On March 03, 2006, approval was given by the Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Government of India for the project titled ‘Unique Identification for BPL Families’ to be implemented by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) for over a period of twelve months.

As a result, a Processes Committee was set up on July 03, 2006 to suggest the process for updation, modification, addition and deletion of data and fields from the core database to be created under the Unique Identification for BPL Families project.

This Committee, on November 26, 2006, prepared a paper known as ‘Strategic Vision Unique Identification of Residents’. Based thereupon, the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) was set up on December 04, 2006, to collate the National Population Register under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Unique Identification Number project of the Department of Information Technology.

The EGoM was also empowered to look into the methodology and specific milestones for early and effective completion of projects and to take a final view on these projects. The EGoM was composed of the then Ministers of External Affairs, Home Affairs, Law, Panchayati Raj and Communications and Information Technology and the then Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission.

Various meetings on the Unique Identification (hereinafter referred to as ‘UID’) project were held from time to time. In the fourth meeting held on December 22, 2006, various aspects of proposed data elements and their formats were discussed. Thereafter, in its fifth meeting held on April 27, 2007, it was decided that the evolution of UID database would be in three stages in principle.

The Committee further decided that linkage with major partner databases such as Household Survey of RD and the individual State Public Distribution System (PDS) databases should be taken up in a phased manner. On June 11, 2007, at the final stage of the project, a presentation on the UID project was made to the then Prime Minister by the Cabinet Secretary. The sixth meeting of the UID project was held on June 15, 2007. The Committee, inter alia, took the following decisions:

(i) The numbering format of 11 digits was approved.

(ii) The need for UID authority to be created by an executive order under the aegis of the Planning Commission was appreciated in order to ensure pan-departmental and neutral identity for the authority.

(iii) The proposal for creation of Central and State UIDs was approved.

(iv) Department of Information Technology (DIT) was directed to work out modalities for linkage with Election Commission and initiate discussions with MoRD and PDS for linkage.

(v) In principle, approval of proposed sequence for phasing plan was granted.

In the seventh meeting held on August 30, 2007, the proposed administrative framework and structure of UID authority and manpower requirement, including financial implications, was discussed. It was decided that a detailed proposal based on the resource model be presented to the Committee for its ‘in principle’ approval. At this stage, EGoM convened its first meeting on November 27, 2007. At this meeting, a consensus emerged on the following points:

(i) There is a clear need for creating an identity related resident database, regardless of whether the database is created on a de novo collection of data or is based on an already existing data (such as the Election Commission’s Voter List).

(ii) Additionally, there is a critical need to create an institutional mechanism that would ‘own’ the database and be responsible for its maintenance and updating.

(iii) The next meeting is to consider topics relating to collating the National Population Register (NPR) and UID schemes, including methodology, effective implementation techniques, identification of the institutional mechanism stated above, and the time schedule for putting the scheme into operation.

A series of meetings took place thereafter to work out the modalities of the programme. Certain issues were raised therein and to address those issues, a Committee of Secretaries was formed. The said Committee gave its recommendations which were discussed by EGoM. After approving the Aadhaar Scheme in principle, it instructed the Cabinet Secretary to convene a meeting to finalise the detailed organisational structure of the UID.

After considering the recommendation of the Cabinet Secretary, Notification No. A-43011/02/2009-Admn.I was issued on January28, 2009 by the Government of India which constituted and notified the UIDAI as an attached office under the aegis of the Planning Commission. Consequent to the constitution of UIDAI, allocation of Rs.147.31 crores for Phase I of Aadhaar enrolments was approved by the Finance Minister on the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Finance.

Demo-Official letter dated February 25, 2009, was sent by the Secretary, Planning Commission to all Chief Secretaries of 35 States/Union Territories apprising them of their roles and responsibilities of the States/Union Territories in implementation of UIDAI, such as appointment of the State/UT UID Commissioners, logistics support and coordination with various departments and State units. As they say, rest is history, which we recapitulate in brief hereinafter.

A core group was set up to advice and further the work related to UIDAI. Budgets were allocated to UIDAI to enable it to undertake its task. Staff was also allocated to it. Meetings of the core group took place from time to time. The core group, inter alia, decided that it was better to start with the electoral roll database of 2009 for undertaking the UIDAI project. The status of digitisation of PDS records, state-wise, was sought to be sent from the Department of Food and Public Distribution to the Standing Commission/UID.

This and other steps taken in this direction culminated in issuance of Notification dated July 02, 2009 whereby Mr. Nandan Nilekani was appointed as the Chairman of UIDAI for an initial tenure of five years in the rank and status of a Cabinet Minister. He assumed charge on July 24, 2009. Thereafter, the Prime Minister’s Council of UIDAI was constituted on July 30, 2009 which held its first meeting on August 12, 2009 where the Chairman of UIDAI made detailed representation on the broad strategy and approach of the proposed UID project.

