The cabinet’s failure to give go-ahead to resident identity cards compromises key decisions taken to improve border security in the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks.
Top security agencies have been urging the home ministry to expeditiously issue identity cards based on the National Population Register (NPR) in nearly 130 border districts.
“A reliable identity card is at the heart of securing the country… to distinguish between a local resident and an infiltrator,” said a senior home ministry official.
The card was to have the holder’s Aadhaar number, biometric data and demographic details.
At the coastal security committee’s meeting in June, cabinet secretary Ajit Kumar Seth talked about a request by the naval chief to “take steps to complete the NPR and issue the resident identity cards in all the left out coastal villages and towns on priority basis”.
But as several ministers were unable to grasp the concept and utility of the project, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on January 31 referred the matter to a group of ministers.
The move overlooks the fact that in the last seven months alone the national security council secretariat (NSCS), Border Security Force (BSF) and
the committee on strengthening maritime and coastal security against threat from sea — set up after the Mumbai strike — have all emphasised on the immediate need for such cards.
The 10 terrorists who held Mumbai hostage for three days in November 2008 took the sea route to the city.
Reviewing the border situation in the east, the NSCS's strategic policy group last year stressed on I-cards being issued at the earliest in West Bengal's strategically important Siliguri region.
The BSF, which guards the Pakistan and Bangladesh borders, approached the home ministry two months ago, asking that the cards be issued on priority in border districts. Residents of 3,331 coastal villages are being given I-cards under a post-26/11 plan.
But for now, the resident cards will have to wait because many cabinet ministers, who first forced people to enrol for Aadhaar and then the NPR, forgot that Aadhaar was just a number, not a card, the home ministry official said.