The world’s largest biometric identification programme is riddled with fictional names

Where’s my Aadhaar card?
Where’s my Aadhaar card?
Image: AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.
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India runs the world’s largest program for collecting biometric information of its citizens under its Unified Identification Authority programme. Its eventual aim is to provide Indians with an Aadhaar card, which has a unique identification number, to help them access government services.

The program has issued almost 675 million unique IDs since August 2010, when the first such Aadhaar was generated, and has a target of assigning 1 billion IDs by 2015.

Predictably, some problems have cropped up: Numbers have been assigned to fruits and Gods and some of the choicest abuses in local Indian languages have been attached to the names of applicants.

While some of these errors can be traced back to the data entry operators during the Aadhaar enrollment process, a parliamentary standing committee in 2011 also found problems with the technology the system is built upon.

Here are some select specimens.

Divine fingerprints: An Aadhaar card has been issued for the Hindu monkey God Hanuman, the Press Trust of India reported yesterday. It bears a picture of Lord Hanuman wearing his gold crown and necklaces. He is identified as the son of ‘Pawan’—the name of Hanuman’s father in Ramayana. The card even has God’s mobile number and a thumbprint.

@#$&: Earlier in the week, many people in Hooghly in West Bengal found that their names had been suffixed with Bengali expletives. One of the resident’s was identified as the son of a “Dog.”

Gone to the dogs: In 2013, pictures of dogs, chairs or trees were printed in Aadhaar cards, instead of photos of actual recipients. There were a total of 3858 Aadhaar cards issued with photos of non-humans.

Coriander gets an Aadhaar card: The Intelligence Bureau in 2012 reported that at least 12 unique identity numbers were issued to fruits and vegetables such as apples and coriander leaves.

Data loss: The Maharashtra government reportedly lost personal and biometric data of 300,000 applicants in 2013. The state IT department, however, had said the data was encrypted and no one can misuse it.