National Population Register project now a Rs 4,800-crore sinkhole

  • Aloke Tikku, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 08, 2016 01:05 IST
Rajasthani women show their Aadhaar cards while standing in a queue to vote in panchayat elections. The Centre says the population register should not expect the UIDAI to give it the biometric data of millions of people, collected for the purpose of obtaining the 12-digit Aadhaar number. (PTI file)

The National Population Register (NPR) is as good as dead, and the Rs 4,800 crore invested in the project might just go down the drain.

The Centre has made it clear that the home ministry-run population register should not expect the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to give it the biometric data of millions of people, collected for the purpose of obtaining the 12-digit Aadhaar number. Without it, the NPR database – once touted as a way to prevent Bangladeshi migrants from settling in – becomes a mere list of names with some demographic details of Indian residents thrown in.

The UIDAI – which collects photographs, iris scans and fingerprints from citizens – uses the biometric data to identify duplicates. It has generated 1.04 billion Aadhaar numbers, and plans to cover the country’s population by March 2017.

Last year, the home ministry had launched a door-to-door survey to collect Aadhaar numbers from people across the country, and pull out biometric data from the UIDAI database. However, the Aadhaar law passed last month barred the UIDAI from sharing the data – throwing a spanner in the works.

“The home ministry has the biometric details of only 280 million people – those who turned up at its camps over the last few years,” said a government official familiar with the project. “However, this will only go waste unless you have the complete database.”

Nearly Rs 4,800 crore of the Rs 6,600-crore approved project cost has already been spent.

The NPR project, inspired by a citizenship card project conceived by BJP patriarch LK Advani, was launched during former home minister P Chidambaram’s tenure in 2009-2010. The idea was to freeze the population register after giving people three chances to enrol. Anyone who came to get enrolled later would have to explain the delay.

Advani had hoped this would make it difficult for fresh immigrants to get into the register.

The progress of the two overlapping identity databases was stymied by a tug of war between the home ministry and the UIDAI, after both tried to independently procure biometric data. Led by founder chairman Nandan Nilekani, the UIDAI hit the ground running – leaving the bureaucracy-driven NPR far behind.

NPR was also slow because it enrolled people in accordance with households, not just individuals.

A government official said it was ironical that the primary utility of the NPR database would lie in improving that of the UIDAI – a rival entity with which it once fought many bitter battles for survival.

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