Volume 28 - Issue 24 :: Nov. 19-Dec. 02, 2011
INDIA'S NATIONAL MAGAZINE
from the publishers of THE HINDU
'The aim is inclusion'
|Interview with R.S. Sharma, DG and Mission Director, UIDAI.|
R.S. Sharma. He says fingerprints present a challenge.
IN the massive task of giving individual residents of the country a unique identity number, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is the sole project operator. The Director-General & Mission Director of the authority, headquartered in the capital, R.S. Sharma, an affable and active functionary overseeing eight regional offices across the country, spared time to speak to Frontline.
There has been criticism that the National Population Registry (NPR), created as part of the Census 2011 operations with an enrolment process similar to that of the UIDAI, would lead to duplication of work at public expense. R.S. Sharma is confident that the benefits will outweigh the costs. Asked how the project was progressing, he said all targets so far had been met. Excerpts from the interview:
How far have you progressed?
We have a tentative target of 20 crore [200 million] enrolments. We should be able to achieve this because we have already received data of about 12 crore people. In the field [data of] 14 crore may have been received because there is a time lag in the data entry process.
What are the glitches?
There are some places where all facilities are available, while in other places no infrastructure or power is available. Logistical challenges are significant, especially in backward regions such as some districts of my own State, Jharkhand. Despite these odds, there is huge enthusiasm among the people. In one centre, there are four machines that can enrol approximately 200 people – one kit does 50 enrolments in a day. If you have 500 people standing in the queue, it is clear that 300 will go back, and this is actually a very bad thing because they wait before going back. We are trying to devise methods such as tokens that are issued beforehand. We have introduced in urban areas such as Delhi an online appointment system.
The biometric attributes of the residents are going to be used as a basic signature for de-duplication and to ensure uniqueness. The UIDAI has decided that the face, all 10 fingerprints and both iris scans should be collected at the time of capturing biometric details of the residents. This way we will be able to ensure uniqueness of the IDs. The other challenge we face is the quality of fingerprints. Capturing fingerprints, especially of manual labourers, is a challenge. The quality of fingerprints is bad because of the rough exterior of fingers caused by hard work, and this poses a challenge for later authentication.
We are creating an infrastructure by which one will be able to authenticate himself or herself through a mobile device. If you enter your name, number and fingerprint in the mobile, all this goes to our data centre where we will check these details. For manual labourers, this authentication will be difficult because only one or two of the 10 fingerprints may be good.
It may happen that you may have a very good fingerprint but the method of capturing is sloppy. That again causes problems of authentication. We will be able to ensure the accuracy in 99 per cent of the cases because of the other biometric details. Even if the fingerprints do not work, the iris scans will. Issuing a unique identity will not be a major problem. But authentication will be, because fingerprint is the basic mode of authentication.
Why is there a multiplicity of registrars?
NPR data would be aligned with ours. What you refer to may be the existence of multiple registrars, which might escalate cost and duplication. This issue has been taken to the Cabinet Committee on UID presided over by the Prime Minister. Its members include the Planning Commission Deputy Chairman and the Home Minister. We have the mandate to collect [data of] up to 20 crore [people], which we are completing. Thereafter, who will do the collection and how, are issues that the Cabinet will decide.
How will the UID number help people living on the margins?
It is a means to enable access to services. In this country it is not you and me who need identity papers – we have too many of them. But there are many people who do not have any papers. Because of that they are denied access to services. We focus on people who live on the periphery. We have organised special camps to ensure that when we issue, say, 600 million UIDs, they will include those who need them most.