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Identification Authority may get more funds in budget

Vinay Kumar

To be housed in a plush building in New Delhi

NEW DELHI: The government’s ambitious project to set up the Unique Identification Authority of India, to be headed by Nandan Nilekani, is likely to get Rs. 200 crore more in the Union budget for 2009-10.

The authority, coming under the Planning Commission, will be accommodated in a plush building of a public sector undertaking at Connaught Place here, informed sources in the government said.

The interim budget had earmarked Rs. 100 crore as the initial corpus.

About 150 professionals are being hired, mostly from outside the government, to function as the core team and kick-start the massive project, which was in the offing for the past six years.

The sources, however, could not estimate the cost of giving a unique identity number to nearly 1.17 billion citizens.

The project will be implemented over the next three years, and estimates by industry sources have put the cost at Rs.10,000 crore.

The choice of Mr. Nilekani, who quit Infosys Technologies to head the authority, appears to be along the same lines as the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to handpick Sam Pitroda to head the technology mission that resulted in information technology and telecom revolution.

The new authority will have the flexibility to draw talent from the private sector and build on the core team’s strength. It will help to identify beneficiaries of schemes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Public Distribution System.

The government implemented a pilot project last year for issuing multi-purpose national identity card (MNIC) in districts of nearly a dozen States and a Union Territory, mostly in the border areas.

Nearly 12 lakh cards were issued in the select areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Assam, Puducherry and Delhi.

The project, initiated by the National Democratic Alliance government, was one of the pet projects of the then Home Minister, L. K. Advani, who reckoned that it could help to check illegal immigration in several parts of the country, which still poses a serious threat to the national security. However, the setting up of the UIDAI was speeded up after the Mumbai terror attacks.

The sources said the UIDAI would work on the pattern of the MNIC, focussing on giving identity cards, on a priority basis, to citizens living in the coastal and border States.

To begin with, the project is expected to embrace cover Gujarat, Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal, and the Union Territories of Dadara and Nagar Haveli, Lakshadweep, Puducherry and Andaman and Nicobar.

People in these States and Union Territories might get their cards by the middle of 2010.

According to the 11th report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, the project will enable citizens to avail themselves of subsidies on food, energy and education depending on their entitlements.

The unique identity card and number, similar to the social security number in the U.S., which was launched in 1936, will require a massive database.

The United Kingdom had spent a huge amount for creating the National Health Scheme, which still has inefficiencies.

In Europe, Austria, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Lithuania, Switzerland and the U.K. have forged a population register, and residents are obliged to register their basic information.

India happens to be one of the countries where different documents such as passport, voter ID card, driving licence and PAN card are used by the people to establish their identity. The aim is to ultimately have one national identity card that will incorporate the details of a citizen in the national database.

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