Kathmandu, February 21
Lawmakers are worried that around Rs 7.5 billion being spent on the National Identity Card Project may go down the drain, as they said the biometric cards will only serve the government’s purpose of maintaining a central database of citizens but will not aid the public in any way because they will not be linked to services provided by the state.
Lawmakers of the Federal Parliament expressed these concerns today while reviewing the content of the National Identity Card and Civil Registration Bill at the House’s State Affairs and Good Governance Committee.
The National Identity Card was supposed to be akin to India’s Aadhaar card, which contains 12-digit unique identity numbers. Although Aadhaar is not a proof of citizenship in India, it is a proof of residence and allows cardholders to obtain mobile sim cards, open bank accounts and become eligible for welfare and pension schemes. Currently, Aadhaar is also being used to support Digital India Programme, which aims to promote e-governance and e-commerce.
But Nepal’s national identity cards are unlikely to be used for these purposes, as the bill does not include provisions to promote e-governance or e-commerce.
“If it is going to be just another card to occupy space in our wallet, why should we bother to get it?” former minister and ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmaker Pampha Bhusal asked. She said the government should clarify this issue before spending billions of rupees on the project.
Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa said the bill was introduced as per the constitutional provision.
Article 51 of the constitution states that integrated national identity management information system will be set up to manage all kinds of information and data of citizens in an
integrated manner. The system, according to the constitution, will be linked to services and
facilities provided by the
state and with national development plans. But the bill introduced by the government does not say ID cards will be linked to services and facilities provided by the state.
Despite this, the government started distribution of national identity cards from Panchthar district in November as a pilot project with support of the Asian Development Bank.
“How can the government distribute cards in the absence of law?” questioned Nawaraj Silwal, another ruling NCP lawmaker. “If this question cannot be answered, tell us how people of Panchthar are benefiting from the card? Have their lives changed in any way after they received cards?”
Lawmaker of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party Prem Suwal said the bill should have been “prepared by consultants” and forwarded to the Parliament by the government without revising its content. “This shows the Ministry of Home Affairs has not done adequate work,” said former minister and NCP lawmaker Rekha Sharma.
Home Secretary Prem Kumar Rai and Director General of the Department of National Identity Card and Civil Registration
Department Deepak Kafle defended the bill, saying the existing citizenship certificate database is not centralised, raising chances of tampering with citizenship certificates. The national identity cards, according to the duo, provide the government access to information of all citizens, which will help control crime, keep tabs on criminals and prevent people from changing their dates of birth and other crucial information when they apply for duplicate copies of citizenship certificates.
A version of this article appears in print on February 22, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.