The turf war between the Planning Commission and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has deepened. While the plan panel is questioning the independence of the Nandan Nilekani-led UIDAI, the latter says its powers were derived from the government and orders issued by the Planning Commission itself.
Earlier this month, the Commission complained to the finance ministry that financial decisions and proposals of UIDAI were not being routed through the Commission which had been kept out of the decision-making loop. UIDAI has said if proposals were not being routed through the Commission and sent directly to the finance secretary, it was owing to a notification issued by the Commission itself. “If it (Planning Commission) wishes to undo its own notifications or orders, it is free to do so,” said UIDAI Director General R S Sharma.
The Plan panel has sought control of oversight over UIDAI though it had let go this control after a notification it issued in November 2009 where it delegated financial powers to the UIDAI director general, equivalent to those of a ministerial secretary with powers to take decisions.
In its notification dated November 30, 2009 on the delegation of financial powers to UIDAI, the Planning Commission says: “Competent authority has declared the DG, UIDAI as the head of department for all purposes..I’m also directed to convey the sanction of the competence authority under Rule 13(2) of delegation of financial powers , 1978 to the delegation of such financial powers to the head of the department UIDAI in respect of UIDAI that have been delegated to the Planning Commission as a department of the Central Government under DFPR 1978...”
There is another notification by the finance ministry itself appointing K Ganga, deputy director general (finance), as the financial advisor in UIDAI.
Now in a note to the Department of Expenditure, the Commission has sought the appointment of an independent financial advisor, preferably its own, to monitor the funds of the UIDAI. Sharma cites these notification issued by the Ministry of Finance and the Planning Commission to prove that it has been doing exactly what it was asked to do.
A senior Planning Commission official said: “The budget line of UIDAI is with Ministry of Planning and we need to see the proposals.”
The official added the financial advisor in the Planning Commission would be monitoring the affairs in UIDAI.
Several questions have been raised against the UIDAI in the past few months by the Planning Commission, especially on its role in collecting data in duplication of efforts by the Registrar General of Census.
The UIDAI proposal to collect data for the whole population as against the 200-million limit, earlier agreed by the government, had been shot down by the finance ministry, giving a shot in the arm to the critics in the Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission, which has emerged as a staunch critic of UIDAI, has however attracted criticism from many for what is thought to be attempts to tamper with the independence and efficiency of UIDAI.
Sources in UIDAI say the basic grouse within the Planning Commission is that UIDAI has circumvented it, communicating directly with the finance ministry. If the proposals were to go through the Commission, the delays would multiply, said an official.
Planning Commission member Mihir Shah differs on this: “My problem with UIDAI is that the cost it incurs should benefit the most excluded. But is that happening? Without an extra effort the most excluded people won’t even get a UID number.”
Ashwini Kumar, policy analyst and academic from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, said: “The Planning Commission wants to bureaucratise and control an innovative project which has its own internal mechanism to detect irregularities. The Planning Commission intervention is an example of its lack of imagination.”
However, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia is said to have conveyed concerns of the Commission regarding UIDAI to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh before his recent departure abroad.