The government has approved the collection of an individual’s biometric attributes, including iris scans, as part of the unique identity (UID) programme, also known as Aadhaar.
On track: Nandan Nilekani. Rajkumar / Mint
It will be the first time that such scans will be collected on a national basis and used for the government’s ambitious plan to provide an ID to residents of India. Apart from a photograph, the ID will also contain the person’s fingerprints.
The cabinet committee on Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has given an “in-principle” approval to the template that will be used to collect biometric and demographic information, Nandan Nilekani, chairman, UIDAI, told a press conference after the cabinet meeting.
According to Nilekani, the approval was in-principle as there were “a lot of implementation issues”.
UIDAI plans to place draft legislation in public domain in a few days giving details of the legal framework for its operations.
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The cabinet committee also approved iris scans for children from five to 15 years of age, which will be part of the ongoing census.
UIDAI, which is attached to the Planning Commission, plans to use existing databases such as the National Population Register (NPR) to provide residents with a 12-digit unique identity number.
According to a strategy report on UIDAI’s website, “biometric attributes of the residents are going to be used as the basic signature for deduplication and ensure uniqueness”.
The UID number is a 12-digit lifetime number, but biometric information contained in the database would have to be regularly updated. Children may have to update their biometric information every five years, and adults every 10 years, the strategy report said.
The unique identification would be used by both Central and state governments to enhance the effectiveness of social welfare schemes by ensuring the benefits reach the target population. According to Nilekani, UIDAI has signed a memorandum of understanding with nine states and Union territories to extend the project there.
Harsh Mander, a former bureaucrat who is now the Supreme Court commissioner on food security, is sceptical about the impact UID would have on the government’s social welfare programmes. According to Mander, the aim of bringing the poor into a database through a unique number was at odds with the behaviour of the people the project sought to help.
“They (the vulnerable sections) survive by staying out of the state,” Mander said. The most vulnerable fear that getting into the state’s records would endanger them in future, he added.
The first set of UID numbers will be issued between August 2010 and February 2011, a government press release said. Later, 600 million UID numbers will be issued in the next five years, the release said.
UIDAI will carry out its mandate through intermediaries known as registrars. Registrars would be entities such as NPR’s Registrar General of India and other government entities which have an existing database. In addition, private registrars will also collect demographic and biometric data. The cabinet’s approval of the template on Tuesday will allow all the registrars to gather data in a standardized manner.
The ongoing data collection for national census is already collecting demographic data for the UID project. This includes basic information, including names and addresses of residents.
According to Nilekani, the UID project will eventually function as a back end where an individual’s identity can be verified by any agency which needs to do that. According to the strategy paper on the website, UIDAI’s revenue model would be based on collecting a fee from agencies that want to verify the identity of an individual.
UIDAI was constituted by the government in January 2009 and the cabinet committee to deal with it was set up in October.