The Unique Identity number — putting all eggs in one basket?

July 8, 2009

There was a television ad some time back where a village leader played by Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan cutely decrees that feuding villagers would be known by their mobile numbers rather than names denoting caste or community.

It’s an idea that no longer seems far-fetched.

This week, the finance minister allocated 1200 million rupees to  the Unique Identification Authority of India, headed by former Infosys chief Nandan Nilekani.

The project provides a unique identity number, something like the U.S. social security number, to India’s billion-plus citizens.

It involves setting up a database with the identification details of citizens.

“It also uses an advanced technology like biometrics on a scale which has not been used anywhere in the world,” said Nilekani.

The biometric details will make identification foolproof.

Multi-purpose National Identity Cards have already been issued to a million citizens under a test scheme in some districts.

These will be combined with the unique identification number scheme.

Once implemented, the project is expected to help the government identify beneficiaries of various welfare schemes and help security agencies.

It will also link the database to the election commission and the income tax department.

“The Unique ID number, the number, not the card, is going to be the unifying attribute of all these cards. In other words, you may have four to five cards from different sources but all of them will have the same unique ID of yours that will act as a unifier,” Nilekani said.

However, there are misgivings about the project.

Tavleen Singh, writing for the Indian Express says the project may just add “to the massive infrastructure of our bureaucracy.”

“The BPL (below poverty line) folks that I know in Mumbai and Delhi do not have birth certificates, identity cards or any proof of nationality. Even if they did, they have no means of knowing how to access the benefits that accrue to them. Will a national identity card make their lives less difficult?”

“And, besides how will the card work in villages that do not have adequate supplies of electricity leave alone computers?” she asks.

Columnist Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar writes — “If the implementers have no interest in service delivery, can a smart card outsmart them?”

It’s an appealing idea to be able to put down a number instead of filling details in a form on one’s father, mother, locality and surname and be immediately slotted.

But having practically lived as a stateless citizen in my own country for a while (no voter id, no ration card, no permanent address, a bank account but on the office address) I am all for letting the state know that I exist, occasionally outside my office in my unofficial capacity as well.

But will everyone trust the government or the bureaucracy with all their details available at the click of a button?

Misuse of voters list to target communities during riots has been alleged. Data can leak.

Who for instance will or can have access to someone’s fingerprints on a biometric database?

In a situation where the government in general has less information about people than more, this question seems a forced one.

But with the first set of numbers to be issued by late 2010, this issue would need to be resolved.

Is Nilekani by uniting “databases in disconnected silos“, going to be our Harold Bluetooth, the eponymous Viking warrior after whose unifying efforts the  wireless technology is named, or a Big Brother?


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

No system can be foolproof but still we still we have to give it a chance, My only worry is that, like other gov. schemes Every will know obout the start &no body Knows about
completion of project.

Posted by Pavan sengar | Report as abusive

As with all initiatives from the government, this one is also bound to attract criticism and some real one at that.

Its correct to question the use of such CARD for the people who do not have access to electricty and basic education leave alone computers and internet enabled bank accounts to use such cards.
But the usability of such a NUMBER to the government and administration is unquestionable.
Why dont we think about the numerous militants and illegal migrants who are staying in the heart of the country and not only in the border areas? It shall still be difficult for them to arrange a fake id then for those illeterate BPL people, for whom the government can easily arrange f a properly organised initiative is taken from the local administration in collaboration with the central one.
From a statistical point of view, it is easier for the government to access a single database for the country rather than multiple and possibly fraudulent ones.

But on the counterpart, should we not first focus on providing the basic amenities including infrastructure and education rather than pumping money into activites whose outcome is not very sure to benefit the country and the people right where they need it.

Posted by Mayank Gupta | Report as abusive

I would be really worried if this project succeeds. I belong to a more non-violent community and might be targetted by the more violent ones. We have still not forgotten how and what the Nazis did to the Jews.

