The slogan of "bijli, sadak, pani" is passé; 'virtual things' like UID number, bank account and mobile phone are the in-thing, says Chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India Nandan M. Nilekani.
The information technology veteran said that in India, the 'model' has changed, from "roti, kapada, makaan" (food, clothing, shelter) in the 1960s and 1970s, to the slogan in the last several years of "bijli, sadak, pani" (electricity, roads, water).
"Today, it's all virtual things – it's about UID (unique identification) number, mobile phone and bank account,"
Mr. Nilekani, best known for his role in building Infosys, said after Citizen Extraordinaire Award 2010, instituted by the Prestige Group in association with Rotary Bangalore Midtown, here last night.
He said "if we can get everyone to have UID number, if we can get everyone to have bank account and if we can get everyone to have mobile phone, then we are giving them tools of opportunity. With that, they can access services, benefits and their rights."
"We have gone from (the earlier slogans) physical things to abstract things (UID number, bank account, mobile phone)," Mr. Nilekani said, adding, though they look abstract, they really are very, very important and "real foundation."
"We believe soft infrastructure is as important as hard infrastructure," he said.
Terming UID number as a 'foundation' and 'like building soft infrastructure,' Mr. Nilekani said it is a technology project with tremendous social and economic implications.
He said UIDAI has started floating basic design — technology and process — for enrollment of people for UID numbers.
"In the next few months, we are going to do proof-of-concept to figure out how to make this technology work on the ground," he said.
"By sometime latter part of the year (2010) we are going to build prototype so that we do on a small scale and somewhere between August 2010 and February 2011, we will start rolling out UID enrollment and our goal is in the next five years or so to cover more than 600 million people with these numbers."
Pointed out that unless the UID number benefited people, it is of no use, Mr. Nilekani said some of the public services — ration cards, rural employment guarantee scheme (job cards), PAN number, bank account —need to be reformed, redesigned and re-engineered to have UID number in them.
He said UID number would give hundreds of millions of Indians, who have no means to prove their identity as they do not have birth certificates, education certificates and things of that nature, 'acknowledged existence' so that they can access services and benefits that they are entitled to, and which otherwise they don’t get.
“There are 75 million homeless people in India who don’t have an address,” he said.
“Lack of identity, lack of acknowledged existence by the State is excluding people from participating in the fruits of progress,” he added.
Mr. Nilekani also said that the UID number would enable the Government to target its rural employment, food and education programmes to their beneficiaries — by identifying them in a robust way — more efficiently and effectively, and would cut “duplication”.