In a letter to the prime minister, Union home minister P Chidambaram is reported to have demanded that the Planning Commission be instructed to bring a note to the Cabinet on the status of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) so that there is clarity over which agency — the Registrar-General of India (RGI) or the UIDAI — will carry on with the task of capturing the biometric data of the population. The letter expresses unhappiness over media reports over turf wars between the UIDAI, which comes under the nodal authority of the Planning Commission, and the RGI under the home ministry. The crux of the issue is the security of the biometric data being collected by the two agencies. While the RGI collects data through officials visiting homes, the UIDAI collects it through private agencies, who ask people to come over to their collection centres.
This is a much more important issue than the dispute over jurisdiction and, though belatedly, Chidambaram has raised the right issue. Only last month, the parliamentary standing committee on finance had rejected the National Identification Authority of India (NIDAI) Bill, 2010 — which was supposed to provide the legal basis to the UIDAI — raising questions about the ethics, feasibility and purpose of the project as well as its legality. The committee said the UID scheme was “built up on untested, unreliable technology and several assumptions” and large-scale involvement of private agencies in collection of biometric data about the citizens of India was not only unconstitutional but a threat to national security.
In the backdrop of the parliamentary committee’s severe indictment, further continuance of the scheme is untenable. That such an ambitious project with wider implications for the citizen’s right to privacy and national security was launched without Parliament’s approval shows the UPA government’s utter disregard for law and democratic traditions. The government should scrap this scheme, which was initiated without legislative sanction, feasibility study and cost-benefit analysis.