Bestowing an Identity to Identity Starved Indians - Nandan Nilekani Style

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Jul 7, 2009, 4:27:21 AM7/7/09
to കേരള ഫാര്‍മേഴ്സ്‌
Dear All,
It seems Nandan Nilekani and Kapil Sibal are emerging as the Mascots
for a new Congress government and a new Congress party which is youth
While this may be a temporary phase or cooling off period ( 100 days
goals ? ) while Shri Rahul Gandhi devotes himself to learning about
the heart rending woes of rural India's Kalawati, there is no doubt
that the Congress government is on the cusp of a major realignment
with the country, egged on by Corporate India and global forces.
Nandan Nilekani has expressed himself and pronounced his technocratic
vision of the so called Unique Identity Project, seeking to speak to
the bureaucrats and the economists at the heart of Indian government
machinery all at once.
But what does this unique identity project mean in a non English
speaking idiom, and a non IT idiom, lets say, how does The Unique
Identity Project of ManMohan Singh and Nandan Nilekani, ( who was
elevated to the rank of
Cabinet Minister and blessed with the 120 crore signing off largesse
by our Dear Pranab Babu ), translate itself into Tamil, into Oriya,
into Punjabi, into Gujarati, into Kannada, into Hindi ?
Will the Grand Vision of Nandan Nilekani about foisting a Unique
Identity on each and every Indian, supposedly starving from the Lack
of an Identity, reverberate only in English amongst soft spoken
outsourcing brat pack of Chennai, Gurgaon and Bangalooru ?
Come join us for a LokVidya discussion. - Let us test the patriotism
of the Grand Vision of IT czar turned ManMohan Singh government
Cabinet Minister, Nandan Nilekani - in the villages of rural India
rather than in the electricity gulping Air conditioned corridors of
Bangalooru, Gurgaon or Special Economic Zones that ASSOCHAM and FICCI
wants tax lollipops for.
LokVidya Bahas on Nandan Nilekani, Identity Project and Identity of
Attached is the brief paper in which the visionary Nandan Nilekani
spells out his GRAND VISION for finding a technology fix for the
Identity Starved Indian - as Marie Antoinette of France would say -
" Let them eat cakes ".
Maybe now it will be - "Let them get an Identity" - Nandan Nilekani
While it is no secret that Indian IT sector is in dire straits due to
global recession and emerging protectionism, it seems the Indian IT
sector is looking to spread its wings and have a new look at the
domestic Indian services markets.
So what are the preconditions for this ? Yes Rs. 120 crores signing on
amount from Dear Pranab Babu is surely one of them. But what else ?
It would be premature of us to see this merely as an issue of the
Indian IT sector. It surely has deeper implications than just some
corporate interests muscle flexing with the Indian government for an
economic agenda of their choice.
Come, let us explore these radical politics questions at a LokVidya
Bahas which seeks to look at the knowledge and vidya question from the
standpoint of Bharat and its people.
Are we Indians really identity starved that Nandan Nilekani is taking
so much interest in bestowing a Unique Identity on us Indians ?

Article of Nandan Nilekani - Indian Outsourcing IT Czar turned Cabinet
Minister in Global Recession :
Today Indians can have a multitude of numbers with which to identify
ourselves, depending on when and where we interact with the State.
When we get a passport we get a passport ID, a ration card gets us
another number, when we pay taxes we need a Permanent Account Number
(PAN), when we register our vote we get a voter ID card, and on to bar
code infinitum. “Our databases are in these disconnected silos,” Chief
Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami says. This makes zeroing in on a
definite identity for each citizen particularly difficult, since each
government department works on a different turf and with different
groups of people. The lack of a unique number has given space to
plenty of phantoms in voter lists and in Below Poverty Line (BPL)
schemes and in holding bank accounts with multiple PANs. One academic
tells me, “The number of BPL ration cards circulating in Karnataka is
more than the state’s entire population, let alone the number of BPL

India’s ministries and departments are also quite isolated, with
separate fund flows and intricate, over-hyphenated authority levels.
As a result, these systems require paperwork-choked processes each
time citizens approach the state. A common technology and process
platform for government schemes and departments — especially now that
they have such large budgets — would be a huge improvement in
coordinating information between departments, and getting rid of
redundancy and triplicate forms. Identity systems linked up with an
enabled process that interlinks our various departments would, besides
making citizen information and identity more verifiable, make the
relationship between the State and the citizen infinitely less
traumatising. Such a ‘national grid’ would require, as a first and
critical step, a unique and universal ID for each citizen. Creating a
national register of citizens, assigning them a unique ID and linking
them across a set of national databases, like the PAN and passport,
can have far-reaching effects in delivering public services better and
targeting services more accurately. Unique identification for each
citizen also ensures a basic right — the right to ‘an acknowledged
existence’ in the country, without which much of a nation’s poor can
be nameless and ignored, and governments can draw a veil over large-
scale poverty and destitution.