Posted by sunil kinnar | Report as abusive

state less citizen ?? dont you have a pan card bank account holder?. Why is it fashionable to bash india ? i am restraining the use of explitives to try and get my message across to the author.

Posted by Mel | Report as abusive

This project, if implemented in its entirety will revolutionise governance in this country. But that won’t happen in isolation. This project needs to be viewed in conjunction with development of infrastrcture like availability of power, telecommunication facilities and a bureaucracy equipped to handle this project.
As far as deliverables are concerned, a smart card will not provide roti, kapda aur makan to the aam admi….However, if we have viable schemes in place to ensure delivery of such goods and services this card can facilitate these schemes.
Needless to say that security implications of this card will be immense. Primarily, the pilot projects were also conceived keeping those objectives in consideration.
So, efficacy of this project will depend on other larger social and economic issues. So trying to implement this project may seem like jumping the gun….which may be a valid observation.
Our service sector, especially IT sector, have been instrumental in putting our economy in high growth trajectory. However, we not used the full potential of IT in governance. Computerized railway ticketing can only be a distant second. This project is worth implementing given its huge potential to address multiple problems that we face today.

Posted by advay | Report as abusive

The pan card doesn’t carry the address (how i wish it did!), and the house-lease is not accepted by most establishments as address proof. The bank account, as I mentioned in the blog, is on the office address. So is the loan I took when buying the computer I am using right now to respond to your comments.

Why is it fashionable to bash India? If at all? For reflections on that watch this space.

Posted by vipul tripathi | Report as abusive

Dear Vipul,

The questions raised in your article are valid ones, but it is a kind of Positive Experiment, in all sense of its meaning, so be welcomed. What Tavleen or Swaminathan said have some logic, but we did not forget that how the other cards like BPL, Ration Cards have being forged.

Atleast, we should acknowledge this UI Number as a step which will provide cure for many ills being faced by Bharatwasi, must not the Indians.

Do write more, but delve into the root of the issue.

Very Truly Yours

Balendu Priyadarshan

Posted by Balendu Priyadarshan | Report as abusive

No this type of identity cannot work.First the country has to go for plastic money and then go for some firm decision on authority which can safeguard the personnel details being viewed by in the finance sector verisign,clickbank etc then all will work to foolproof evrything.

Posted by T.V.Ramkumar | Report as abusive

Step in the right direction.
The naysayers are cynics (if not stupid) and will not change their negative attitude. Once the system is implemented the loopholes will surface but steps will be put in place to plug them.

True- no system is perfect. Just because there was a burglary in the neighborhood you don’t keep your home empty. You take all the necessary precautions instead. An advanced nation like USA on a daily basis warns its citizens on identity theft. But US without its social security number is unimaginable. Among others Banking system, welfare system, real estate and of course the citizenship/ security benefit most. Identity Fraud in general can be cut down significantly. There will be a prolonged transitional period to accomplish maturity in a billion plus strong India.

Posted by Azad | Report as abusive

The unique identity card project launched is a unique one in the sense that it has a vast applications in the daily lives of the citizens of the nation such as managing food supply, payment of state taxes, and banking needs and in health care projects.The top executive appointed will have a clear vision and he needs to appoint/take on deputation men of proven integrity and efficiency and get the work done on schedule.Besides implementing the project it should be updated on a regular basis .Our rural folks and farmers are noway inferior and they will make the system work efficiently as they have proved in taking the voter ID cards fully unlike the urban brotheren who showed scant regards and later on making a big issue not getting the ID cards.Since a couple of years back Banking staff in some of the north indian States boycotted the work and played cards at the time of introdution of computerisation in banking and at last they have to accept the reality and and work with the technology.THIS PROJECT WILL BE A DEFINITE SUCCESS IN THE YEARS TO COME AND OUR MEN ARE NOWAY INFERIOR TO OTHERS.This is my view since i have closely worked in the voterID project of the Election commission in many States and it will be a success

Posted by B.Vijayaraghavan | Report as abusive

The unique identity project card which is initiated by the GOI is an important step in the direction to provide a uniform identtiy card to each and every citizen of the county.Acttually it is very shameful for us that even after six decades of independence we could not provide an uniform identity card to all the citizens.

