Monday, January 23, 2012

Unique Identity to All: the Simple Thing to Do

Gauging from the many experiments that have been happening in India to identify its citizens in a unique manner, I started feeling that the Indian administrators who belong to the prestigious Indian Administrative Services (IAS) all have decayed brains by the time they come to key decision making positions.

How is it then that in India we have scores of mandatory identity creating systems and cards, each mutually exclusive and mutually dependent at the same time, creating ample opportunities for the citizens to have multiple identities at the same time officially.

Let me elaborate my own case here as a typical example.

My parents gave this name: Rajan C Mathew and that was the name recorded when they got admitted me to my primary school way back in the late nineteen fifties in a village in Kerala state. So that was my official name for all the years I was in that state till I completed my graduation in chemical engineering. All my official certificates bear this name.

My parents, both teachers, probably gave this name thinking that their son should have a unique identity. So, Rajan was my first name, Mathew was my surname (or the name I got from my father) and the middle letter C they thought would make some difference to my name as there was the possibility of having many persons with the name Rajan Mathew. Since there was no law which stated the manner in which one should name a child, no one bothered to ask what the C stand for.

Out of curiosity, I asked my father about the middle letter C in my name when I was in the college. Then he told, the C could be mean many things or nothing, just an identifier in itself. When I insisted, he said it stood for my mother's name or it could be the family name of his forefather. It was not customary to use those long names in the name, so he preferred the single letter and moreover, the name was easy to remember that way. I was impressed and satisfied.

From Kerala, I went to Roorkee for my post graduation. I did not face any problem with my name there too.

Then I got the appointment from one of the leading public sector companies. When I applied for the job, they did not tell any thing about my name and used the same name for correspondence.

Bu they wanted me to execute a bond, made on stamp-paper, that I should serve the company for at least some specified years as a return for my training by the said company, or else I should pay them certain penalty. This bond has to be legally made.

I did not know any one to make this legal bond. Without this bond, the PSU would not admit me as an employee. I was in a fix. Going to my home town in Kerala from Roorkee, the far north of Uttar Pradesh at that time was not that easy. So somehow I thought of visiting my uncle working in a PSU in Gujarat, thinking that he would be the best knowledgeable person in this context.

There with great difficulty, I got the preliminaries for making my first 'bond' deed. There, to my surprise for the first time, the deed writers insisted that my name cannot have a single letter. It has to have a full form, as per the law of land. Obviously, I never knew the existence of such a law, nor my father!

I remember arguing , with all my existing official documents where my name is recorded as Rajan C Mathew, in vein.

There was no use and the 'bond' was to be made for my job. Then I remembered what my father had told about the 'C'. So I told the person concerned the full form of 'C' . That was a true and typical Kerala family name and for the Gujarati lawyer (or legal worker) it was not at all palatable. So insisted for making its simpler so that he could type it in the document without mistakes at many places.

So as an alternative I told my mother's name with the starting C. He agreed and for the first time I got another identity, legally made.

For my PSU employer, that document however, was only for filing and nothing to be used. However, the staff in the computer section of my company shortened my name with the initials R C and I became for the first time came to be known hence forth as RC Mathew and my original name Rajan, became a past history in my work place.

For so many years, it went like that. In between, the computers in my company made me C.Rajan Mathew. That was alright after all, as it as another permutation-combination of my three word name.

The greatest surprise came later, when the Election Commission of India insisted all electorate to compulsorily have the unique identity cards. Great efforts and crores (1Crore=10Million)  of rupees spend and they made and issued the official government Identity card for me with the Government of India emblem and 3D security marks. But the election commission, did not specify the ways in which it should be done and they left the details to the whims and fancies of the IAS officer entrusted with election processes of the state or territory.

Instead of asking the people how they wrote their names, the election commission preferred to assume that all electorate of India are illiterate and they instructed their temporary staff entrusted with the making of the ID cards to write the names of their subjects by asking their names and recording it the way they understood it. So for the first time, the election commission officially made crores of officially stamped cards with new invented names! For instance, they asked my name and recorded it in Hindi and later transliterated the Hindi version to English automatically. So for the first time I got another unique name, entirely different from what my parents could ever imagined. It was now Aar Symethyu ! Yes, it is indeed unique!

Later, the election commission it seemed to realize their folly. So they made new efforts. This time they gave forms to those who knew writing, but those forms when got entered into their computers by not so educated staff, or staff with no fear of reprimand for mistakes, made another set of unique identity cards. I too got another one with no resemblance of my original name.

