The Union cabinet on Thursday shoved into the deep freezer an ambitious project to issue chip-based ID cards based on the ongoing national population register (NPR) after central ministers sparred for more than half-an-hour on the need for the card.
At the end of the discussion - much of it over the inability of some ministers to grasp the concept and its utility - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reportedly wondered, "Do we really need this?" before he referred the project to a Group of Ministers.
Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde - who moved the Rs. 5,552 crore proposal to give every adult resident a multi-purpose card - had finance minister P Chidambaram and petroleum minister Veerappa Moily supporting him.
But ministers such as Sharad Pawar, Jairam Ramesh, Praful Patel, Pawan Bansal and Ashwini Kumar opposed the plan besides planning commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
Minority affairs minister K Rahman Khan also expressed his concern that minorities who did not have the cards, especially in border areas such as Assam, could be harassed.
The attack on the NPR cards started with some ministers - confused about the differences between Aadhaar, NPR and now the ID cards - complained this would duplicate cards issued by Aadhaar. Patel felt that a lot of money has been wasted on the NPR and UIDAI turf war and there was no need for further expenses.
Some others insisted that the smart ID card was based on outdated technology as online authentication and smart-phone based technology are already in use.
When it was pointed that large parts of the country were still not covered by a reliable mobile network, the anti-card brigade opponents said the solution was to fix this problem.
They also argued the home ministry seemed to have understated the project cost since it did not account for a large number of teenagers who will turn 18 over the next few years and be entitled for cards.