Posted by Sushil Prasad | Report as abusive

The unique ID card project if at all to be a sucessful one in all states a humble sugession to the implementing Authourity.The data base of all the villages, Firkas in revenue limits,taluks and districts and all the states to be synchornised first and a clear time table to be workedout .Then a detailed notification to be published in all local regional languages requesting the citizens to file the details of persons who were found ommitted in the basic rolls and also the persons who have migrated within the state and outside the states.The Authority has to engage a professional entity and do the verification process and load the data and merge the same with the mother rolls.Since the authourity is likely to use the data base of the Election Commision of india first which has almost covered more tahn 99% of our population of voting age it shouldnot pose any problem in data colletion and storage.Our earlier experience with the officials of the local and state govts were very bitter and they were found wanting in many parameters and they werenot focussed in their work besides being corrupt in their approach to discharge their duties on time and at every stage .If the authourity desires the project to be successful the plan of action may be followed like this. First recruit young men and women with basic computer knowledge ,give them a weeks training in preparation of cards and keep them ready for field work.After suceesfull completion of data merger and preparation in village,taluk and districtwise a Pilot Team to be sent to all taluks and prepare a Timetable for visits and make the local authorities to give good publicity .At the end of the days work get a completion certificate from the system which the system itself can generate and the data base to be preserved in the Temperory servers.When once an Assembly Constutiecy is completed the team can move the next Area.Let the authourity keep the final completion of work and bill payments centraliesd with the state commisioners office in the respective State Capitals so the the impementing Agencies donot suffer from any delay in the payment systems and the project will be of immense success.Since the project work is of long duration there is no hurry and the implementing Agencies can complete the work efficiently and without any grave ommisions.

Posted by B.Vijayaraghavan | Report as abusive

Here is another article that discusses how national identification schemes may be designed and the pitfalls avoided. all/#p2

Posted by Vipul Tripathi | Report as abusive

As we gather information from the news Media that the uid Authourity will source data base from the pool of oil marketing companies which is in the right direction they can also source the basic data such as bpl families from the food Ministry in coordination from all the state govts and also from the federal Ministry of Health and family Affairs and from the Chief Commisioner of Census and care should be excesised to ensure that duplication is avoided in the rolls.First and foremost the data base should be made free from errors and ommisions even it were to take a little more time.In my opinion the data base of the Chief Election Commisioner,Election commission of India will be the best source of citizens of 18 years of age and for the citizens between 12 to 18 years group the other sources can be relied upon.Before commencing the project a fulltime publicity about the importance and utilities of the uid cards should be made through print and electronic media in all regional languages and in English press and media and through Ministry of Human Resourse in school and collages.What is required is a TEAM OF MEN WITH DEDICATION AND INTEGRITY AND A CLEAR GOAL TO ACHIEVE THE END RESULT.

Posted by B.Vijayaraghavan | Report as abusive

A few suggestions to the chief Authourity of uid project.The State Level Commissoiners to be appointed by the Authourity should have the powers of the District Collectors who are taken on deputation and they will have good liasion with the State Level chief election commisioners on behalf of Election commision and also with the ministries of food and civil supplies,health ,education etc.Down the line the State commisioners office will take on deputation the district level officials in the district HQ and also at Taluk Level.The Taluk level official will be the pivotal person with whom the the likely Vendor Agencies will have effective cooperation and execute the field work same like that of issue of epic cards and Photo electoral rolls.Since the system engaged by the Election Commission is a time tested one there willnot be any ommisions.As and when the work is completed by the Agencies in the field Assembly constituencies they can transmit the completed work to the State Commisioners office duly verified by the District in charge and billing can be submiited to the State Commisioners office.This is a time tested method which was done in the State of Karnataka at the time of issue of Photo Id cards for the Citizens on behalf of Election Commision of india.This Method if followed will avoid any major ommisions and the work will be smoothly completed.The implementing Agencies will furnish all backup data each to the District Authourities and to the State Commisioners Office who in turn consolidate and transmit to theNodal Agency at NewDelhi.

