“So When Should We Set Up Our Camps?”: The UID – NPR Entente Has Trouble

This is the final post for now engaging the January 2012 agreement between promoters of the parallel and competing biometric programs in India, the Security focused NPR and the Financial Liberalization focused UID.

The other biometrics: National Population Register Camp

A recent article posted August 7, 2012, by Sahil Makkar on the website livemint.com [prominently featuring the Wall Street Journal on its masthead], argues that NPR is not doing well and suggests that the terms of the agreement are in question.

If you have been following the career of UID, the news is quite extraordinary. I give the article in full and follow with my usual 3 comments.

NPR likely to be delayed
Decision runs counter to the compromise reached in January that Aadhaar and the NPR weren’t in conflict with each other

New Delhi: The National Population Register (NPR), an identity database being put together by the home ministry, will likely be delayed by at least a year beyond its June 2013 deadline after facing another reversal in its running conflict with the Aadhaar project of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), officials familiar with the development said.

The cabinet headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has directed the home secretary to take steps to avoid duplication of work with UIDAI and to set up NPR camps in states only after the former completes most of its work of collecting biometric data on an additional 400 million people.

The decision effectively runs counter to the compromise reached on 27 January that Aadhaar and the NPR weren’t in conflict with each other and both projects would run simultaneously.

Minutes of the 7 June cabinet meeting, which were released last month, have been reviewed by Mint.

“With this decision, NPR work has been delayed indefinitely,” said a home ministry official who asked not to be identified given the sensitive nature of the issue. “We had earlier targeted to complete NPR by June 2013 but it will be at least delayed by a year or more.”

The cabinet decision could revive the fight between the two identity projects. The core dispute is over which one of the two will collect biometric data. The home ministry’s position before the January compromise was that UIDAI data could not be trusted for security purposes.

Under the truce reached in January, each project was to use the biometric data collected by the other. In case of discrepancies between UIDAI and NPR data, NPR was to prevail. On 7 June, the cabinet directed Nandan Nilekani to accept NPR data, but asked the home ministry to set up NPR camps in states only after UIDAI finishes a majority of its work.

Home ministry officials said that there was no clarity on the word “majority”. UIDAI’s mandate has already been increased from enrolling 200 million people to 600 million, against the wishes of the home ministry and other departments in the Union government, they noted.

UIDAI and the Planning Commission had sought an extension of the former’s mandate after it enrolled 200 million people, its initial target. That resulted in a turf war between NPR and UIDAI.

“The cabinet decision means we cannot set up NPR camps in the states till the time UIDAI completes majority of the work. So when should we set up our camps—when they complete 51% or 60% or 80% of their biometric enrolment work? There is no clarity. State registrars are writing (to) us for directions,” said a second home ministry official who too asked not to be identified.

The 12-digit Aadhaar number was conceived as a unique identity that would be accepted nationally by banks, telcos, oil companies and other government agencies to serve as a tool to better target social spending by making sure that benefits such as subsidies reach the poor for whom they are meant. NPR’s prime mandate is to satisfy security concerns.

Friction between proponents of the two projects persisted despite the January compromise. Then home minister and current finance minister P. Chidambaram wrote in a 1 June letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that UIDAI was not honouring the truce.

“Despite these directions from the government of India, UIDAI is objecting to the conduct of the NPR camps in certain states and is also refusing to accept the biometric data of NPR for de-duplication and generation of (the) Aadhaar numbers,” Chidambaram said in his letter, which has been reviewed by Mint.

Chidambaram said in the letter that the NPR project was almost at a standstill because of the stance taken by UIDAI.

NPR creation is a statutory requirement and it is backed by legislation. We have to reach every resident in the country as per law even if they have already been covered by the UIDAI. The only difference is that we will not collect the biometrics of the people who have already given the same to UIDAI, but we have to record their other information. People are mandated to visit NPR camps,” the second home ministry official said.

The 27 January compromise hasn’t prevented duplication of biometric data collection, which the government had hoped to avoid. The government will have to spend an additional Rs. 6,000 crore if both NPR and UIDAI insist on collecting biometric data. The second home ministry official admitted it was all but impossible to avoid duplication costs.

The 27 January cabinet decision said the Registrar General of India (RGI), which runs NPR would be free to collect data “as per a schedule of its convenience” in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh, Daman and Diu, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Puducherry, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Tripura.

“Now we are only setting up NPR camps in those states like Delhi where UIDAI has almost completed its work. As per the new decision, we are not entering in the state where they are yet to take up work or collecting biometric data,” the first home ministry official said.

