India will become the first country in the world to issue a unique identity number for each of its residents from February 2011 which will allow an on-line verification, a top official said Wednesday.

“We will start issuing the unique number by February 2011,” Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), said here Wednesday at a talk organised in the Parliament House Library.

He said that giving a unique number to each Indian was a big challenge as UIDAI will make sure that there is no duplication. The project estimated to cost around Rs.30,000 crore will cover the entire population of the country.

Nilekani said that biometrics will be used to prevent duplication and the authority will keep the same kind of information as is mentioned on voter I-card. “We want to keep minimal information,” he said, adding that there will be no invasion of privacy.

He said the unique number will enable the UIDAI to verify identity of a citizen online and India will become the first country in the world to have such a system. “No other country has done it. It will be gateway to open up public services to the people.”

He said under the present system, verification process is being done over and over again.

Terming the project a “massively complex project,” he said the authority will use state governments, banks, insurance companies and other such institutions as partners in enrollment.

The unique number will not give any rights or entitlements but can be later used for the purposes of citizenship, he said.

“It is a voluntary number. Even infants will get it,” he said, adding that identity of mother or guardian will be used alongside in case of children as biometrics are not fully developed in them.

Nilekani said the verification process will be kept pro-poor and inclusive.

“I think it is a very powerful and inclusive idea. It will help the poor have better access to public services and will be a great enabler for their financial inclusion. The flagship welfare schemes of the government can be made more efficient,” he said, adding that it will help strengthen national security, reducing fraud and increasing tax collection.

Giving an illustration of the use of the unique number in banking sector, he said it can help people make money withdrawals easier virtually leading to an ATM in every village.

Nilekani, who took questions at the end of his talk, said the country should formulate a comprehensive privacy law.

The talk, organised by the Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training of the Lok Sabha secretariat, was attended by several MPs and officials.

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