Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Biometric tracking gives a tamper proof identity to villagers
Jaya Menon - Chennai
Remote Gurrampeta, a tribal hamlet, seemed hardly the ideal place to distribute smart cards after an experiment with sophisticated personal tracking or access control systems. The backward village with 150 families was poverty-stricken and calamity prone. All that the tribals here wanted was a decent livelihood that would give them at least a meal a day. So, when Kris Dev and his IT savvy team from Chennai hit this rural reach of Andhra Pradesh, carrying their 'access technology' equipment, comprising a biometric device, a 9" by 6 "equipment weighing barely 500 gms, and a laptop, the villagers did not exactly jump with joy.
''In fact, after setting up the equipment to start their experiment, it suddenly struck us that there was no power supply to Gurrampeta village,'' says Kris Dev, a management and ICT consultant, specialising in decentralization and e-governance, co-founder of the Life Line 2 Business (LL2B). He recently won the Manthan Award in the category of 'e-inclusion and livelihood creation.'' The April 2006 experiment by Kris and his team in three villages of Andhra Pradesh, Gurrampeta (V R Puram Mandal in Khammam District), Mohammedabad and Jakulla Kootha Palli (Amadugur Mandal in Ananthapur district) coming under the National Rural Development Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) for 'Biometric Tracking of Payments under NREGA and others' was adjudged the best among 25 states in India.
Back in Gurrampeta, Kris and his colleagues, found a 6-volt car battery and kicked off their experiment which promised to usher in radical changes at the grass root level ''where villagers working in agricultural fields, construction sites or factories were always being exploited by greedy, corrupt middlemen.'' Their village initiative had been possible only after several rounds of counselling and explanations. It was quite understandable, as the villagers had only recently been taken for a big ride.
Soon after the 2005 floods in coastal Andhra Pradesh spread over Khammam district, the Hyderabad-based Centre for World Solidarity, a NGO, announced solatium of Rs. 500 each for many villages including Gurrampeta. ''A middleman, authorised to distribute the relief money, put his thumbprints across 135 names of affected villagers and pocketed funds worth Rs. 75,000,'' says Kris. Only 15 villagers actually got the relief. Kris explained to the disillusioned villagers that this would never happen with a biometric device where each of them would have a 'unique identity' by registering their thumbprint into the machine and their photographs integrated through software. So, every time they put their thumb on the optical scan for verification, their photographs would pop up. The biometric device has a provision to enter the citizen's ID and displays the ID and name on a LCD screen.
''When a villager signs in for work, he registers on he biometric device. He does the same when he finishes work. So, there is an official record of the man days he puts in which cannot be tampered with and he has to be paid for work done on those days. We have work records (muster-rolls) in villages showing how supervisors have tampered with number of working days of villagers so that they could pocket the extra cash,'' said Kris. ''A biometric-based smart card where the citizen uses the information of what he has, what he knows and what he is, ensures a high level of security,'' he added.
Now, villagers of Gurrampeta, neighbouring Mohammedabad and J K Palli are thrilled with their new identity. But this was just an experiment. Convincing the policy makers to introduce the process on a permanent basis has proved to be more difficult. In fact, one officer wanted to know if the biometric device would work as well with work-worn hands as it did with his 'soft' fingers. ''We showed him that the device worked with everyone —a villager working with machines in a factory, whose work-roughened palms were full of corns and those working in cement factories,'' points out Kris. So, while he had convinced villagers that a unique 'biometric' citizen identity would dramatically change their lives, the greater challenge has been to convince the various state and district administrations.
The investment would be a mere Rs. 20,000 in every village for a battery-run biometric device in conjunction with a suitable software that can register citizens uniquely, avoid duplication, create a data base of citizens and permit online transfer of information for the district and state administrations to view online. Kris is still waiting with crossed fingers for the first invitation to a village in India for implementing the project.
Biometric Smart Card, a fool-proof ID for citizens
A biometric smart card device can be a fool-proof ID for citizens, says this ICT consultant.