The home ministry officials say they are now dependent on state governments for their permission to set up camps because the latter will need to decide whether UIDAI has completed a majority of its work.

A UIDAI spokesperson refused to comment on the issue. “Both UIDAI and RGI are working in accordance with the decision of the government taken from time to time. We are not aware of any difficulty in this regard. We, therefore, have no comments to offer,” R.S. Sharma, UIDAI director general, said in an email response.

UIDAI says it has partnered with state-level registrars for conducting enrolments in the states and that it hopes to enrol another 400 million people in the next 18 months.

Incidentally, the Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) is yet to clear the UIDAI’s request for an additional sum of Rs. 5,000 crore for enrolment of the additional 400 million people.

“The proposal is expected to be considered by the EFC shortly,” Sharma said.

UIDAI’s second round of enrolment started on 4 August.

UIDAI claims to have enrolled 200 million people and issued 180 million Aadhaar numbers. It has dispatched 175 million Aadhaar letters. NPR has collected data on 710.25 million and recorded the biometrics of 30.95 million.

3 Points:

1) Duplicates upon duplicates! The painstaking effort of Nandan Nilekani and his team to avoid duplication, their liberal dream of de-duplication, is here explicitly threatened by NPR as a duplicate in multiple senses: two parallel databases, two modes of data collection, two parallel staffs, two norms of contract (see last post) etc. The presumption of Nilekani’s UIDAI is that heretofore the State has failed to realize India’s historical potential (cf. Hegel‘s lectures on the philosophy of history): the social contract has failed, as the condition of livability that the sovereign is to ensure for the citizen-subject is inevitably diverted to an inauthentic “duplicate.” The lessons of rationalized, non-familial corporate governance [i.e., bureaucracy proper to its and the nation’s historical potential] and the power of biometrics and big data are brought together to create a database with the power once and for all to de-duplicate the nation.

Bringing India to the end of history: Nilekani as dialectician

But the NPR, from the perspective of the promise of UID, is most likely government as usual, riven with localized “vested interests” forming a nexus with the state and its information-gathering. To allow NPR data to be commensurate with UID data is to ensure the failure of de-duplication, for the NPR data again from this perspective is thought to be always already duplicated: that is, to be formed in the crucible of [corrupt] everyday interest politics.

In this sense, Nilekani and others’ diagnosis of the state as always already corrupt and requiring an uncontaminated intervention is similar to that of the Gandhians and of Nehru, according to Thomas Hansen in his important argument in The Saffron Wave.

[Against the usual opposition of Gandhian work on the body/self/relation [satyagraha] and Nehruvian statist expertise, Hansen as I read him (brutally abstracting a complex argument) suggests their continuity in terms of a form of anti-politics in which everyday political process is inevitably contaminated by the scrum of vested interests. What is needed to rise above the near-Hobbsean state of nature produced by the play of interests is some sublime form of necessarily anti-democratic governance, and both Gandhi and Nehru if in quite distinctive ways turn to Indian civilization as its reason and justification.]

Big data and biometrics and corporate governance, if one draws on Hansen’s language, are the conditions of the contemporary sublime.

Biometrics in particular seem to matter. The sticking point according to the article in the earlier entente between UID and NPR was whether NPR would include biometric data or be more of a conventional census.

2) The irrelevance of cabinet position, the impotence of law: Chidambaram by all accounts is a powerful and canny politician and administrator. And yet his own lament at the deferral and exclusion of NPR and presumptively of India’s security interests [cf. “so when should we set up our camps,” a statement extraordinary in so many ways] suggests he is no match for the Congress government’s commitment to Nilekani and the UIDAI, whether we are to read that commitment as the financial liberalization and technocratic bias of the Prime Minister or as the populism of the Nehru-Gandhi family and their sense that the rationalized entitlement UIDAI/Aadhaar promises is the effective update on the Garibi Hatao [Eliminate Poverty] tradition of their party.

Chidambaram was recently moved from Home to Finance: from the official home that is of NPR to the home of UID. But if that move was in part to force him to back down from his commitment to the security database it has failed. Here he to speak as if he was more responsible for the Home Ministry’s NPR than his current post’s baby.

