The picture on the unique identification (UID) project may not be as rosy as India's planners make it out to be. A working paper by a professor at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad suggests that a cost-benefit evaluation of the project is much needed.
Prof Rajnish Dass, the lead author of the paper, says the difficulties in implementation and scope for subsequent misuse need to be taken into consideration.
The government established the Unique ID Authority of India (UIDAI) in January 2009, with information technology icon Nandan Nilekani (formerly of Infosys) as its chairman. The largest such project in the world, it envisages providing a unique 12-digit ID to all of India's 1.2 billion citizens.
The project is aimed at reducing the misuse of India's myriad subsidies ostensibly targeted at the poor, and setting up a platform for better delivery of public services.
But, argues Dass, "There has been serious debates in countries like Australia, Canada and the UK about the viability of a national identity policy, given that the chances of misuse of data in a centralised system increase by leaps and bounds. It becomes a single-point failure."
The paper, titled 'Unique Identity Project in India: A divine dream or miscalculated heroism?' tries to put the UID project in perspective, as The Economic Times reports.
The UIDA, the report points out, claimed that 100 million UIDs would be distributed by March this year, and 60 crore by March 2014. However, as of 25 November 2010, a paltry 153,791 UIDs were issued. This raises doubts about the "optimistic target", it says.