Centre for Internet & Society

This post examines the UID, NPR and Governance as it exists in India. The background note gives a summary of what is the NPR, the legal grounding of NPR, its objectives, and the information which could be collected under the NPR. The post also throws light on the UID, its objectives, process of enrollment in UID, how UID is being adopted by different states in India, and finally the differences and controversies in UID and NPR.

This research was undertaken as part of the 'SAFEGUARDS' project that CIS is undertaking with Privacy International and IDRC.


The above video is from the "UID, NPR, and Governance" conference held on March 2, 2013 at TERI, Bangalore.

What is the NPR?
In 2010, the Government of India initiated the NPR which entails the creation of the National Citizens Register. This register is being prepared at the local, sub-district, district, state and national level. The database will contain thirteen categories of demographic information and three categories of biometric data collected from all residents aged five and above. Collection of this information was initially supposed to take place during the House listing and Housing Census phase of Census 2011 during April 2010 to September 2010.[1]

What is the legal grounding of the NPR?
The NPR is legally grounded in the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship Rules 2003. It is mandatory for every usual resident in India to register in the NPR as per Section 14A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, as amended in 2004. The collection of biometrics is not accounted for in the statute or rules.

What are the objectives of the NPR?
The objectives of the NPR as stated by the Citizenship Act is for the creation of a National Citizen Register. The National Citizen Register is intended to assist in improving security by checking for illegal migration. Additional objectives that have been articulated include: providing services to the residents under government schemes and programmes, checking for identity frauds, and improving planning.[2]

What is the process of enrollment for the NPR?
NPR enrollment is being carried out through house to house canvassing. The Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India has assigned Department of Information Technology (DIT) the responsibility of collecting and digitizing demographic data in 17 states and 2 Union Territories of India.[2] Collected information will then be printed and displayed in the local area where it is scrutinized by local officers and vetted by local bodies called ´Gram Sabha/Ward Committees´.[4] This process of social audit is meant to bring in transparency, equity, and ensure accuracy.

What information will be collected under the NPR?
The NPR database will include thirteen categories of demographic information and three categories of biometrics. The collection biometrics has not been provided for in the text of the Citizenship Rules, and is instead appears to be authorized through guidelines,[5] which do not have statutory backing. Currently, two iris scans, ten fingerprints, and a photograph are being collected. According to a 2010 Committee note, only the photograph and fingerprints were initially envisioned to be collected.

What is the Resident Identity Card?
The proposed Resident Identity card is a smart card with a micro-processor chip of 6.4 Kb capacity; the demographic and biometric attributes of each individual will be personalized in this chip. The UID number will be placed on the card as well. Currently, the government is only considering the possibility of distributing smart cards to all residents over the age of 18.[6]

What is the UID?
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was established in January 2009 and is part of the Planning Commission of India. UIDAI aims to provide a unique 12 digit ID number to all residents in India on a voluntary basis. The number will be known as AADHAAR. The UIDAI will own and operate a Unique Identification Number database which will contain biometric and demographic data of citizens.[7]

What is the objective of the UID?
According to the UIDAI, the UID will provide identity for individuals. The scheme has been promoted by the UIDAI as enabling a number of social benefits including improving the public distribution system, enabling financial inclusion, and improving the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).  Despite these benefits, the UIDAI only guarantees identity, and does not guarantee rights, benefits or entitlement.[8]

What is the process for enrollment in the UID?
To enroll in the UID, individuals must go to enrollment centers with the appropriate documentation. Once documents are verified and biometrics taken, individuals will receive an acknowledgment slip and their UID number will be sent in the mail.[9] The UIDAI will enroll up to 600 million residents in 16 States and territories.[10] Online registration prior to enrollment at a Center is also now being offered.

How is UID being adopted by different States?
The adoption of the UID by different states and platforms has been controversial as the UID is not a mandatory number, yet with states and services adopting the number for different governmental services, the UID is becoming mandatory by default.  Some ways in which states are using the UID include:

  • Gas and vehicles: The UPA Government has required that citizens have a UID number for services such as purchasing cooking gas, issuing a RTI request, and registering vehicles.[11]
  • Education: The Kerala government has required that all students must have UID number in order to be tracked through the system.[12] This mandate was questioned by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
  • First Information Reports (FIR’s): The high court in Bombay has ordered the state home department to direct all police stations in Maharashtra to record the Unique Identification (UID) numbers of accused individuals and witnesses filing a FIR.[13]
  • Banks: The National Payment Corporation of India has collaborated UIDAI and is issuing ‘RuPay cards’ (Dhan Aadhaar cards) which will serve as ATM/micro-ATM cards. In 2011 the Bank of India had issued 250 cards.[14]
  • Railway: Railways are proposing to use the UID database for bookings and validation of passengers.[15]
  • Social Security: Commencing January 1, 2013, MGNREGA, the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana (RGAY), the Ashraya housing scheme, Bhagyalakshmi and the social security and pension scheme have included the UID in the Mysore district