Once a Home Minister, always a Home Minister

And note his point that NPR is mandated under law. Implicitly he is pointing out, like many critics of UIDAI across the political spectrum, that the latter’s grounding in law is shaky at best. At stake in one sense is arguably a shifting terrain of the formal and legal. Here at least the NPR/UID distinction marks a differential claim on law, a differential logic of law. In part, UID like some other forms of sublime governance operates through the logic of emergency or exception: Nilekani has a cabinet-level rank without the formal limits and protocols of a ministry. UIDAI may be a section of a section of a section of the Finance Ministry, but it is in many situations treated as all but independent. Or so its critics allege.

To bring in the logic of exception, a concept with a familial relation to Hansen’s use of the sublime, may invoke for some the work of Giorgio Agamben and in particular Partha Chatterjee’s use of an Agamben-ish distinction between “civil society” [“bios,” life under law] and “political society” [“zoe,” bare life under exception]. Here the Security apparatus, in the post-millennial United States the sine qua non of the zone of exception as opposed to formal law, becomes on the contrary the embodiment of statute and law and territory. The financial liberalization apparatus is set apart as the troubling extra-legal state of exception.

3) Scale and speed, the mastery of time and the Masses: NPR’s lament is not being able to start. But if UIDAI is responsible for freezing the time of its rival, in doing so it secures the familiar neoliberal claim that the state is inefficient and corrupts time itself. UID here appears phenomenal in capturing millions and millions of persons for their de-duplication, despite reports of old people being illegible to biometric recording and entire states (the Northeast) being zoned for NPR alone. It masters time, or if you like it masters India as the Masses through its use of time. NPR is denied time: or is its lament just the familiar plaint of the development state justifying its failures by blaming others? Such are the stakes of debate produced in this moment.

Marrying into the “banking fold”: Aadhaar, the Euro-chip, and the articulation of variant technologies of trust

More today on the use of Aadhaar to produce “financial inclusion” on the margin. I should note at the outset that the point cannot be only to (re) produce a critique of either financial “exclusion” or “inclusion.”

Proto Indo-European technology

Such critique is obviously important but perhaps difficult to sustain too quickly. In anthropology the broader debate may be to place the powerful critique of poverty capital in relation to the production of an unexpected “neoliberal social.” Barring a change in government, a radical curtailment of UID seems unlikely. UID/Aadhaar will continue to be rolled out.  Barring radical and perceptible failure of the program and its effective politicization, certainly possible, the card and number will attach themselves to the administration of more and more entitlements and institutions. The varied effects of UID will be assessed by many agencies and auditors, including (far down the queue) this researcher. Perhaps more than the current situation, of myriad arguably inflated promises of UID’s biometric design and regulation and myriad arguably premature critiques, the emerging field of audit will be critical to engage: what will constitute an event? An effect?

In anticipation of that work, the blog can only aid in the imagination of a research program and its own forms, sites, and constellations of evidence. Blah blah blah.

Today’s text is again from The Hindu, the edition of August 4, and an article posted from Hyderabad. At stake are security technologies for mobile card-based credit, the widespread European chip technology, or EMV [familiar to North Americans who find that their apparently backward and chipless credit cards often fail them in Europe], versus the biometric guarantee of Universal ID and the Aadhaar card. The first is seen as more secure and a proven technology; the second is much more affordable and would lead to the growth of poverty capital through financial inclusion, and with it the “social” promise of presumptively widespread microcredit.The solution may somehow be to “marry” security and inclusion in the production of a new form of trust-bearing identity and thus to bring in the poor to the formal sector financial “fold” while calming concerns about the trustworthiness of the new technology, its bureaucracy, and its economically marginal beneficiaries. This marriage of techniques and forms would somehow copy the effectiveness of the Euro-chip but bypass its prohibitive cost as banking’s potential seems to lie in producing cheaper norms of inclusion.

Choice is between EMV and Aadhaar: RBI Governor

While the chip and pin is a tested technology, Aadhaar based option is cheaper, says D. Subba Rao

Reserve Bank of India Governor D. Subba Rao has underlined the need for taking a decision on the choice between migrating to EMV (Europay-MasterCard-Visa) with chip and pin and an Aadhaar-based biometric authentication.

The chip and pin is an established and tested technology, but is relatively expensive. The Aadhaar based option is cheaper, but the robustness of the technology is as yet unproven. “If indeed we are finally able to marry Aadhaar into the cards, we will be achieving same level of security available in chip and pin model at a much lower cost,” he said.

Dr. Subba Rao was speaking on the topic “Indian Payment and Settlement Systems: Responsible Innovation and Regulation” at the Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technologies here on Friday. Aadhaar was recognised as an alternate authentication mechanism in payment systems and Aadhaar based payment products had already been designed and introduced.