The use of IT and the rise of such unique number systems are closely
correlated. In the United States, for instance, the Social Security
Administration (SSA) was the first federal bureaucracy to require the
use of computers because of the overwhelming complexity of processing
the social security numbers and data of its 200 million-plus citizens.
The bureaucracy was a massive complex of wall-to-wall file cabinets
managed by hundreds of clerks. It was the early IBM 705 computer that
helped transform and streamline it. This mainframe approach quickly
spread to European bureaucracies in the 60s and the 70s. The
transparency and flexibility of such computerisation also enabled
other reforms — such as laws that introduced individual citizen
accounts for benefits and welfare payouts, a step which both
opposition parties and citizens in Europe and the US would have been
deeply suspicious of under the earlier, less transparent and
bureaucracy-run system. In China as well, IT has helped the government
transform its social security systems from a local network to a
national, increasingly interlinked process.

In India, the government has made some attempts towards such a single
citizen ID number.... A stop-gap arrangement that the government has
put in place requires the PAN as ‘the sole identification number’
during bank transactions. But of course, with just 60 million people
with a PAN, this does not come close to a broad-based citizen ID....

Too often though, we see issuing smart cards as the main challenge of
implementing such a system. But building these intelligent little
stripes is the easy part. It is in making the back-end infrastructure
secure and scalable, providing a single record-keeper for the whole
country and integrating the agents who issue these numbers that gets
tough. To do this, we need a sustained and multi-pronged effort that
cuts across governments as well as companies. For example, issuing
this number to each citizen, say, during a census would be extremely
onerous, as it is a painful task prone to errors as census officials
spend long days walking through neighbourhoods and knocking on doors.
It would be a lot more effective to issue these numbers when citizens
come to the government.

This would mean issuing citizen IDs when individuals come to a public
office for an identification document — a passport, birth certificate,
caste certificate, driver’s licence — when they come to collect a
benefit such as a BPL card or when they have to make a financial
transaction, such as pay taxes, open a bank account or buy into a
mutual fund. The government can also easily recruit private companies
such as telecommunication and financial services firms to become
intermediary issuers to their large numbers of customers.

Each of these paths to identifying the citizen and bringing him into
the database would cover different pools of people. The PAN covers all
tax payers, voter IDs all registered citizens over 18, birth
certificates all newborns and BPL cards the poor. Using the databases
to issue IDs to different groups of people means that the initiative
would ramp up to near-universal, accurate levels very quickly. And if
necessary, such efforts can be complemented with a census. A national
smart ID done at this level could, I think, be transformational.
Acknowledging the existence of every single citizen, for instance,
automatically compels the State to improve the quality of services,
and immediately gives the citizen better access....

A key piece of infrastructure that must sit on top of an
interconnected grid is the electronic flow of funds. This will require
that each uniquely identified citizen or organisation has a financial
account into which money can be transferred from the State. This could
be an account in a bank, a post office or with a self-help group. And
within this system, the ID smart card can function as a mobile, non-
transferable electronic passbook.

My guess is that the impact on inclusive growth and India’s savings
rate from implementing this would be massive, considering that an
estimated 80 per cent of Indians today do not have a bank account, and
therefore lie outside any sort of banking system besides, perhaps, the
one represented by the exploitative moneylender and his steel box of
cash. “The weakest aspect of India’s economic reach is in financial
access,” Dr C. Rangarajan agrees, “and its impact on inclusive growth
has been severe.” For instance, people need savings to invest in
education, spend on health care, or to feel secure enough to move to a
city, leaving their home and land to take up jobs in a place where
they have no real assets.

Linking smart cards to such accounts can open up the banking system to
hundreds of millions more people. It also introduces the possibility
of offering direct services, from pension and benefit payments to
trading accounts to an unprecedented number of people.
This is an edited extract from Nandan Nilekani’s Imagining India:
Ideas for the New Century (Penguin India).
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