The Union Cabinet has asked Nandan Nilekani, who heads the massive Unique ID scheme, to ensure the use of biometric data gathered by the Home Ministry's National Population Register (NPR) Project for his Aadhaar project. This after Home Minister P Chidambaram wrote to the Prime Minister seeing his intervention and complaining that the NPR project had "come to a standstill" because Mr Nilekani refused to use its data.
Mr Chidambaram has complained that the NPR being prepared by the Registrar General of India under his ministry has "come to standstill" because of Mr Nilekani's project. He says that, the "collection of photographs and biometrics has been facing hurdles at every step on account of the approach of the UIDAI, which has failed to appreciate the core purpose of the National Population Register."
The two departments have been battling for some time over the issue of biometrics - the right to scan the Indian population's eyes and fingerprints. Initially, Mr Nilekani's department was meant to use the NPR's data for its work. But because the NPR's collection of data was moving slowly, Mr Nilekani's team or the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) asked for and received permission to collect the biometrics for 20 crore Indians.
So both teams had the mandate to collect the same data - one for the social security scheme and the other, for internal security. In January, at a meeting chaired by the PM, it was decided that Mr Nilekani would continue his enrollment exercise in areas where his team had already collected information on more than 50% of the population. In the rest of the areas, the Home Ministry project would collect fingerprints and iris scans of Indians and Mr Nilekani's team would then ensure that there was no duplication and would issue a unique identity number after which the Home Ministry would issue the Aadhaar card. Both Mr Chidambaram and Mr Nilekani had attended that meeting.
But in his letter to the PM, which NDTV has access to, Mr Chidambaram has said that despite clear orders, Mr Nilekani's team is objecting to the conduct of NPR camps in certain states and that "it is also refusing to accept the biometric data of NPR for de-duplication and generation of the Aadhaar number."
The minister says his ministry has discussed the issue at length with the UIDAI, but "despite our best efforts the issue remains unresolved."
Mr Nilekani met the Prime Minister earlier in the day.
Nandan Nilekani was head-hunted by the government in 2009 from Infosys to lead the Unique Identification Authority of India, India's most ambitious project that aims at issuing to every Indian a card bearing a 12-digit ID, or aadhaar, which will be stored in a central database, and linked to the individual's fingerprints and other biometric data. This unique ID will help India's poor avail the welfare schemes and benefits they are entitled to, currently over-run by corrupt middlemen.
Mr Nilekani's department has so far spent Rs. 670 crores and enrolled 20 crore Indians with their biometrics.