New Delhi: Union home minister P. Chidambaram fired a fresh salvo against the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on Thursday, belying expectations that differences between the two arms of the government had been settled in a January truce.

In his letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week, Chidambaram accused the Nandan Nilekani-led UIDAI of not following the 27 January cabinet decision where it was agreed that the purposes of UIDAI and the home ministry-led National Population Register (NPR) project were different. Under this truce, both projects were to continue simultaneously and each would use the biometric data collected by the other. Also, in case of discrepancies between UIDAI and NPR data, NPR would prevail.

At loggerheads: Chidambaram has accused UIDAI of not following the 27 January cabinet decision where it was agreed that the purposes of UIDAI and the National Population Registry project were different .(Sajjad Hussain/AFP)

“The decision of the cabinet is crystal clear and I am unable to comprehend the reluctance of UIDAI to allow the NPR camps and to accept the NPR data. I had taken these issues with Nandan Nilekani, chairman, UIDAI, dated 14.05.12. The home secretary (R.K. Singh) has also discussed the issue at length with the UIDAI director general and mission director. However, despite our best efforts, issues remain unresolved," he said.

Chidambaram further said that the NPR project was almost at a standstill due to the UIDAI refusal.

“I request you to kindly convene a meeting as soon as it is convenient to you so that two flagship projects of government are completed at the earliest," he said.

Nilekani, when contacted, did not comment on the issue.

The battle reflects the faults in the administrative structure, an expert said.

“This blame game is irrelevant. There is a larger problem of vertical loyalty and horizontal disloyalty. These are symptoms of classical failure of the administrative system," said Yamini Aiyar, senior research fellow and director of the Accountability Initiative, Centre for Policy Research.

The government, meanwhile, on Thursday directed UIDAI to accept the biometric data collected by the Registrar General of India (RGI) for providing a unique ID number to every citizen. The decision was taken by the Union cabinet, a government official told PTI.

The home ministry and the Planning Commission had earlier fought a bitter and public battle over the scope of the Aadhaar project because it overlapped, in some aspects, with NPR. A compromise was finally reached on 27 January that allowed the scope of the UIDAI project to be expanded to 600 million people and seemingly prevented duplication in the collection of biometric information.

The 12-digit Aadhaar number was conceived as a unique identity nationally acceptable by banks, telecom service providers, oil companies and other government agencies to serve as a tool to better target social spending by making sure that benefits such as subsidies reach the poor, for whom they are meant. NPR’s prime mandate, on the other hand, is to satisfy security concerns. NPR is an integral part of RGI, which in turn comes under the Union home ministry.

Even after the compromise, the mistrust persisted between UIDAI and NPR. On 3 February, registrar general of India C. Chandramouli discredited UIDAI in a letter to states and Union territories and said the NPR enrolment would continue to ensure full coverage by March 2013.

“The creation of NPR is a statutory requirement and therefore complete coverage under NPR is essential," Chandramouli said in the letter, which was reviewed by Mint. “UIDAI will limit itself to collecting biometric data in the state and Union territories (as mentioned in cabinet approval) and to a total of 60 crore (600 million). Even in these stages, the NPR exercise will be carried out because the UIDAI methodology does not provide for the coverage of the entire population,"

“It does not provide for a verification process in the presence of the government servant to provide a degree of assurance regarding the veracity of the data pertaining to the identity of the person, an essential prerequisite for NPR. The NPR exercise will therefore carry on in full steam so as to ensure cent percent coverage by March 2013," the letter added.

Another skirmish took place when UIDAI objected to the resident identity card scheme of NPR in the expenditure finance committee.

The resident identity card programme was launched in India’s nine coastal states after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. The home ministry is seeking to extend the scheme to the rest of the country and has sought 6,700 crore to fund the programme. The card uses a chip that carries data, photographs and fingerprints of the holder.

Nilekani and Planning Commission deputy chief Montek Singh Ahluwalia had earlier objected to the resident identity card scheme.

Meanwhile, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has written to the chief ministers of 16 states and Union territories, to speed up the roll-out of Aadhaar-enabled payments for various Union government schemes. He had said in his budget speech that the Aadhaar platform was now ready to support payments under various schemes directly to beneficiaries’ accounts in selected areas.

He had also said that pilots of these services would be rolled out in 50 districts in the next six months. In the letter, Mukherjee said the 50 districts have been identified and also asked the chief ministers to further expand the list of districts already chosen in their respective states and Union territories for running these pilots.

Pilots are proposed to be run for the public distribution system, cooking gas cylinder distribution, kerosene disbursal, government pension schemes, the Janani Suraksha Yojana, government scholarships, financial inclusion, kisan credit cards and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme wage disbursal.

Mukherjee said it was in “mutual interest" to roll out the pilots “given the huge potential of the Aadhaar initiative to streamline delivery and empowering the common citizen while at the same time curbing the expenditure".

Surabhi Agarwal contributed to this story.

sahil.m@livemint.com

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