Tech Fixes – The unique ID project in India
I have major concerns about this whole Unique Identification Number project, recently in the news in India, on three grounds :
- who is doing it?
- which problem are they trying to fix? and
- how will the proposed solution solve the stated problem?
Who is doing it?
As I posted in the comments section on Ashwin’s article at India Together, the primary issue I have with the UIDA is that is an “Authority”. One that is not directly accountable to the people.
The establishment of more and more ‘Authorities’ is very unnerving. Cities are no longer governed by elected representatives, services like water, sewage, electricity are being either contracted to fully private entities or carted out as PPPs. In spite of CAG reports that indicate that these entities are as corrupt and inefficient as the govt., we seem to be heading towards creating more such bodies to decide on a bigger slice of the ever shrinking pie of resources.
Technological solutions to governance issues are like pain killers, good till you are popping the pills. Good governance can be realized and sustained only through an aware and participative citizenry.
Which problem are they trying to fix?
According to media reports, the objectives of having a UID range from national security to govt. programs to law enforcement to access to medical records to ‘having a homogenized identification’ – something that doesn’t show one’s caste, class, religion, region, etc. The last reason being the most disturbing. It will take ages before we have a citizenry that is aware and participates in civic issues. So we might as well use technology to show that we are trying to ensure citizen rights. Especially when we are talking about contracts worth thousands of crores !
How will the proposed solution solve the stated problem?
Almost every one going ga-ga on this seem to think the challenge is purely technological and that this challenge can be easily overcome by The Great Indian IT Prowess. Well, storing a billion numbers and running a few lakh simultaneous compare operations is only one part of the challenge. One needs to look at (if and) how this solution would reach a jawan patrolling in Kashmir, or a ration shop contractor in a village in rural India let alone the lakhs of other places where we use identification.
As I see it, like the interlinking of rivers, this is yet another mega-mega project that is intended to show that we are fixing the problem. The lack of an informed and public debate on this and the structures being used do not reflect well on our much proclaimed democratic ethoes. Running after such solutions, we are loosing focus of the problem and the root causes will lie unaddressed that much longer.
http://mnic.nic.in/ is the under construction web site of the agency set up to translate the UIDAI’s UID to a card. The wikipedia page on this has some background information though it is more than a year old.