I always believe that if you want to bust a good proposal or a scheme, give it to the Government machinery for execution. It is a sure shot recipe for dumping it. My belief was reconfirmed recently, even though the concept and the proposal had tremendously appealed to me initially.
It all started with Government of India announcing a scheme for launching a new Unique Identity Numbering for all residents of India. It was supposed to be a twelve digit number and was to be linked with finger prints, photograph and the eye iris shape of that individual. The idea still enthuses me as almost every month I am asked to prove my identity. In India proving your identity is a very tricky job. There are multiple identity cards which serve the purpose. As your photo identity, you may present to the concerned person, your Income Tax payer’s number card , your passport or Voter’s identity card. However to prove your age, which is required even with railway reservations, you have to show voter’s card , driving license or pass port. Your Tax payer’s card is useless here. None of these, however can be used as residence proof. For this, only thing that works is a current electricity or telephone bill, which means the electricity meter has to be on your name. What happens with other members of your family? They have to have a thing called a ration card. Many decades ago, there used to be food shortage in India. So Government issued a booklet, (I do not know why it is called a card? Anyway) which listed the names of all members of your family, your address and specified the quantity of food you were entitled to procure. Since this card was issued about 30 years back, as per this card, I am still in my early forties and my wife in her thirties.(Oh God! I wish that was true.) Today, after thirty long years, this booklet is still considered perhaps the most authentic document to prove one’s residence.
The new 12 digit Unique Identity number was supposed to replace all these cards and was to be a great facility for all residents of India. Government started well on this project, as they roped in, top boss of India’s most renowned Information technology firm, Mr. Nandan Nilekani, to head the project. He must have delivered the goods really well, as few months back, Government announced that Indian residents can now get their UID cards. I was on the look out for a card issuing center in my city of residence, since the Government announcement came. I stay at Pune, a major city of about 5 million people. Surprisingly, it was hard to find this center, as no announcement was made anywhere or if made, it escaped my attention. None of my relatives, friends or even acquaintances, knew of any such card issuing center. Two days ago, a lady friend mentioned to my wife, that one such center has started functioning in a corner ward office of the local municipal authority. I got very enthusiastic and decided to visit this center at earliest. I searched on the internet and found some information. This UID scheme was now called ‘Aadhar’ or ‘The Support’. To get it, a form had to be submitted. This form, fortunately was available on the internet as a down-loadable PDF file. I got the file downloaded and got it printed. Ready with the filled enrollment form and all the supporting documents, I was ready for the UID or Aadhar card issuing center.
Government and municipal offices seldom start work before 10AM , even when the official work time may start at 9 or 9-30 AM. I therefore started from my house around that time. Finding the card issuing center was a cakewalk. When I reached there, I found some people waiting in a line. I joined the queue, only to find that it was for the Birth-death registration line. I chose another line of people which turned out to be property tax payment line. Finally I gave up and started inquiring with the people around. Soon I found out the correct Aadhar or UID line. As I glanced at this line, my heart sunk. There were about 150 people in this line. Most of the people in the line had some kind of printed forms in their hands. Again I made some inquiries and found out that the forms were issued at some other counter. After reaching there, I found a notice board, which sternly said that only 150 forms would be issued each day exactly at 9-30 AM and no inquiries would be attended afterwords. I still had not lost hope. I asked a person about enrollment forms, downloaded from the internet. I was told that downloaded forms are not acceptable. It was beyond my comprehension that if the downloaded forms were not acceptable, why put them on the web site in the first place. I however kept my doubts to myself as my case wast already lost and I would have to return home empty handed.
Since there was nothing, which I could do in the situation, I looked around just to satisfy my curiosity and talked to a watchman. He advised me promptly to come at 7AM for the forms, as there would be a long queue for the forms. He also told me that only one form would be issued to each person, which meant that my wife and myself, both of us would have to come to this office at 7AM and wait in the queue till 9-30 AM just to find our luck. If We do not succeed, we can repeat the feat next day , starting may be at 6-30 AM.
After the forms were finally obtained, I was expected to wait in another queue, which obviously would have 150 people. It took about 10 minutes to finish with a person. Since there were three sets of computers for the job, each computer could collect information from at the most 50 people in a day. With 10 minutes required for each person, the last three persons would have to wait for 8 hours at least, before their turn came. All this meant that to get my Aadhar number, I would have to stand in a queue from 7 AM in the morning, till sometime in the afternoon, which might get extended up to 6PM, if my luck does not last out.
I made some quick calculations. Assuming there are 50 odd such card issuing centers in Pune, about 7500 people could get their UID cards in a day. With about 200 working days in a year, this number would not go beyond 1.5 millions in a calender year. For every Pune resident to get his card, at least 3 years would be required. To get this number, young people would have to forgo their day’s earnings and stand patiently in a queue in some dingy office for 10 to 11 hours at least. What about old people, children and sick people? Can they really ever hope to get this number? If a family of four has to apply for the cards, all of them, irrespective of their age would have to stand in the queue from 7 AM.
There is just no way this scheme can hope to succeed, if implemented in this way. Nandan Nilekani and his team of brilliant engineers might have designed a great system. I do not see any hope for this scheme at all, if the implementation is done in this fashion.
While on my way back, I came to know, first good news of the morning. I was much relieved, to know that this Aadhar scheme was purely optional at present. I have finally given up my idea of getting this UID number for me and my wife at least at present. I would be happy and contented to live with my Taxpayer’s, Voter’s and driving license cards. My 30 year old ration card is much more comfortable to use than standing in the queue for 10 or 11 long hours in that municipal office .
I am sorry Mr.Nilekani, but your labour seems all lost to me.
18th May 2011