One of the proposals was to provide a legislative framework for UID at the earliest so that it could have the legal sanction to perform its function. Some other Committees like the Biometrics Standard Committee, Demographic Data Standards and Verification Procedure Committee were set up as a support system to the project, which submitted their respective reports in December 2009.

Even a Cabinet Committee on UID was constituted vide orders dated October 22, 2009 which was headed by the Prime Minister with the aim to cover all issues relating to UIDAI, including its organisation, policies, programmes, schemes, funding and methodology to be adopted for achieving its objectives.

The matter was addressed in the Seventeenth Finance Commission Report also which was tabled in the Parliament on February 25, 2010. In this report, the Finance Commission suggested targeting of subsidies through UIDAI. By April 2010, UIDAI came out with its Strategy Overview. This Overview describes the features, benefits, revenue model and timelines of the UIDAI project.

Furthermore, it outlined the goal of the UID to serve as a universal proof of identity, allowing residents to prove their identities anywhere in the country. The project would give the Government a clear view of India’s population, enabling it to target and deliver services effectively, achieve greater returns on social investments and monitor money and resource flows across the country.

It was felt that crucial to the achievement of this goal is the active participation of the central, state and local Governments as well as public and private sector entities. Only with their support will the project be able to realise a larger vision of inclusion and development in India.

A Cabinet Note bearing No. 4(4)/57/2010/CC-UIDAI for the Cabinet Committee on UIDAI was submitted on May 12, 2010.

The Note outlined a brief background of UIDAI, proposed an approach for collection of demographic and biometric attributes of residents for the UID project and sought approval of the Cabinet Committee for adoption of the aforesaid approach and suggested that the same standards and processes be adhered to by the Registrar General of India for the NPR exercise and all other Registrars in the UID system.

Rationale for inclusion of iris biometrics was also submitted with the aforesaid Cabinet Note to explain the need for capturing iris scans at the time of capturing biometric details.

By September 2010 enrolment process of Aadhaar began with the nationwide launch of the Aadhaar project. In December 2010, UIDAI came out with a report on enrolment process known as ‘UID Enrolment Proof-of-Concept Report’ studying enrolment proof-of-concept in three rural areas of Karnataka, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh published by the UIDAI.

According to this report, ‘the biometric matching analysis of 40,000 people showed that the accuracy levels achieved by both iris and ten fingerprints were more than an order of magnitude better compared to using either of the two individually. The multi-modal enrolment was adequate to carry out de-duplication on a much larger scale, with reasonable expectations of extending it to all residents of India’.

Going by the recommendation of the Chairman of UIDAI for providing legislative framework to UIDAI, a Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 03, 2010 known as ‘National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010’.

Various other steps were taken to smoothen the process of enrolment. There were studies from time to time on the effectiveness of the enrolment process. Notifications/orders were also issued by the Reserve Bank of India stating that an Aadhaar letter would be recognised by Banks to open bank accounts for a resident. Similar Orders/Notifications were issued by other authorities as well.

On the first anniversary of Aadhaar launch, which fell on September 29, 2011, announcement was made that 10 crores enrolments and generation of more than 3.75 crores of Aadhaar had taken place. Some of the reports submitted in due course of time, which are relevant for our purposes, are taken note of at this stage:

(i) Report of the Task Force on an Aadhaar-Enabled Unified Payment Infrastructure for the direct transfer of subsidies on Kerosene, LPG and Fertilizer.

(ii) In March 2012, Fingerprint Authentication Report was submitted to UIDAI. This Report showcased the high accuracy rates of using fingerprints to authenticate identities. The study conducted in the rural setting representing typical demography of the population established that it is technically possible to use fingerprint to authenticate a resident in 98.13% of the population.

The accuracy of 96.5% can be achieved using one best finger and 99.3% can be achieved using two fingers. Further improvement is possible if the device specifications are tightened to include only the best devices and certain mechanical guide is used to aid proper placement of the finger. It was also demonstrated through benchmarking that the authentication infrastructure is able to sustain one million authentications per hour.

(iii) Fifty Third Report of the Standing Committee on Finance on the ‘Demands for Grants (2012-13)’ of the Ministry of Planning was presented to the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on April 24, 2012. This Report summarises the objectives and financial implications of the UID scheme being implemented under the aegis of the Planning Commission.

(iv) Iris Authentication Accuracy Report was submitted to UIDAI on September 12, 2012. This Report based on an empirical study of 5833 residents demonstrated iris authentication to be viable in Indian context. With current level of device readiness for iris capture, it is capable of providing coverage for 99.67% of population with authentication accuracy of above 99.5%.

Suggestions made in this document for the vendors, once implemented, will improve the rates further. The overall systems – network and software – have shown to meet desired requirements in real life condition. Finally, six different devices with variety of form and function are available to provide competitive vendor eco-system.

(v) Background Note on Introduction to Cash Transfers was prepared by the National Committee on Direct Cash Transfers in its first meeting on November 26, 2012. This Report outlines the advantages of cash transfers in the Indian context stating that a unique ID for all is a prerequisite for this purpose.