarth Raman

UID Round-Up: All The News on AADHAAR : For IT, Against It?

It’s been quite a while since we wrote about the latest developments on the UID front. The Unique Identification project might just be the biggest changer in the way we lead our lives.

Recently, the UIDAI (Unique ID Authority of India), lead by ex-IT Czar Nandan Nilekani, was renamed Aadhaar. It also has a new logo, the halo of the Sun bearing the imprint of a thumb. In the words of Mr. Nilekani : “We wanted a name that had a national appeal, could be recognised across the country and resonate in different languages, besides being easy to remember and speak. Aadhaar is a door to open all other doors.”
While initially there people assumed that there would be one major IT vendor, who’d take care of all the tech requirements (we’d also blogged about biggies like Microsoft, Google among several Indian companies showing interest), new reports confirm that the UIDAI has split the project into many small ones and distributed them to speed up work. No single IT contracat is likely to cross Rs. 30 crore.
A few notable contracts:
Ernst & Young bagged the consulting partner for 7.05 crore. MindTree outbid Accenture to secure a Rs. 19 crore contract for the development of the core software application. What is remarkable is that MindTree outbid Accenture by 71 crores. Business Standard interviewed the head of a global IT and consulting firm who commented that for most companies, bagging a single UID contract was a certificate that would ensure their future participation in other government contracts. This, by extension explains why companies would bid as low as conceivable, which in turn helps the nation.
The scale of this project is huge. Mr Nilekani has commented “Funds are not an issue” as the 13th Financial Commission plans to allot 3,000 crores over the next 5 years. The entire project is estimated to offer over Rs. 15,000 crores in terms of opportunity to the IT and hardware industry (for biometric implementation)
A recent interview with the Economic Times, Nandan Nilkenai spoke about how the UID will overcome the fundamental obstacle of a lack of identity, especially for the masses.
Though nowadays a lot of procedures like procuring a driver’s license or passport have simplified, there are still a lot of issues people face when it comes to original documents and/or police verifications. The 12-digit UID hopes to give access to better resources like education, health and financial services.
A few other noteworthy points from the interview :
600 million Aadhaar numbers will be issued over the next four and a half years.
Banks will credit Rs. 100 directly to those who are not financially included, thereby ensuring that everyone has a bank account number
NGOs will be involved for social outreach
The entire interview is here.
While earlier, there was speculation regarding whether identification would be done via finger printing or iris scans, the verdict is out. It’s both!
The cabinet recently allowed use of Biometrics. The reason for using Iris scans as well as Fingerprints is that children below 15 yrs don’t have fully developed prints (there is also an issue with labourers and others who might have got their prints erased due to extensive application of pressure).
The ongoing national census will collect demographic data for the project. Of course, any biometrics procured will have to be updated regularly.
Now, Government Kiosks, which are already being setup to offer digitized government services, will also be used to aid in data collection for the UID projet. Companies like NIIT and Educomp all ready vying contracts for training employees who’ll be responsible for collecting data.
The UID is a major overhaul to India’s current system. Like any major change, it brings with itself a ray of hope, and huge clouds of doubt.
I read this nice piece in the Economic Timesa on how the UID could benefit the town of Nalanda. But, while Mr. Nilekani talks of briding the rich-poor divide in India, there is quite a lot of opposition to the idea.
There is in fact, a website setup for Citizens against UID. Their major arguments against the project:
It’s techno-racketing which will profit the IT industry and the biometrics industry.
It costs crores when 400 million Indian citizens live below the poverty line
The appointment of the person in charge was not transparent.
It violates the privacy of the individual
The project and its goals might be heavily influenced by private players looking at profits.
Of course, like we’ve commented before, the misuse of this number has great consequences, especially a person’s entire identity depends on it. However, as far as I understand, the UID will only “aid” identification, it will not be the only identity of the citizen.
This site however, has already gained quite a few signatories.
Any opinions, readers?
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