Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Is India willing to think that technology-led solutions can enhance governance & transparency in the country? Ought to nice be given away for the sake of perfection?

To reach masses, reduce the digital divide & have inclusive growth, development initiatives like UID are a game changer. The current debate around UID project-relevance, know-how, security & privacy, duplication of work, costs-indicate that the owner makers are having second thoughts. After years & 100 million registrations, they ought to not be doubting fundamentals of the project, but focus on addressing issues & finding solutions. Open ended review processes delay successful execution of any dream project. 

The UID project in all its details went through interministerial scrutiny & was cleared by the Cabinet. It was supported by states, irrespective of political affiliations. If the concerns are on project costs, then the one-time cost of implementation of this project would be a fraction of the funds lost through leakages in our social schemes, apart from the multifold improvement in efficacy. It will be leveraged by the Centre, state & local governments as well as the private sector. They must not forget the mandate of UID is of a developmental project & ought to not be burdened with issues of security, terrorism, illegal immigration etc.

UID is the only project in the world that leverages multimodal biometrics combining fingerprint & iris with the accuracy levels of 99.9%. Is there a better way of providing identity of the last man & woman in an Indian village who cannot even spell their names? For its high degree of accuracy, among others, biometrics are also being used by the US Immigration authorities for authentication. 

There can be privacy & security concerns associated in dealing with citizen's information that may get interlinked. UIDAI stores biometrics, it is only for authentication & personal information cannot be accessed. Banks, PDS, immigration & income tax can embed the Aadhar but each will manage & control its own information. The probability of all agencies colluding to profile citizen is  negligible. Moreover, a privacy bill is being drafted to make positive legal enforcement. 

Concerns on duplication of efforts, inter-ministerial collaboration, the role of state governments & the Centre, use of multiple private agencies, delays etc may be valid concerns, but are operational in nature & can be resolved. They must think this is the right initiative for India & risks of not doing higher. A project of this magnitude will have naysayers, fence-sitters, vested interest & those uncomfortable with alter. There's even larger number who understand the chance that this provides. Do most revolutions get caught in a political crossfire? Can they step aside & make way for national interest? They cannot make it another progressive project lost in the din? Let us put our convictions together to resolve the issue & put UID back on rapid track.