October 4th, 2011
03:47 AM GMT
New Delhi (CNN) – For most Indians living in poverty, their interaction with technology is minimal. But now, every Indian has the opportunity to have their irises and fingerprints scanned using cutting-edge technology.
This is part of the government’s massive effort to give every Indian citizen a biometric, 12 digit identity card. If successful, India will become the only country in the world with a universal biometric identity system.
Indians are flocking to government offices to get their I.D. cards made, attracted by opportunities such as welfare benefits and the ability to apply for bank loans that were previously unavailable or difficult to obtain for undocumented citizens.
Supporters also say it could help alleviate India’s endemic problems with corruption, which has resulted in massive protests in the past year.
The government efforts to document all its citizens began just a year ago, but Nandan Nilekani – chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India, or UIDAI, and a founder of outsourcing software giant, Infosys – has high hopes for the effort.
“Our goal is to get to 1 million people a day to get to about 600 million people enrolled in the system in the next four years,” he said.
The initial stages of the documentation program is aimed at getting India’s poor population registered so that they will finally have access to government benefits without having to deal with an often corrupt local bureaucracy.
“With this card we’ll be able to get rations, rice, oil, wheat, sugar. All these things will be cheaper,” said Mira Devi, a migrant worker who recently obtained her biometric I.D. card.
Rickshaw driver Moti Lal hopes the I.D. card will open up more financial possibilities for himself and his family. “I got the card made cause I’m hoping I can open a bank account and I can take loans and save money for my kids,” he said.
While critics have expressed concerns that the government could use biometric data obtained in this effort against its citizens, people keep coming to get registered, hoping official documentation will make their lives a little easier.
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