Mapping the identities of a billion-plus persons in a single nation is a big task by any definition. On that count alone, the challenges the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) faces are unique. If and when UIDAI manages to fulfil its mandate, it will be a marvel to technology and ingenuity.
First and foremost are the technological challenges. The sheer scale of the project is huge. Consider some basic facts. Storing 10 fingerprints requires around 5 megabytes (Mb) of space. Storing that information for a billion-plus persons will require 5 billion Mb of memory space. While that may no longer be an unimaginable number, given our IT prowess, maintaining and running such a database has its own challenges. Then, there is the question of using the system. It has been estimated that at its peak, the UIDAI system will require comparing one million identity verification requests against a database of, say, 600 million identities. That will require a brute and gargantuan computing capability.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Those, however, are the easier problems, as they do not involve interfacing with institutional users. The first problem is that UIDAI is a demand-driven project. If some government agency, say, a state government implementing the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), does not want to use the system (for political reasons to give an example), there is little UIDAI can do. Given the scale of the Centre’s programmes and schemes (NREGS is only one example), it makes sense to use an identity verification system. This can go a long way in ensuring that benefits do not go to those for whom they are not meant. Leakages based on identity are a common feature of all such schemes.
That is where the resistance to the project is bound to occur. At the level of Union government and its agencies, cooperation has been assured to UIDAI. It is possible that this will not be forthcoming at the state and local levels. That is because at the lower levels of government, politics is geared on leaking benefits to those for whom they are not meant. The routine leakage of rations meant for below poverty line families is well known. UIDAI is sure to run foul of this politics.
There is, however, a silver lining. If the project takes off quickly and the Union government provides it steady financial, administrative and political support, it may overcome such resistance as opposition to it is scattered and not politically organized. It is a situation not different from what economic reforms encountered before they ran into the Left.
Will UIDAI succeed? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org