Posted by B.Vijayaraghavan | Report as abusive

The UID Authourity should short list firms of proven work experience in the field for issue of citizens ID cards and have a clear cut goals and time table to work in the field. In most of the States which have completed the work on issue of Voters ID cards the District Authourities have a good data base as to planning and execution of work and the same can be made use of.

Posted by B.Vijayaraghavan | Report as abusive

In one of the news item i happen to see an item that the Govt Owned Public Sector entity BEL is likely to implement the scheme since it involves the basic data of all the citizens and to keep the confidentiality of the same.Though its a good idea no doubt.But it is impossible to complete the job by one Agency alone throughout the country. Instead the apex body can engage the time tested agencies with strict secrecy clauses in execution with any dilution attacting heavy penalties.The apex body of the id project should call for a brainstorming session of the leading stakeholders and finalise the field level programme which will avoid the pitfalls in the field execution.

Posted by B.Vijayaraghavan | Report as abusive

The Unique I D Project to be implemented in all the states should do a StateWise sensitisation Programme initially by The Directorate of Audio Visual and publicity and through the the publicity Departments of the State Governments and get a detailed feed back from the states like the line of approach adopted by the Ministry of Environment etc when they implement any Mega Projects.The pitfalls anticipated should be addressed with a thorough professional approach and then the project to be taken in rightearnest.Wherever required full secutity protection to be given by a Central Agency in the sensitive areas for smooth execution.This will instill a lot of confidence amoung the General Public to approach the Agecies when they visit the villages/towns/cities/metros at the time of issue of ID cards

Posted by b.VIJAYARAGHAVAN | Report as abusive

The Chief of Unique ID Authourity along with his newly appointed two officials should chalkout a programme first to address the national press media and spellout the broader framework of the assaignments on hand and make the citizen understand the inmportance of the ID card and its utilities and call for valid suggestions.This will have a positive impact on the work to be carried out and the work will have a smooth passage without any field level problems.

Posted by B.Vijayaraghavan | Report as abusive

We are blindly following the West, we have a billion population living in poverty, uneducated, lacks basic amenities. First the government should eradicate the social injustice, corruption , red tap ism and all . They can allocate the money for basic infrastructure and other facilities. How many people are benefiting from this .We still have a lot of unique ids including Pan card, Voters id , ration card(even though useless for APL)
The bureaucracy doesn’t know or pretend to be ignorant.

Posted by Abhilash SR | Report as abusive

Its great to know that Government is taking an effort to track Every Citizen ,
but let me tell you the FUTURE please listen …..

One of the papers in US i think , came up with 5 points stating why this Unique ID card would be failure
but we are one step back of the new technology called
BIO CHIP which is successfuly going on and replacing social security system
its a small chip placed inside a human FOREHEAD or HAND
and any scanners can identyify

( THIS IS A BIBLE PROPHESY 2000 years ago ) that all human beings would be counted and given the Mark of the BEAST
to know further go to youtube and type 666 or biochip
i encourage you all to take social security number

Posted by joseph | Report as abusive

I think this is the great step ever dd by Idian govt. In future this will change india 100% in good manner.I know that a lot f people will blame this like b4 they talk agaist computers. This is the best method for our security. I belive in future everywhere we have to swipe this card to access. And we can folow all our actions that means like a autobioghraphy. At presently even we enter a short of information about us on this card, but in future we can enter massive information. we can use this as our passport bor bank, pan identity card, driving license etc and every thing.So it will simplyfy our life we can enter our helth information and what medcine we are having, in internet we can ask our doctors for our diseases and they easily find medcine by tracking our UID. Apart from all National security will be on top.

Posted by Martin | Report as abusive

yes ..

Posted by Vlad270 | Report as abusive