New Delhi: The government on Monday renamed a project to provide unique identity cards (UIDs) to all citizens as Aadhaar and unveiled its new logo.
The programme will increase people’s access to education, food and microfinance as well as streamline payments under social welfare schemes, said officials of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which is executing the project.
The first set of IDs will be issued between August and February, they said at a conference attended by potential partners and investors in the project. In the next four years, some 600 million cards are scheduled to be issued.
UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani said the poor currently “cannot get a bank account, mobile or food rations—it all boils down to a lack of identity. It’s separated people, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’”.
“From the beginning, our focus wasn’t so much on national security—it was on services,” said R. Chandrasekhar, secretary, department of information technology at the ministry of communications and information technology. “It’s an ID gateway which services a slew of transactions across the government.”
Card applicants will have to provide fingerprints and iris scans, along with a range of documents that establish their identity, to receive a UID card.
Social welfare: UIDAI chairman and Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani says the unique IDs will make life easier for everyone. Raajkumar/Mint
Officials said iris scans will also be used for identification as fingerprints alone do not work for people under 15 years of age or those whose hands may be worn from manual labour.
The project is currently conducting small-scale “concept runs”, to be followed by pilot tests on a larger scale, said V.S. Bhaskar, who oversees its Hyderabad operations.
While each card will cost UIDAI Rs31, the authority will offer an extra Rs100 as incentive to applicants who are below the poverty line, Bhaskar said.
The project has been allocated a budget of Rs1,900 crore for the current fiscal. Nilekani said the budget for the following years will be decided later.
The project’s new logo is a red half-thumbprint surrounded by yellow sun rays and carrying the word “Aadhaar”.
“What we’re trying to signify here is that it’s giving people an identity but it’s also a new dawn,” Nilekani said. “At the end of the day, this is not about biometrics...it’s about how we can make a difference to the common man.”
School enrolments stand to rise as poor children could use the IDs to secure class spots, often for the first time. Less confusion over identity could facilitate easy and prompt payments under the rural jobs guarantee programme and ensure that food rations are doled out on time to the correct recipients, he said.
A new microfinance system backed by the ID system, operating largely through Internet and mobile phone banking technology, could be set up, said Nilekani, co-founder and former chief executive of Infosys Technologies Ltd, one of India’s largest software companies.
The ID will make life easier for everyone, “even for customers who are just getting a driver’s licence or opening (another) bank account”, said Nilekani. “It allows them to make transactions on their mobile.”
Mathew Titus, executive director of Sa-Dhan, an association of community development finance institutions, said the ID project had the potential to improve lives, but much will depend on the role of other agencies it will have to work with.
“The problem of exclusion is fundamental and very deep-rooted,” he said. “The devil is in the details, and funds dedicated to building channels that include the poor need to flow with the same speed with which the ideas are flowing. Both have to go together.”