The problem with UID enrolment
Despite my problem with the UID (Aadhar) card scheme, I found myself at a Goregaon East registration centre spending a five-and-a-half painfully long hours! To put it mildly, the experience was akin to having a huge, barbed object thrust into an unmentionable orifice. An elderly neighbour, Sharad Sakhare, who uses a walker to get around asked me to go along with him.
His wife's no more and their only son's in Toronto. I showed him a scathing magazine report on how Accenture Services, one of the three companies awarded the Rs2,000 crore tender for generating a biometric database for the Unique Identification Authority of India,was facing allegations of kickbacks, delays and over-budgeting against it in the US. Sakhare simply said, "At my age I don't want to be stuck for my passport renewal or other stuff."
I tried another track from an email forward. The UID project, I told him, is out to repeat Hitler's predecessors. Germany always had lists of Jewish names even before the National Socialist German Workers' Party was formed after World War I. The Nazis got these lists with the help of a software major in the 'census' business. This includes racial census that not only counted Jews but also identified them.
In fact, at Washington's Holocaust Museum, there is an exhibit of a Hollerith D-11 card sorting machine that was responsible for organising the 1933 census that first identified Jews. Nothing convinced Sakhare and I had to go along. Located in a dilapidated school, the registration centre was an old unused room with discarded furniture where bandicoots kept company to pigeon droppings.
After we joined the queue around 9 am, the soft-spoken 19-year-old girl manning the centre realised that she could process only 40 forms a day by noon. My neighbour who was 40th in the list sat at a broken bench while I began looking at why it was taking so long.
Overwhelmed with both the technology and the tasks at hand, the clerk would miss something and kept cancelling entries in the system and start afresh. The printer would get jammed and she'd keep slapping it on the sides to make it work. And to make it worse, the power cord connecting the computers, finger imprint reader, retina pattern reader and the web cam kept falling off. Once she asked a woman in the queue to plug it properly. Only, the plug came off with one pin stuck in the board. And all work was stalled till an electrician from the colony could come and fix it. Gratis that is.
And one thought former Infosys boss and chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India Nandan Nilekani would bring in some of his much feted managerial skills to what he keeps calling, "an exercise of a transformational sweep."