PM, Sonia to lend political weight to Aadhaar launch

PM, Sonia to lend political weight to Aadhaar launch

New Delhi: In a significant political endorsement of the government’s ambitious plan to provide a unique identity to every resident of India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as Congress president Sonia Gandhi will be present at its formal launch this month.

Aadhaar, is to be rolled out in Mumbai and Nandurbar in Maharashtra on 29 September.

The presence of Gandhi, who is chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance and the National Advisory Council (NAC), is meaningful because Aadhaar has, of late, been subjected to criticism on several grounds, especially over concerns that it would compromise individual privacy.

Her son and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who recently styled himself as a sipahi (soldier) serving the interests of poor tribespeople in New Delhi, is also likely to be present in Nandurbar. However, Mint could not independently verify this.

Aadhaar aims to give every resident a 12-digit unique identity number which the authorities say will enable more efficient access to national schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and the public distribution system and a range of other services including banking for the poor.

Two persons familiar with the development and who didn’t want to be named, said Singh and Gandhi will allot the numbers to residents of Mumbai and Nandurbar.

The programme is being overseen by the Unique Identity Development Authority of India (UIDAI), which was set up in June 2009, under Infosys Technologies Ltd co-founder Nandan Nilekani.

“We chose to launch in Mumbai and Nandurbar on the same day to establish Aadhaar’s focus on both the urban and the rural population," said a senior official at UIDAI who did not want to be identified.

Nandurbar is predominantly a tribal pocket, with a literacy rate of around 56%.

“Once the Aadhaar numbers are allocated to tribals in the district, it will help solve various issues which arise due to lack of a proper identification card for them," said the UID official.

The launch in the district is expected to be in partnership with the Janani Suraksha Yojana under the National Rural Health Mission.

“Aadhaar’s launch in the village is very important, as it will ensure that people living in the most backward areas get a number as it will benefit them the most," said Sunil Chandiramani, partner and national leader, government services, at the audit and consulting firm Ernst and Young, an adviser to the project.

In Mumbai, the launch is set to be targeted at the migrant population in slum clusters. Poor migrants in any part of the country are handicapped for lack of any identification when it comes to availing themselves of any government services or benefits of the government’s national schemes, said Chandiramani.

UIDAI aims to issue the numbers to 100 million people in the country this fiscal and cover around 600 million Indians by 2014.