The UID was originally advertised as an optional ID mainly for Indians willing to avail themselves of government welfare programs and subsidies, and a means of identification for Indians without bank accounts to open such accounts. The UIDAI had developed a clever and highly scalable process for registering new UID accounts with a two-state process that involved providing a temporary registration number in the first stage and then a permanent UID number after a multi-modal de-duplication process to identify fraudulent and duplicate applications. This registration process was extremely effective and allowed the UIDAI to register close to 30 Crore applicants in March 2012, out of which 13.5 crore applicants had already been issued UID cards.
However, in a valiant and successful attempt by the Home Ministry that decisively snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, this registration process was abruptly terminated based on objections about security and “inefficiency”. The “inefficient” process that registered an incredible 20 crore people in a span of a few years was then replaced by a completely new and broken registration process, and resulted in an inconvenient and confusing process involving people standing in queues in government offices, and more often than not, having to wait a whole day and leave the office without having filled in an application form. This was reported from registration centers all over India.
Strangely enough, after breaking the original fast and efficient process designed by the UIDAI, the same government bureaucracy seemed to have trouble understanding why “there were long queues, multiple questions and lack of initiative by enrolment agencies”. There were no reasons given (except for frivulous ones indicating a lack of understanding of UID technology) by the home ministry and the rest of the central government as to why it chose to break an efficient registration process designed by Mr. Nilenkani’s team with a process that was much worse and created new problems by restricting the presence of iris scanners and fingerprinting machinery only in government offices.
Assuming that the UIDAI continues to perform de-duplication of all new applications, this new process does not improve on the previous registration process in any way, and makes it worse for the average citizen in many ways. The new registration process unnecessarily requires citizens to stand in long lines to fill in
their application forms, compared to the previous process that involved no more than a few minutes of a citizens time. At least, Indian citizens can take it on faith that regardless of the ingenuity of the Indians (such as those in Mr. Nilenkani’s team) in creating a fast and efficient process that does not burden the citizen, they can always depend on the Indian bureaucracy and politics to break the process and bring it closer to the experience Indians have enjoyed since independence — waiting in long lines in government offices for no good reason.
If the government hopes to accelerate the adoption and use of UID by increasing the speed of UID registration, perhaps it should consider going back to the original registration process designed by the UIDAI that involved private companies, as opposed to the current “new and improved” registration process that operates at the speed and efficiency of the government bureaucracy. All of this makes total sense if the intent of the government is to deliberately slow down the UID registration process and make it more expensive and inefficient, so that the entire program can be trashed down the line as being “expensive and inefficient”.