News

    India Begins Project to Issue Biometric Identity Cards to All Citizens

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Anjana Pasricha

    India has embarked on an ambitious project to give biometric identity cards to its 1.2 billion citizens. If implemented, the project could help millions of poor people gain easier access to public services.  

    Forty-two-year-old Renu Bose came to New Delhi from her village in West Bengal state to work as a house maid, two years ago.  She wants to put some of her meager savings in a bank to take back to the village when she returns, but she has been unable to open an account.

    Bose says the bank wants her to produce some proof of identity, but she has none to offer.  She cannot authenticate her address, because she lives in an illegal slum.

    Bose's plight is familiar to millions of poor people, especially urban migrants who pour into the country's big cities every year, in search of work.  India recognizes many proofs of identity such as driving licenses, passports, birth certificates and ration cards - but many poor people have none of these. Even if they do have a proof of identity, none are recognized across the country.

    The head of Oxfam India, Nisha Agarwal, says a lack of identity is a major problem, especially for urban migrants. As a result, they are excluded from dozens of government programs which offer cheaper food, jobs or other benefits to poor people.

    "They remain treated as temporary migrants and, without that piece of paper, some form of identification, they are not able to access many of these government schemes that exist now, that have large funds behind them and could actually make a huge difference in poor people's lives," said Agarwal.

    The government has embarked on a massive project to address their problems.  In the next four years, it plans to provide all its citizens with a national identity number. The unique number will be put on an identity card which will have biometric authentication, such as fingerprints and photographs. The data will be stored online, creating the biggest such national database in the world.

    One of the country's best know information technology tycoons, has taken charge of the Unique Identification Authority of India, which will implement the project. Nandan Nilekani, a cofounder of one of India's biggest technology companies, Infosys, calls it an "unprecedented project."   

    "Nowhere in the world has a database of a billion people been created with biometrics, and no duplicates. So we are going to be fighting a huge number of technology challenges. Then there is the whole scale issue.  How do you scale this whole thing up to a billion people," said Nilekani.

    The project's main aim is to help improve the delivery of inefficient public services and cut corruption, which the government admits results in siphoning off benefits intended for the underprivileged.  For example, fake identity cards are sometimes used to take away subsidized food grains meant for the poor and which are then sold for profit.

    The first identity cards are expected to be issued in about 18 months.

    Oxfam's Nisha Agarwal says the project could be a powerful way of introducing transparency, reducing bureaucracy and reaching the poor effectively. But she cautions that it must be implemented in a manner in which nobody is left out.

    "It is very important it is done in an inclusive manner. Otherwise it will have the opposite effect of excluding large chunks of poor people and they could become even worse off than they are today," said Agarwal.

    Most poor people, like housemaid Renu Bose, are unaware that such a project is being implemented. But when told about it, she sounds happy.

    She says, whenever she has tried to get some proof of identity in Delhi, she has been told she is too old and nothing can be done. She hopes a unique identity number may change that. 

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora