New Delhi: Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, has come out clearly in favour of complete autonomy for the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which is spearheading the government’s ambitious Aadhaar project.
His comment was aimed at ending the controversy that broke out after a newspaper report on a note from the Planning Commission to the finance ministry appeared to indicate that the Planning Commission wanted more stringent controls on the dispenser of national identity numbers. UIDAI, which marked its first anniversary on Thursday, is currently attached to the Planning Commission.
“The issue of financial advisers is linked to the issue of autonomy,” Ahluwalia said. “I would like UIDAI to be financially self-contained with its own financial adviser entrusted with making expenditures within their approved budget while observing relevant government rules.”
His comments came in response to queries from Mint over the note that raised concerns about the UIDAI’s current structure and also called for an independent financial adviser to the project. Once UIDAI becomes a statutory body, having its own financial adviser would be easy, Ahluwalia said. But as long as it is an attached office of the Planning Commission, the financial responsibility rests with the financial adviser of the Planning Commission and the secretary.
“If files relating to expenditure by UIDAI have to go through the Planning Commission then they don’t have financial autonomy,” Ahluwalia said. “I have asked our people to check whether full delegation is possible.” He said news reports have mistakenly represented this as a complaint against the flexibility that UIDAI is seeking.
“This is wrong. My aim is to persuade finance ministry to allow the fullest delegation possible so that they will have autonomy and also the responsibility,” added Ahluwalia.
The Economic Times carried a report on the Planning Commission’s note to the finance ministry on 28 September. “UIDAI’s present system represents a major departure from government procedures and removes all inbuilt checks and balances,” the paper cited the note as saying. “We need a relook at the UIDAI’s administrative structure.”
The authority is accountable to Parliament and to various agencies such as the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Central Vigilance Commission as also the Right to Information Act and questions from law makers, said Nandan Nilekani, UIDAI chairman, reinforcing its status as a government department and one that follows all rules and regulations.
“All the powers that we exert are delegated to us by the appropriate authority,” he said. “Let me assure you that we follow the highest standards of governance, we have total transparency in our activities, we follow very robust procurement processes, the website has instant information on all the tenders that we issue and our website has a quarterly update on our finance.”
Earlier, explaining the motive behind the letter to the finance ministry, Sudha Pillai, member secretary, Planning Commission, said, “We have asked for an independent financial adviser in case of UIDAI. Financial advisers, in any such body set up by the government for particular purposes, have to be truly independent,” she told Mint.
In the letter, the commission had objected to the decision-making structure in the UIDAI that delegates the powers of a financial adviser to a deputy director-general who is also responsible for the authority’s programmes and projects.
“We are an attached office of the Planning Commission, and by a series of government orders authority has been delegated to us,” Nilekani said. “We are absolutely clear that we are working within the powers that have been delegated to us, if somebody feels that those powers should be different, then that’s a different issue all together.”
UIDAI, which issued the first Aadhaar number in Tembli village of Nandurbar district of Maharashtra last year, has so far issued IDs to 37 million people. There are almost 100 million people who have registered for the project and are yet to be issued the numbers.
Over the last few weeks, UID’s technology systems have gone through a major upgrade that will make the process of number generation faster, Nilekani said. Aadhaar aims to generate one million numbers every day from October this year.
Addressing another controversy over finances, Nilekani said that the authority has enough funding to build the back-end required for the project.
“There are no question of the finances,” he said. “We have made the necessary application for money, which is under government process.” This additional money will be required to pay the registrars for enrolling 200 million people that UID currently has permission for. As per the Budget speech of the finance minister, UIDAI has a mandate to enroll 200 million people after which the national population register is supposed to feed the enrolment data such as demographics and biometrics to UID.
However, as per reports, UIDAI had asked the finance ministry for an extra Rs 15,000 crore to enrol the entire population of the country, a demand that has been rejected. As to what happens after UID reaches the 200 million mark, Nilekani said that decision “is with the Cabinet”.
UIDAI has set a target of enrolling 600 million by 2014.