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Is your number 24601?

November 28, 2009 Leave a comment

There seems to have been little debate on the unique identification number (UID) for every Indian. All discussion has been focused on how badly India needs this, but no discussion on why India needs such a system, and who will suffer from the failures of such a system.

Nandan Nilekani, erstwhile CEO of Infosys, was invited to head the project, leading to speculations that Infosys might benefit unfairly as a bidder for the project, which Infosys was quick to deny, of course. Still there was no debate.

Now Nilekani is saying that the UID will not be considered a proof of citizenship. This is very strange. Will they issue an Indian UID to non-citizens? That never seemed to be the deal. Does he also mean that the UID will not have citizenship information? Or that the UID cannot be used to confirm someone’s citizenship? If I have a UID, and my local voters’ list includes the UID,  will my UID card be sufficient to confirm my identity as a voting citizen at the time of elections?

What I found most interesting is Nilekani saying that the UID will be optional. So he is starting by giving up the possibility that every Indian will have a UID. So why is he in the job? For the privileges of cabinet rank? Or for the billions the UID project will generate for all the IT companies where he holds shares?

And will it be necessary to furnish the UID to avail of certain services of the government? Will private firms be able to check the database? Can the information stored against a UID lead to denial of service to an individual by private companies?

Update: Another article discussing some of the problems with the UID at this blog.