Aadhaar Enabled Payment Systems was aligned with the UIDAI’s plan to utilise the UID number for routing all the Government benefit transfer payments to beneficiaries. AEPS was a bank-led model allowing online transaction through the business correspondent of the respective bank using the Aadhaar identification.

He said the Aadhaar Payment Bridge System was a centralised electronic benefit transfer facilitating disbursement of benefits to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries linked to their Aadhaar numbers. Such transfer would enable secure and efficient disbursal of benefits to intended beneficiaries which, in turn, help in reducing the administrative costs as well as leakages for the government.

This will also further financial inclusion by bringing the beneficiary households into the banking fold,” he said.

Will this Indo-European marriage make it?

For now, one notes the general form of the proposition: that as banking comes to drive Aadhaar, a form that had earlier if still recently migrated away from a territorialized, village or family-based defense model to a more deterritorialized and neoliberal form tied to a vision of rationalized population mobility and wealth creation, norms of “international” (here European) standard security must somehow be reintroduced. Aadhaar is to be “married” to a more secure technology and form, something like the chip and PIN number bank card but without the cost of the chip. What kind of marriage will be arranged is not yet clear. But if Aadhaar, under the ministry of finance, is perceived by security-focused industries and bureacracies as lacking in security, the idea here is that Aadhaar/UID must be combined with something else, not yet specified by these high-level officials.

On the rental of infrastructure: some follow-up thoughts on the Hyderabad UID Scandal

The Hyderabad scandal I posted yesterday involved a former employee of IL&FS getting hold of his ex-colleagues’ laptop, offering him a portal into the virtual world of Universal Identification and allowing him and his confederates to add duplicates to the de-duplicated world of Aadhaar. IL&FS is, apparently, one of the many private entities that has taken on the registration of persons under UID. But it is much more.

IL&FS at work: the Visakhapatnam Industrial Water Supply Project

I’d like to pause here and to look at IL&FS as a new kind of entity in India and in the world. Before yesterday I admittedly knew nothing about the corporation, so as ever with this project my learning curve will be steep. I’ll begin, simply, by examining its own self-presentation online, and framing some questions.

IL&FS is Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Limited. Infrastructure as a duration has become among the most critical sites for anthropological reflection in our time, from the operations of Halliburton remaking the scale and temporality of the production of war, humanitarianism, and drug distribution in Kristin Peterson‘s work to the work on the productivity of infrastructure breakdown and interruption by Brian Larkin. What I mean by infrastructure as a duration extends beyond the “lifetime” of infrastructure: we are told, in the United States, that our infrastructure is “crumbling”: the nation itself as a promissary form is linked to this figure of duration. Larkin’s work frames infrastructure, as I read him, in the duration of constant breakdown: the power supply going out, the grid collapsing. Peterson links the destruction of infrastructure in West Africa due to the structural adjustment and austerity regimes imposed by global banks to the new replacement, temporary infrastructure provided by corporations like Halliburton that enable drug distribution under current humanitarian internationalism.

And here, its ubiquity brought into the the newspapers through a scandal, we have infrastructure within the duration of the rental form: the lease.

So at the outset, the very emerging terminology of infrastructure as that which is leased to the state, and as a corollary of the state as that entity constituted through the sequential payment of rent on the “value-added” development/privatization of its own [public] capacities, territories, and populations to corporations, is to me extraordinary. But of course, none of this is literally extraordinary.

Let me look briefly at the website:

Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited (IL&FS) is one of India’s leading infrastructure development and finance companies. IL&FS was promoted by the Central Bank of India (CBI), Housing Development Finance Corporation Limited (HDFC) and Unit Trust of India (UTI). Over the years, IL&FS has broad-based its shareholding and inducted Institutional shareholders including State Bank of India, Life Insurance Corporation of India, ORIX Corporation – Japan and Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.   IL&FS has a distinct mandate — catalysing the development of infrastructure in the country.  The organisation has focussed on the commercialisation and development of infrastructure projects and creation of value added financial services. From concept to execution, IL&FS houses the expertise to provide the complete array of services necessary for successful project completion: visioning, documentation, finance, development, management, technology and execution.

The focus here, within the duality of the promise of “value-added” profits and the fulfilling of a developmental “mandate,” is on “successful project completion”: on efficacy.