Has there been duplication of UID numbers?
According to news reports:

  • The UIDAI has blacklisted an operator and a supervisor in Andhra Pradesh for issuing fake UID numbers.
  • The UIDAI is looking into six complaints regarding the misuse of personal data while issuing the UID numbers to individuals.
  • The UIDAI has received two received complaints regarding duplication of UID numbers.[17]

What are the differences between the UID and NPR?

  • Voluntary vs. Mandatory: It is compulsory for all Indian residents to register with the NPR, while registration with the UIDAI is considered voluntary. However, the NPR will store individuals UID number with the NPR data and place it on the Resident Indian Card. In this way and others, the UID number is becoming compulsory by various means.
  • Number vs. Register: UID will issue a number, while the NPR is the prelude to the National Citizens Register. Thus, it is only a Register. Though earlier the MNIC card was implemented along the coastal area, there has been no proposal to extend the MNIC to the whole country. The smart card that is proposed under the NPR has only been raised for discussion, and there has been no official decision to issue a card.
  • Statute vs. Bill: The enrollment of individuals for the NPR is legally backed by the Citizenship Act, except in relation to the collection of biometrics, while the UID as proposed a bill which has not been passed for the legal backing of the scheme.
  • Authentication vs. Identification: The UID number will serve as an authenticator during transactions. It can be adopted and made mandatory by any platform. The National Resident Card will signify resident status and citizenship. It is unclear what circumstances the card will be required for use in.
  • UIDAI vs. RGI: The UIDAI is responsible for enrolling individuals in the UID scheme, and the RGI is responsible for enrolling individuals in the NPR scheme. It is important to note that the UIDAI is located in the Planning Commission, but its status is unclear, as the NIC had indicated that the data held is not being held by the government.
  • Door to door canvassing vs. center enrollment: Individuals will have to go to an enrollment center and register for the UID, while the NPR will carry out part of the enrollment of individuals through door to door canvassing. Note: Individuals will still have to go to centers for enrolling their biometrics for the NPR scheme.
  • Prior documentation vs. census material: The UID will be based off of prior forms of documentation and identification, while the NPR will be based off of census information.
  • Online vs. Offline: For authentication of an individual’s UID number, the UID will require mobile connectivity, while the NPR can perform offline verification of an individual’s card.

What is the controversy between the UID and NPR?

  • Effectiveness: There is controversy over which scheme would be more effective and appropriate for different purposes. For example, the Ministry of Home Affairs has argued that the NPR would be more suited for distributing subsidies than the UID, as the NPR has data linking each individual to a household.[18]
  • Legality of sharing data: Both the legality of the UID and NPR collecting data and biometrics has been questioned. For example, it has been pointed out that the collection of biometric information through the NPR, is beyond the scope of subordinate legislation. Especially as this appears to be left only to guidelines.[19] Collection of any information under the UID scheme is being questioned as the Bill has not been approved by the Parliament.
  • Accuracy: The UIDAI's use of multiple registrars and enrolment agencies, the reliance on  'secondary information' via existing ID documents for enrollment in the UID, and the original plan to enroll individuals via the 'introducer' system has raised by Home Minister Chidambaram in January 2012 about how accurate the data collected by the UID is is that will be collected.[20] To this extent, the UIDAI has changed the introducer system to a ‘verifier’ system. In this system, Government officials verify individuals and their documents prior to enrolling them.
  • Biometrics: Though biometrics are mandatory for the UID scheme, according to information on the NPR website, if an individual has already enrolled with the UID, they will not need to provide their biometrics again for the NPR. Application of this standard has been haphazard as some individuals have been required to provide biometrics for both the UID and the NPR, and others have not been required to provide biometrics for the NPR.[21]

What court cases have been filed against the UID?
The following cases are currently filed in courts around the country:

  • Supreme Court:

K S Puttaswamy, a retired judge of Karnataka High Court filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme  Court challenging the legality of UIDAI.[22]

