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This is my diary....what I make sense of, around me. You'll find short prose on contemporary topics that interest me. What can you expect - Best adjectives? …. hmm occasionally, tossed around flowery verbs ?…. Nope, haiku-like super-brevity? … I try to. Thanks for dropping by & hope to see you again

December 6, 2009

UID: Cart before the Horse?

Nandan Nilekani would score high on media & PR ratings going by the coverage he and his UID project is getting in the print & electronic media nowadays. And there he is, making all the right noises with his erudite communication skills. But one thing begs my Question. No doubt UID is something fantastic in conception and its intended benefits but are we putting the proverbial Cart before the Horse ?

Unique identity project or UID, is expected to give a ‘unique number’ to all citizens that will be unduplicated and distinct and the state thereafter is expected to use it for effective governance. Like the advt of Idea cellular, where every cell phone user gets identified with his cell number, UID will dissipate caste, religion & linguistic identities of the state subjects. Once completed it is expected to ensure things like tracking rural employment generation & wages, tracking of vaccinations, school entry, age at marriage, migration etc. So far so good but before I jump into this ‘India will shine’ bandwagon let me don this skeptic hat for a moment and examine some issues.

 UID is certainly not some magic wand or at worst a surgical scissor that Sanjay Gandhi conceived to snip the population control problem in the 70s. This is an IT project of immensely complex scale that will involve huge servers, complex algorithms and miles of Bandwidth . All this presupposes that the govt machinery will be adequately IT savvy to not only understand all the jargons but effectively use it. But will they? Go to any Govt office and a common site is still the bulky files on large tables with inward & outward trays. The typical ‘Babu’ and his Babudom still relies on everything that is physical and the odd computer in the office would not only look outdated but gathered enough dust layers to confirm its usage. I doubt if the penetration of PCs, let alone connectivity would be more than 10% in Govt offices.

The typical government machinery by its very DNA is very rigid, hierarchical and staid in its response mechanism. UID on the other hand is expected to run on this system presupposing that there will be a high level of coordination between various departments, access to each other databases and free flowing information between the Babus and their ministries. If it were the elephant of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, i wouldn’t have doubted its agility but this is still the wild untamed giant of the jungle which Veerappa Moily is trying to tame with his ‘Administrative Reforms Bill ' that is still in the anvil.

So where does all this leads to? The UID may take off with the tail wind created by Nilekani’s proven managerial competencies but like the rudderless plane would soon crash land in the vast graveyard of eGovernance if not addressed structurally.
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