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Nilekani angry at budget cut

Nandan Nilekani, Chairman of the new Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). AFP

he Nandan Nilekani-headed Unique Identification Authority, which is working to provide Indians with 12-digit unique identification numbers (Aadhaar), has hit a major roadblock in the form of Montek Singh Ahluwalia and P. Chidambaram. Sources say that Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission has recommended the slashing of UIDA's budget by less than half after Home Minister Chidambaram objected to the "unnecessary spending" by the Authority. Sources also say that Nilekani is upset with the interference in his functioning and if there is any further tampering with UIDA, "he may put in his papers and return to his IT enterprises". When contacted, Nilekani refused to comment on the matter.

The UIDA had asked for Rs 3,500 cr for 2012-13, but the Planning Commission has recommended a figure of Rs 1,400 cr. UIDA was given Rs 3,000 cr for fiscal 2011-2012. The budget cut was planned after a recent meeting between P. Chidambaram and Montek Singh Ahluwalia. The proposal has been forwarded to the Ministry of Finance for final approval.

An official associated with UIDA said that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wants to curb Aadhaar's scope to promote its own National Population Register (NPR), which is tasked to collect information about Indian citizens in a similar manner. MHA officials said that the ministry recommended downsizing UIDA's expenditure as the UID scheme of collecting demographic details along with biometric data was overlapping with NPR. "Information collected for NPR like the demographics of the population can be used by UID officials. Why should there be a separate exercise and extra spending?" asked an MHA official.

"The MHA wants the information collected through NPR to be used for UID," a source said.

While talking to The Sunday Guardian, the MHA official also questioned the legality of UIDA. "Until the National Authority of India Bill 2010 is passed by Parliament, UIDA does not become an Authority and should not be allowed to function so independently," said the official. The Bill is currently under consideration of a Parliament Standing Committee. Nilekani was roped in to head the project by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself and has been accorded the status of a Cabinet minister. Even without a parliamentary legislation passed, UIDA has already issued around 1 crore Aaadhar cards and plans to issue 60 crore cards by 2014. P. Chidambaram and Montek Singh Ahluwalia did not speak on the matter despite repeated attempts to contact them.

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