  • Chandigarh: A petition was filed in Chandigarh by Sanjeev Pandey which sought to quash executive order passed in violation of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, and Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989 by which UID cards had been made mandatory for registration of vehicles and grant of learner/regular driving license.[23]
  • Karnataka: Mathew Thomas and Mr. VK Somasekhar have filed a civil suit in the Bangalore City Civil Courts (numbered 8181 of 2012) asking for the UID project to be stopped. The suit was dismissed, and they have appealed the case to the High Court (numbered 1780 and 1825 of 2013).
  • Chennai: A PIL has been filed in the Madras High Court challenging the constitutional validity of the UIDAI and its issue of UID numbers.[24]
  • Bombay: In January 2012 a case was filed in the Mumbai high Court. The petitioners to the case are R. Ramkumar, G. Nagarjuna, Kamayani Mahabal, Yogesh Pawar and  Vickram Crishna & Ors.

What is the relationship between UID, NPR, and National Security
The UID and the NPR have both stated improving security as an objective for the projects. To this extent, it is envisioned that the UID and the NPR could be used to track and identify individuals, and determine if they are residents of India. In the case of the NPR, a distinction will be made between residents and citizens. Yet, concerns have also been raised that these projects instead raise national security threats, given the size of the databases that will be created, the centralized nature of the databases, the sensitive nature of the information held in the databases, and the involvement of international agencies.[25]

What is the relationship between UID and Big Data?
Aspects of the UID scheme allow it to generate a large amount of data from a variety of sources. Namely, the UID scheme aims to capture 12 billion fingerprints, 1.2 billion photographs and 2.4 billion iris scans and can be adopted by any platform. This data in turn can be stored, analyzed, and used for a number of purposes by a number of stakeholders in both the government and the private sectors. This is already happening to a certain extent as in November 2012 the UID  established a Public Data Portal for the UID project. According to UIDAI officials the data portal will allow for big data analysis using crowd sourcing models.[26]

How is UID being used for BPL direct cash transfers?
Registration with the UID scheme is considered essential to determine whether beneficiaries belong in the BPL category and to provide transparency to the distribution of cash. In this way, the UID requirement is thought to prevent the leakage of social security benefits and subsidies to non-intended beneficiaries, as cash will only be made available to the person identified by the UID as the intended recipient. One of the main prerequisites of a below poverty line (BPL) direct cash transfer in India has become the registration with the UIDAI and the acquisition of a UID number. For example:

  • The "Cash for Food" programme requires that individuals applying for aid have a bank account, and a UID number. The money is transferred, electronically and automatically, to the bank account and the beneficiary should be able to withdraw it from a micro-ATM using the UID number.[27] It is important to note that micro-ATMs are not actual ATMs, but instead are handheld machines which may give information on bank balance and such, but will not dispense or maintain privacy of transaction.  Most importantly, the transaction is mediated though a banking correspondent.
  • The government plans to cover the target BPL families and deposit USD 570 billion per year in the bank accounts of 100 million poor families by 2014.[28]
  • Currently, only beneficiaries of thirteen government schemes and LPG connection holders have been identified as being entitled to register for a UID number.[29] Though these schemes have been identified, as of yet, adoption has happened in very few districts.

What are the concerns regarding the use of biometrics in the UID and NPR scheme?
Both the UID and the NPR rely on biometrics as a way to identify individuals.  Yet, many concerns have been raised about the use of biometrics in terms of legality, effectiveness, and accuracy of the technology.  With regards to the accuracy and effectiveness of biometrics – the following concerns have been raised:

  • Biometrics are not infallible: Inaccuracies can arise from variations in individuals  attributes and inaccuracies in the technology.
  • Environment matters: An individual’s biometrics can change in response to a number of factors including age, environment, stress, activity, and illness.
  • Population size matters: Because biometrics have differing levels of stability – the larger the population is the higher the possibility for error is.
  • Technology matters: The accuracy of a biometric match also depends on the accuracy of the technology used. Many aspects of biometric technology can change including: calibration, sensors, and algorithms.
  • Spoofing: It is possible to spoof a fingerprint and fool a biometric reader.[30]

[1]. Government of India. Ministry of Home Affairs. Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner.  http://bit.ly/IiySDh

[2]. This is according to a 2010 Cabinet note and the official website of the NPR.