Organisationally, the IL&FS Group has evolved along routes perfectly configured to business requirements. Technical support and service groups provide specialised expertise. Project development and sectoral companies house the ability to seed initiatives and carry them through to completion. Strong core skills – key to successful project development and project financing across sectors – have been developed within the Group. These have aided IL&FS in spreading its expertise across a variety of sectors, nationwide.

The biological language–perfect evolution and viral spread–is perhaps notable.

The rest of the site directs one to myriad IL&FS projects. We–well, I–still understand far too little. And the relation of infrastructure leasing to Aadhaar has yet to be spelled out.

On the “shocking” disappearance of persons in Assam

Assam is the largest of India’s long marginalized Northeastern states. I begin with a Facebook posting of Aadhaar/UID enrollment numbers that seem to the poster to suggest that almost no one in the state of Assam is being registered. At stake appears to be the disappearance of an entire state, or at least of its future promise in relation to the guarantees of UID.

by Project BUG – Build Up Guwahati.
[Posted on Friday, April 1, 2011 at 11:20am]

Unique Identification – AADHAAR : Current Status –  Statewise

“Andhra Pradesh”,”1351691″





“Madhya Pradesh”,”139211″

“Himachal Pradesh”,”89444″


“Uttar Pradesh”,”51131″

“West Bengal”,”29572″

“Tamil Nadu”,”16401″











“Others”,”1895″ < it may include Assam , not sure >

Data collected from: http://portal.uidai.gov.in/uidwebportal/dashboard.do?lc=h as on 1st April 2011 ( No manupulation of data is done , in case if you have any doubt please match with the given official link ).

1) The numbers for all states are incredibly low at the moment of the data collection. Are we still too early in the game? Is this resistance to Aadhaar, in Assam or elsewhere? Is this the “manpower crunch” reported in a previous post? Is there an error somewhere in this chain of reported information? Or is this the marginalization of the Northeast, yet again? Such questions seem to hover here.

2) We watch: the poster, and then the blogger, and now you, follow along as the counts of persons in this or that region, or of this or that community, rise or stagnate. I write this as my hometown San Francisco [American] football team just lost a major championship game, so my mind is on vehicles of collective identification, like sports teams, and their failure. Here the identification is with a number. Does identification with or investment in a sense of place come to depend on what we might term its enumerative value? Does the number, to continue the football analogy, become some kind of totem? Do groups come to experience their demography? Is this the effect of unique identification?

Of course, building on the work of Patricia and Roger Jeffery, one could argue that enumerative value is no new social fact, in India or elsewhere. The context of the Jeffreys’ work is of course family planning and anti-natalism. How UIDAI may transform both regional, communitarian, and expert understandings of population and pro-natalism is an interesting question.

3) The UIDAI portal the Facebook post directs us to indeed suggests immense disparities in registration, with two relatively “forward” states (Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra) bearing the lion’s share of registrants. Assam remains almost invisible graphically (as, of note, are transgenders in the subsequent breakdown of current enrollments by gender). Backwardness, always a bit of a floating signifier in terms of the work it does, here takes on a new graphical interface.

De-duplication and “self-cleaning” 101

दोहरापन रोकने की प्रक्रिया सुनिश्चित करना

Today’s brief entry is the first to examine the current Government of India (hereafter GOI) UIDAI website. As per the last entry, I am hoping to begin to address the process of de-duplication: techniques, rationales and presumptions, politics, experience, critique.

UIDAI has a public website: currently, I seem only to be able to access Hindi and English versions. The Hindi is found at http://uidai.gov.in/hindi/ and the English at http://uidai.gov.in/ (the public of Universal ID does not seem yet to extend to other language spheres): at least in the few sections of both blogs, they had sentence for sentence matched content which appeared to be a translation from the English to Hindi.  दोहरापन may not have the same semantic and affective resonance as the Hindi-English “duplicate”/डुप्लिकेट.

The main web page in either language directs one to a link marked Aadhaar Technology. [Aadhaar (आधार), the other name for the UID, can translate as basis, ground, fundamental].

Here is the relevant section on de-duplication:

Process to ensure no duplicates: Registrars will send the applicant’s data to the CIDR for de-duplication. The CIDR will perform a search on key demographic fields and on the biometrics for each new enrolment, to minimise/eliminate duplicates in the database.

The incentives in the UIDAI system are aligned towards a self-cleaning mechanism. The existing patchwork of multiple databases in India provides scope to individuals to furnish different personal information to different agencies. Since de-duplication in the UIDAI system ensures that residents have only one chance to be in the database, individuals are made to provide accurate data. This incentive will become especially powerful as benefits and entitlements are linked to Aadhaar.