Then came the effort of the Income Tax authorities. They got their forms filled up by the tax payers with utmost care, but got it entered into computers with people of no care and produced another identity for me.

Then came the Passport, the driving licence and the like. All needed some other Id for making a new Id. Can any one imagine the number of id's a person like me could have officially made?

Yes, that is why I told the brains of IAS is rotting. IAS people are the most brilliant people the government of India selects with ultimate and gruesome selection exercise to man the key positions of administration. If they cannot make a simple system for identifying their citizens and make a simple rule for the same, then who could do it?

Every time they make it, the matter go from simple to complex and bad to worse!

There is also a possibility that the IAS do not do these kind of unimportant jobs at all. If they consider it simple, the most likely outcome would be delegating the work of planning the processes to some lower most in the ranks-the Indian way of delegation of work.

Can the government of India make a simple rule of naming and identifying its citizens like this instead?

Already there are various registration departments and its offices working through out the country. But what is essential in this context is to make one ministry and and sole organization responsible for this entire exercise. In my opinion, the Human Resource Ministry of the Government of India should be the logical custodian and administrator of all aspects governing population studies and records. This ministry should have at least one office in each state and these offices should all be e-enabled  and manned with well qualified personnel. These offices should be vested with the act of registration of all citizens and issue of the Unique Citizen Identity Numbers (UCIN). The UCIN so registered with the HRM offices shall be used by all other departments of the government, like Income Tax, Passport, Election Commission, etc., etc.

All offices of HRM shall have an empowered officer who could authorize corrections in the registered data, in case a citizen applies for corrections with valid reasons. However, the UCIN once registered shall not be changed, though the data may be changed.

Now the UCIN should be linked to all registration offices for data updating like death, birth, marriage, divorce, criminal offenses, etc, etc.

In this age of computers, none of these things are difficult to be implemented. What is needed is a will of the top functionary of the government coupled with his determination to enact or amend the law of the land and appoint competent officers to handle the project. The officers need not be a computer expert, but should be aware of the latest trends in computer usage and a user of computers.

Issue of UCIN cards, I would say, is a sheer waste of time and money. Where will the poor people keep their cards when millions in this country do not have a proper home? After all in the age of Internet, why do you need a card?

Once registered, the system should be in a position to identify a person even if he is not remembering his number. Bio-metric identification by finger or eye scanning could also be incorporated in the UCIN linked data for the individual citizen. In practice, the UCIN once issued should be a unique file number of the citizen and shall store all kinds of information of the citizen concerned from birth to death and may be beyond.

The government should be the custodian of all the above said information and data and the citizen shall have a right to access selected portions of the data through Internet access, using his UCIN. He should also be in a position to access his data by keying in other key information likely to be linked to his data, like date of birth, place of birth, father's name, mother's name, etc.

The UCIN data bank should be a continuously growing system once a UCIN is created. Once the death of the individual is registered, the system should record details of the same. Even, there should be a provision to change this information if need arises. [ There should be provision for error correction always and the reasons and the people concerned with the entry of data also should be recorded]

The registration of UCIN should start from citizens of the upper sections of the society and not from the lower sections. This section of the society should be allowed to enter the registration data online. The project should aim for 25% completion of data in 3 years, another 25% in another 3 years and 99% completion in 10 Years. Rest one percent could be for the floating data.

The UCIN system to be installed and functional more or less in the above said manner is not a difficult thing in today's environment, provided the government is determined and its officers  decide to support it in the right earnestness and not to bulldoze it.

I am compelled to reproduce this suggestion from my website because of the repetition of the follies the government machinery is trying to do under the UID card making exercise being attempted in the banner of yet another 'whimsically' set up authority called the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) under the chairman ship of a hand picked genius ( handpicked by the PM himself !)from the software industry, not belonging to the IAS. The ID card is named 'Aadhaar' which has already come under criticism and is in the verge of foreclosure !

[Reproduced from the siliconindia blogs of the author]

1 comment:

  1. Yesterday I had an accidental opportunity to listen to a lecture by the Director General of the UIDAI in Ranchi who explained in details the issues involved in the so-called unique identity registration scheme now called the Aadhaar Project for all residents of India which this new organization has begun to implement. He is a brilliant IAS officer that the PM has handpicked to lead the team together with Mr Nandekani from the IT sector. After listening to his lecture, I think I need to modify my views above. I earnestly hope the UIDAI would find success in the near future !


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