[3]. Department of Information Technology: http://ditnpr.nic.in/frmStatelist.aspx - These include:  (1) Arunachal Pradesh (2) Assam (3) Bihar (4) Chhattisgarh (5) Haryana (6) Himachal Pradesh (7)Jammu & Kashmir (8) Jharkhand (9) Madhya Pradesh (10)Meghalaya (11)Mizoram (12)Punjab (13)Rajasthan (14)Sikkim (15)Tripura (16)Uttar Pradesh (17)Uttarakhand  Union Territories:-(1) Dadra & Nagar Haveli (2) Chandigarh.

[4]. Government of India. Ministry of Home Affairs. Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner: http://bit.ly/IiySDh

[5]. Department of Information Technology. National Population Register.  Question  22. What are the procedures to be followed for creating the NPR? The procedures to be followed for creating the NPR have been laid down in the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, and the guidelines being issued from time to time.

[6]. The Unique Identification Government of India. Ministry of Home Affairs. Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner: http://censusindia.gov.in/2011-Common/IntroductionToNpr.html Authority of India. http://uidai.gov.in/

[7]. Unique Identification Authority of India. http://uidai.gov.in/

[8]. The point was made by R. Ramachandran. How reliable is UID? Frontline. Volume 28- Issue 24: November 19- December 02, 2011. Available at: http://bit.ly/13UMiSv

[9]. For more information see: How to get an Aadhaar. http://bit.ly/R2jBOP

[10]. Mazumdar. R. UIDAI targets 400 million enrolments by mid 2013, Aadhar hopes to give unique identity to some 1.2 bn residents. Economic Times. December 2012. Available at: http://bit.ly/ZC3Yve. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[11]. Malu. B. The Aadhaar Card – What are the real intentions of the UPA Government? DNA. February 18th 2013. Available at: http://bit.ly/150BXRj. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[12]. Government of Kerala. General Education Department Circular No. 52957/G2?2012/G.Edn. Available at: http://bit.ly/15Oiq8J

[13]. Plumber, M. Make UID numbers must in FIRs: Bombay HC. DNA. October 2011. Available at: http://bit.ly/tVsInl. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[14]. Press Information Bureau. Government of India. Identity Card to Every Adult Resident of the Country under NPR; No Card being issued by UIDAI. December 2011. Available at: http://bit.ly/tJwZG1

[15]. TravelBiz. Railways to use Aadhar database for passenger validation. February 2013. Available at: http://bit.ly/YcW5wl. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[16]. Vombatkere. S.G. Questions for Mr. Nilekani. The Hindu. February 2013. Available at: http://bit.ly/YqPlK1. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[17]. Economic Times. UIDAI orders probe into duplication of Aadhaar numbers. http://bit.ly/ZORowg. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[18]. Jain. B. Battle over turf muddies waters. Times of India. February 2013. Available at: http://bit.ly/16ud3gm. Last accessed: February 28th 2013

[19]. Rediff. Aadhaar’s allocation is Parliament’s contempt. February 2013. Available at: http://bit.ly/Y638JS. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[20]. Ibid 17.

[21]. Times of India. Confused over Aadhaar, Cabinet clears GoM. February 2013. Available at http://bit.ly/UTH2JS. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[22]. Times of India. Supreme Court notice to govt on PIL over Aadhar. December 2012. Available at: http://bit.ly/13UNs0i. Last accessed: February 2013.

[23]. The Indian Express. HC issues notice to Centre, UT over mandatory UID for license. January 2013. Available at: http://bit.ly/WJq43M. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[24]. Economic Times. PIL seeks to scrap Nandan Nilekani’s Aadhar project. January 2012. Available at: http://bit.ly/zB1H07. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[25]. Times of India. UID poses national security threat: BJP. January 2012. Available at: http://bit.ly/WeM6KA. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[26]. Zeenews. UIDAI launches Public Data Portal for Aadhaar. November 8th 2012. Available at: http://bit.ly/T9NdX3. Last Accessed: November 12th 2012.

[27]. Punj, S. Wages of Haste: Implementing the cash transfer scheme is proving a challenge. January 2013. Available at: http://bit.ly/1024Dwo. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[28]. The International Business Times. India to Roll Out World’s Biggest Direct Cash Transfer Scheme for the Poor. November 2012. Available at: http://bit.ly/UYbtw4. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[29]. Mid Day. Do not register for Aadhaar card before March 15: UID in –charge. February 2013. Available at:  http://bit.ly/Xymx9d. Last accessed: February 28th 2013.

[30]. These points were raised in the following frontline article Ibid: Ramachandran, R. How reliable is UID? Frontline. Volume 28 – Issue 24 November 19th – December 2nd 2011. Available at: http://bit.ly/13UMiSv. Last accessed February  28th 2013.

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