Online authentication: The Authority will offer a strong form of online authentication, where agencies can compare demographic and biometric information of the resident with the record stored in the central database. The Authority will support Registrars and Agencies in adopting the Aadhaar authentication process, and will help defining the infrastructure and processes they need.

Terms: CIDR

The CIDR is essentially a service provider to the UIDAI and will provide services which include the processing of enrolment and authentication requests as prescribed, and following pre-defined service standards. The CIDR will also develop the operating procedure for interface between the CIDR and Registrars. The CIDR will also establish and maintain a grievance redressal system to address grievances about the failure of service of any of the service providers.

So, one of the first things we need to understand is the “system of positions,” to misuse the phrase of anthropologist Jeanne Favret-Saada. We earlier encountered the dyad of the ‘registrar’ and the ‘resident’: here we have some kind of chain linking UIDAI—CIDR—Registrar and thus to the Resident. Okay, more to learn about.

The point here is that CIDR is in immediate charge of the problem of duplication, and CIDR is  apparently also both omsbudsperson and auditor to collect and address complaints against Registrars and others. If I understand the technical language correctly [I doubt that I do, yet]: the Registrar sends the ID data, I presume both biographical and biometric, on to the CIDR, which in turn ‘authenticates’ both data and enrollment process and somehow ‘de-duplicates’ differing and somehow incommensurable versions of identity the Resident (client/common man/citizen) has managed (erroneously or on purpose) to relate to varied “agencies” of the state, the archipelago of NGOs, and the corporate formal sector. The registrant or Resident enters the process under a cloud, as it were, of being or having a duplicate. His or her formal entry into the new system must ensure that no such duplicates in fact exist. But—and here again is a flicker of the promise of UIDAI to end corruption—this selfsame CIDR not only polices duplicate persons/files but also the varied agencies that can act as Registrants.

So one point only, today:

1) The iron cage: even if the UIDAI is both in good faith and accurate in its prediction that UID will offer greater accountibility and some measure of social or distributive justice, its promise of de-duplication ends the availability of redundant identity as a feature of living with and under the state.

In earlier work, I borrowed Roma Chatterji’s concept of the file self [developed to describe how staff in a Dutch old age home constitute the personhood of demented residents through the selective and strategic citation of their medical case files] to argue that families and other loved ones of hospital patients I was working with in Varanasi in north India strategically and selectively presented their relation’s case files to medical personnel to achieve varied outcomes, or attempt to do so. The “file” in this sense consisted of an assemblage of traces of earlier clinical events and encounters. Each offered a certain identity and generated a certain range of outcomes. The effective challenge in presenting a relation to a busy and perhaps arrogant physician in a government hospital was to augment and winnow these trace identities. More broadly, I will frame the clinical encounter as an effort (with its attendant failures, of course) to constitute a relation to an often more powerful and variously disinterested or distrustful officer/clinician/expert/agent through the management of redundancy.

What happens when the possibilities of the redundant erode, here under the pressures of presumptive rationalization?

One way out, if a way out is to be sought, is to argue for the rationality of redundancy. Evolutionary biologists have been one source of powerful thinking about redundancy in biological systems, and systems engineering more generally has developed complex models of what I will call critical redundancy.

But redundancy is fought, here, for the UIDAI, because the duplicate is always assumed to be the counterfeit.

Note too the language here in the web discussion of de-duplication as ‘self-cleaning.’ More on this I hope to come.

Heroic implementation, governance by de-duplication, and the problem of the poor

Wednesday January 11

Today’s article like the one I looked at a few days ago was published in September 2010, in this case from the New Delhi based Financial Express.

This is a long article, available online at http://www.financialexpress.com/news/why-egovernance-is-important-for-the-common-man/677562/0.

It frames the creation of the UID [universal ID] as part of a phenomenon termed “e-governance,” reaching backwards to suggest a history for the concept.  Its language is bureaucratic, precise in certain ways, vague in others. Its argument is that UIDAI will enable the “common man” to receive the “benefits” and “services” of government and private institutions and “social welfare programmes” in a more rationalized fashion, offering wider accessibility and presumptively greater fairness. Computer technology, as it democratizes, becomes a vehicle to free the common man from “corruption.”

