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Dear Reetika, You are right - the Aadhaar project for now is nothing more than a gigantic database of personal data. The UIDAI has been unable to deploy added-value Aadhaar-based applications so far, and on a large scale. Those numerous “pilot” projects are local, sometimes rogue initiatives with an agenda: to allow the Congress to communicate at the global level. UIDAI had spent too much time on the first phase (the building of the database) and certainly not enough resources on the applications design. Not to mention the reluctance of key stakeholders (OK, I will say it: the banking sector) which did not help. I deeply regret all this, but with all due respect I believe you are missing the point here. The only way to discourage fraudsters (I am not using the term corruption here on purpose), is to: (1) Ensure all transactions are digital (remove cash transfers), logged, time-stamped and linked to identities stored in a secure database, (2) Ensure the uniqueness of the same identities. And this is precisely why biometric data has been used. Biometrics is not just the “spooky thing”. It is actually and by far the best means to ensure uniqueness of each and every identity stored. It is not flawless, but it can be as accurate as 99.999%. And so I would encourage you to read more about how the Aadhaar IT system implements this biometric de-duplication. As an IIT person (I am an engineer myself), you will I am sure come to the conclusion that the entire process chain – from the enrollment to the handling of exceptions during the centralized de-duplication - has been superbly designed by the UIDAI. I am sorry but all other aspects are secondary, and sometimes made up to distract. When the de-duplication is accurate, you do not need a fancy, expensive smartcard. In fact, you do not even need a card. Now on the other hand you would have noticed that RSBY, MNREGA, PDS do not rely on a biometric system for their de-duplication therefore those schemes are immensely more vulnerable to fraud than Aadhaar. My point is, Aadhaar/UID could still be a game-changer. As a citizen of India please control it, scrutinize it, and flood all stakeholders under thousands of RTIs – fair enough! But give it a chance, please. Kind regards, John B. (Twitter: @BiometricsWB)

05/02/2014 19:27:06

Comments of Reetika´s piece – UID Project : Does evidence matter? From Ashwini Kulkarni, Nashik, Pragati Abhiyan 1. Reetika in her article says Smarcards is acceptable. If smart cards with biometrics is acceptable then not accepting UID is not logical. For two reasons. One if a labourer say has an account in a bank and it has been enrolled with a biometric identification process, the same person can have another account in another bank/post with the same procedure. Then is it not possible for the same person to draw double govt benefits from the same scheme, from two separate accounts? Two, for the biometric identification process each bank has to make the software application costs, the equipment costs, personnel to gather information and such costs while the same can be had by aligning with UID facility. UID facility is a public good to be used by all. Why would the banks do all this investment? As it is we find that the Banks are reluctant to provide basic banking services to poor, so if this burden of initial investment is taken away will that not serve as an incentive to them?

2. She says some of the claimed benefits of UID are illusory or exaggerated. Let´s accept that for argument´s sake. Nevertheless, UID will at the minimum provide the same benefits that smart cards provide (portability) for PDS. Her main point, then, is that UID is more costly since it has to be done for every citizen, while smart cards have to be made only for PDS beneficiaries. In the same article, she also advocates making the PDS universal. If that proposal were accepted, UID will have no cost disadvantage at all. It will have the additional advantage (whose value is at worst zero) of being usable in other welfare schemes.

3. Similar contradictory arguments appear elsewhere. There will be glitches during the rollout of any new scheme, but she argues that we already have enough evidence that UID has failed. Well, PDS has operated with 50% or so leakage for decades - does that evidence matter for retaining our faith in PDS? The success of UID in East Godavari is dismissed as an isolated case due to "dynamic leadership", i.e., it is unlikely to be replicated elsewhere. Well, the success of PDS in Chattisgarh or Tamil Nadu also looks like isolated cases amidst a sea of abysmal corruption. Why are those examples supposed to renew our faith in PDS? There is no consistency in the arguments applied.

4. Contrary to Reetika’s claim, UID can help remove exclusion. There are many deserving people who are unable to get the benefits of government programmes because they do not have any documents to prove their identity. There are families in Mumbai who have migrated almost 30 years ago and still have no documents to prove their identity. As a consequence, they do not have ration cards. The lack of documents hampers them at every stage – pension schemes, schools for their children etc. They can claim all this if they get a proof of identity, which is all that the UID has promised. The rest will not happen automatically but will certainly make it possible.

5. In a rural setting, consider, the Nomadic Tribe who are still the wanderers. Many of them live on the fringes of villages and move every few weeks to another village. When they try to apply for Job card under NREGA they are denied since they do not belong to any particular Gram Panchayat since many of them do not even have a Voter Id card. In such a situation they can get a Job card based on their Aadhaar card and then they can work wherever they are located as per their traditional movement. The Aadhaar identity can help them get a Bank account for their wages. Different mechanisms can evolve for migrant population once they get a document to identify their person.

6. There are other strange arguments here and there. For example the 13% failure rate of biometric id is supposed to give us pause, even though there is a back-up for that (OTP). If my own credit/debit cards (and my password memory) had that same hit rate, I´d be rather pleased. Clearly, Reetika sets very high standards for UID, which is nice. I wonder why she doesn´t hold PDS to the same standards.

18/02/2014 09:39:18

Inspite of all these Aadhaar is going ahead non-stop. There are full load of criticism. People opposing it like any thing on the other hand same spirit applies to grab an aadhaar number too. What exactly the intellectuals around world do to oppose or favor the uid project?

Ashok Sharma 22/04/2014 00:22:06

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