A cost-benefit evaluation of the Unique Identification Project (UID) is necessary, considering difficulties in implementation and scope for misuse afterwards, a working paper (WP) by a professor at the Indian Institute of Management says.

“There had been serious debates in countries like Australia, Canada and U.K. about the viability national identity policy, given that the chances of misuse of data in a centralised system increase by leaps and bounds,” the WP written by Prof. Rajnish Dass of IIM Ahmedabad on the project, which aims to provide a unique 12-digit number to each of the 1.2 billion Indians, says.

“It becomes a single point of failure,” it adds.

The paper, titled ‘Unique Identity Project in India: A Divine Dream or a Miscalculated Heroism?’ tries to put the UID project in a perspective.

The government of India established the Unique ID Authority of India (UIDAI) in January, 2009, to execute this IT project, the largest in the world. The project, it is envisaged, would lay down a foundation for better delivery of public services and targeted subsidies. It aims to achieve financial inclusion of the poor.

The Nandan Nilekani-led UIDAI has claimed that 10 crore UIDs would be distributed by March 2011, and 60 crore by March, 2014, the WP states.

However, as of November 25, 2010, only 1,53,791 UIDs were generated. This raises doubts about the “optimistic target”, it says.

It would be a massive project for implementation, but there are still many technological challenges in creating and managing the database of such a huge population, it adds.

Around five megabytes of data will be required to store the compressed fingerprint images (of all the 10 fingers) of an individual, so the size of the entire database would be at least six petabytes (6,000 terabytes), making it amongst the world’s largest databases, according to Professor Das.

The government of India is expected to spend as much as USD 250 billion over five years on programmes aimed at the poor, including subsidies for food, diesel, fertiliser, and jobs.

But 40 per cent of the benefits, as the system now stands, will go to the wrong people or “ghosts” with fake identification papers, according to a report by brokerage firm CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, the WP states.

In view of the huge cost and effort, it becomes essential to put forward a detailed cost-benefit report before the people before initiating and executing such a mammoth task, given that there are other areas of priority, Dass’ paper concludes.

Keywords: UID project