It is worth citing at length. I have comments to follow. The headings in italics are my own, to help frame the article’s themes:


Tech Talk: Why e-governance is important for the common man

Saurabh Srivastava

The writer is chairman, CA Technologies (India)

Posted online: 2010-09-06


The introduction of e-governance in India started in the late 60s and early 70s with an emphasis on computerising applications for defence services, economic planning, national census, elections tax collections, etc. However, from the early 90s, e-governance has taken on a broader dimension, using IT for wider sectoral applications with a policy emphasis on reaching out to rural areas and taking in greater inputs from NGOs and the private sector. While the emphasis was initially on automation and computerisation, the later forays began to encompass connectivity, networking, setting up systems for processing information and delivering services.

What exactly does this “service delivery” entail?

At a micro level, this ranged from IT automation in individual departments, electronic file handling and access to entitlements, public grievance systems, service delivery for high volume routine transactions such as payment of bills and tax dues to meeting poverty alleviation goals through the promotion of entrepreneurial models and provision of market information.

Scaling up: the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP)

The implementation of the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) in May 2006 was with the vision of making all government services accessible to the common man in his/her locality through common service delivery outlets to ensure efficiency, transparency and reliability of such services at affordable costs. For e-governance projects to be successful, they also have to be user friendly to create real accessibility for the common citizen, the poor and the backward, thereby fulfilling the vision of e-governance.

The organization of this massive scale: the emergence of the “e-district”

NeGP currently consists of 27 mission mode projects (MMPs) and 8 support components to be implemented at the Central, State and Local government levels. These include projects such as income tax, customs and excise and passports at the Central level, land records, agriculture and e-district at the State level and panchayats and municipalities at the local level.

Efficiency and access are the key, but note the caveat: these benefits only accrue if e-governance is used “effectively.” How effectiveness is to be assessed, and promoted, is not stipulated at this point.

The effective use of ICT services in government administration has greatly enhanced existing efficiencies, driven down communication costs and increased transparency in the functioning of various departments. It has also given citizens easy access to tangible benefits, be it through simple applications such as online form filling, bill sourcing and payments, or complex applications like distance education and tele-medicine.

UIDAI: a new Cabinet level position created to ensure fast and effective “implementation”: effectiveness appears to be tied to speed and to powerful, proven business leaders

It is worth talking about Aadhar—the new Unique Identification (UID) project which aims at providing a 16-digit identification number to all citizens of India. With this project, India will be the first country to implement a biometric-based unique ID system for its residents on such a large scale. The importance accorded to the UID project is reflected in the roping in of Nandan Nilekani to head it with the rank of a Cabinet minister and the constitution of a special group of Union ministers headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to oversee its implementation. Nandan’s reputation for both strategy and execution is formidable and the project is being rolled out in record time.

UIDAI will help the poor, who cannot “prove identity”: trust is at issue

Inability to prove identity is one of the biggest barriers in India that prevents the poor from accessing benefits and subsidies. This holds true for public as well as private sector agencies and till date, there remains no nationally accepted, verified identity number that both residents and agencies can use with ease and confidence.

Given this lack of trust and “confidence,” procedures of verification proliferate

As a result, every time an individual tries to access a benefit or service, they must undergo a full cycle of identity verification. Different service providers also often have different requirements in the documents they demand, the forms that require filling out and the information they collect on the individual.

“Unique” identification will solve these problems and create “inclusion” of the poor

There are clearly, immense benefits from a mechanism that uniquely identifies a person and ensures instant identity verification. The need to prove identity only once will bring down transaction costs for the poor. A clear identity number would also transform the delivery of social welfare programmes by making them more inclusive of communities now cut off from such benefits due to their lack of identification. It would enable the government to shift from indirect to direct benefits, plugging massive leakages and helping verify whether the intended beneficiaries actually receive funds/subsidies. A single, universal identity number will also be transformational in eliminating fraud and duplicate identities, since individuals will no longer be able to represent themselves differently to different agencies.

“Corruption” will be checked, if “proper implementation” can be assured

With proper implementation, the transformative potential of the UID scheme can be enormous. It could enable easier access to a wide number of services such as bank accounts, passports, driving licenses and LPG connections. Proof of identity and greater financial inclusion could lay the basis for checking fraud and corruption, avoiding duplication and targeting intended beneficiaries for a range of programmes such as the NREGS and the PDS.

UID becomes the condition governing residence

For residents, the UID will become the single source of identity verification. Once residents enroll, they can use the number multiple times—they would be spared the hassle of repeatedly providing supporting identity documents each time they wish to access services such as obtaining a bank account, passport, driving license, and so on.

