Aadharless in 2012
Even though 2011 had its own ups and downs, I still wanted to say Happy New Year to welcome 2012. But I am not.
In fact, I am disturbed at the uncertainty that seems to be building around Aadhaar (and I am sure there are millions like me). For the first time in the history of India this unique ID number plan would have given all Indians an identity, and a chance to get included in India’s growth story—even if this growth story is for a handful as many of us would argue.
I know and everybody knows that a project of the size of Aadhaar (ID number for 1.1 billion people living in India) is Herculean. Just conceiving a project of this size requires guts. And it needed even more courage to sit on the driver’s seat. Considering that right from Anna Hazare to Manmohan Singh to LK Advani to Sitaram Yechuri, everybody wants to reach out to Indians and help them grow and prosper, is getting a database of each and every Indian not the first and most fundamental step in the direction? How on earth will anybody plan schemes for them and deliver those schemes if information about them is not clear.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee has condemned Aadhaar and it has every right to. But if that results in disbanding the project, it will be one of the most unfortunate things to happen in a country that is teaching the world how to leverage information technology. I strongly believe that if required, team UIDAI should go back to the drawing board once again, specially to re—work on the technology, privacy, duplication, and project management aspects. These are valid objections.
An equal emphasis will be required to get all other ministries in. I have been saying for a long time that there is a lot of opposition—malignant as well as benign—to the Aadhaar project from within the government. As of now Nandan Nilekani seems to have been left on his own to defend and sell the project. We need a passionate leader to support Nilekani, so that he can focus on the project’s execution. Anna Hazare should become the crusader for Aadhaar.
Anna Hazare and all those who support him want to end corruption in public life and governance. If they believe that they can get rid of corruption without correct and updated information about Indian citizens, they are sadly mistaken. If people are denied their rights, if they cannot access many of the things available to others, no amount of Lokpal will save them from exploitation, or prevent them from taking recourse to illegal methods. I appeal to team Anna to support Aadhaar rather than Lokpal. About 80.70 mn people have already registered and 5.75 mn Aadhaar ID cards have been issued across India within a year of the start of the project. And there are long queues outside Aadhaar registration booths. Surely people want it and hope it will do them good.
Let’s not get bogged down by the question if Aadhaar is for very very poor people, very poor people or just poor people. Let’s have the database in place and then decide where and how to start using it.