UID becomes the condition governing credit and formal sector participation

By providing a clear proof of identity, the UID will also facilitate entry for poor and underprivileged residents into the formal banking system and the opportunity to avail services provided by the government and the private sector.

UID becomes the condition governing mobility

The UID will also give migrants mobility of identity.

UID depends on “de-duplication” of records

For registrars and enrollers, the UIDAI will only enroll residents after de-duplicating their records. This will help registrars clean out duplicates from their databases, enabling significant efficiencies and cost savings.

Governance through UID is a relation between “registrars” and “residents”

For registrars focused on cost, the UIDAI’s verification processes will ensure lower KYR costs. For registrars focused on social goals, a reliable identification number will enable them to broaden their reach into groups that till now have been difficult to authenticate. The strong authentication that the UID number offers will improve services, leading to better resident satisfaction.

De-duplication is more than the elimination of duplicate identity: it is the elimination of duplicate social programs and state services

For governments, eliminating duplication under various schemes is expected to save substantial money for the government exchequer.

UID removes an “artificial barrier” between government and the common people: governments will have “accurate data” on residents, and residents will have accurate data on government

It will also provide governments with accurate data on residents, enable direct benefit programmes and allow government departments to coordinate investments and share information. With the growing need to free society from corruption and making technology accessible to the common man, dependency on such projects will increase.  One very crucial barrier that e-governance projects will remove is the artificial barrier. The common man is happy to see the reduction in the queue to pay utility bills. This has been successfully achieved in states such as AP, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, etc.

This is the right time: with mobile phones and IT, the “public” is “receptive” to “technology-based solutions” to governance

India will be the first country to implement a biometric-based unique ID system for 1.2 billion residents. The UID will serve as a universal proof of identity, allowing residents to prove their identity anywhere in the country. The timing of this initiative is encouraging—the creation of the UIDAI coincides with growing social investment in India, a shift in focus to direct benefits, and the spread of IT and mobile phones, which has made the public receptive to technology-based solutions.

The reach of technology achieves the commitment of the nation state to “grassroots” governance

In the next 5 years, we see e-governance realising its vision of making all government services accessible to the common man in his/her locality. An inter-connected, inter-operable, efficient, transparent and accountable government, with services reaching every citizen irrespective of geography, region or accessibility will create a phenomenal impact at the grass roots level in the rural and semi-urban areas.


There is so much here to think through. But for now, three points:

1) The key claim is that technology here enables transparency, accountability, and greater control both by a state of its population and by a population [“the common man,” the “public”] of its state.  But for this to occur the technology must be properly “implemented.” Implementation is taken as a technical matter beyond the scope of the argument: our only clue as to effective implementation is that it requires an effective leader to break the cycle of obscurity, interest, and corruption and achieve something exceptional.

The Heroic Individual is thus the key to implementing technological governance: here, Nandan Nilekani.

I think of conversations with Rashmi Sadana on her work on the Delhi Metro: again, both the considerable achievement of the Metro and its exceptional status, not part of the existing structure of institutions (Indian Railways) and law, is closely associated with the heroic capacity of its director, Dr. E.Sreedharan.

In a related way, certain public conversations and apparent social movements organized around “anti-corruption” are similarly closely linked to the person of an extraordinary individual, in 2010-11 powerfully to Anna Hazare.

The point is not to argue for a transhistorical figure of sovereign exception. It is to recognize that the failure of welfare and governance is to be transformed through a rationalization of government and citizenship that depends not upon a depersonalized bureaucracy but a heroic leader. Or so it seems to me at this very early moment in thinking all this through.

2) De-duplication is interesting: who controls, who has rights in the information, the files, the names, and the programs to be de-duplicated?  The movie Duplicate I discussed last past is in some sense a saga of de-duplication. Manu must be killed. Babloo becomes the Universal subject and gets married.

Putting the film aside again, I think I will need to attend early on to de-duplication as a question of sovereignty. For now, I will term the contrastive logic — of governance, of the ethical, of the managerial — that of redundancy.

3) Mistrust: the poor are those who cannot verify their identity with trustworthiness, leading to a repetition of the scene of verification, both cause and effect of corruption. But how do we understand the presumption of untrustworthiness? This again is the opposition at stake in the film Duplicate: between the identification papers produced by Babloo’s mother, full of photos of the man in question in relation to family and God, versus the papers produced by the police, with the biometric proof of a thumbprint.