Talk of free and fair elections and likely the sceptical scoffing will be accompanied with jibes like `Maybe Krishh (the superhero Hrithik Roshan played) can help you get there.'
Well, folks, sceptics and all those ready to vote out there, we have news for you. Kris is here to help solve voting problems.
eWorld recently chatted up Kris Dev or Gopala Krishnan Devanathan, ICT (information and communication technology) and e-Governance Consultant, and NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) Implementation Activist on his Biometric Smart Card (BSC) device. The device won the 2006 Manthan award for creating India's Best e-Content in the category `e-inclusion & Livelihood' for Biometric Tracking of Payments under NREGA.
Over to Kris Dev:
"Today there is no unique and foolproof identification of citizens. A Biometric Smart Card is the answer to this. The process is simple. Every citizen could be uniquely registered by a Citizen ID and all their particulars — such as name, father's name, mother's name, date and time of birth, place of birth, blood group, identification marks, height, weight, address and their digital photo can be made available," says Dev.
All this information can be put into a database and stored in a Java 32kb contactless smart chip and issued as a Citizen ID card, he explains.
Whenever citizens go for voting, they need to carry the BSC. The authentication is done using any finger, by placing it on the finger print verifier and comparing with the finger print in the chip. The record of voting can be stored in the chip as well as the voting machine and downloaded to a computer and transferred to a central server.
Besides voting, the biometric card has other uses. It can be used by an individual literally from birth to death, to track all transactions including medical history, education, skill training, employment, income and expense tracking, insurance, compulsory savings, income tax, old age pension and PDS benefits, among others, says Dev.
"It can help to keep track of movement of people, particularly in sensitive areas, thereby avoiding cross border infiltration, and minimise terrorism," he says.
The card can also be used for G2C (government to citizens) transactions and to register citizens' grievances online using the proposed 600,000 Community Service Centres of the National Alliance for Mission 2007 - `Every Village a Knowledge Centre' project of the Government of India.
Such a device, says Dev, will minimise corruption, by eliminating personal contact with officials. All transactions can be seen live on the Internet and citizens can track, for themselves, the progress of various complaints, schemes and payments.
Easy to apply
Implementing the card process is seen as not too difficult since the peripherals required are minimal and cheap.
As the Manthan Web site says, "The product can be operated with a simple 12 volt car battery or rechargeable battery. The device can help to register up to 1,000 finger prints and then compare the actual beneficiary with the template, thereby ensuring the right person gets paid, for the services rendered. The device uniquely identifies the thumb impression of each beneficiary, linked to their ID."
Dev suggests, "Every citizen can be issued a biometric Smart card which can also act as a Bank Debit Card for about Rs 100-200 per person, depending on the volumes."
Surprisingly, the voting system in the country didn't give birth to this concept.
Dev was motivated to develop it by the crying need to track payments made to citizens under the Work for Food programme and National Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes. In a remote AP village, they found middlemen swindling the entire flood relief released by an NGO, using fraudulent muster roll.
Of course, they encountered stiff resistance when they sought to implement the card system in this context.
"Everyone said, `oh! It is not adopted anywhere in the world. It will work only for white-collar officials and not for workers and farm labourers," recalls Dev. "They said suddenly, after going to the field, that there is no power in the whole village to test the device. We sought a locally available 12 volt car battery and ran the device." The beneficiaries were, of course, totally captivated.
But is this completely tamper-proof?
Dev avers, ""It can be made 99.9 per cent tamper proof. Even if the biometric verification is not possible in a rare case, the Citizen ID retrieved from the Smart card with the photo can be good proof."
Biometric tracking using the iris has been done in AP for public distribution. "But the iris scanner is a costlier device" says Dev. "Hence we came up with a suggestion to use a low-cost device that would serve the needs of the common man."
Besides, it can be made better. "We have tested use of stand-alone devices in the field where the daily worker's attendance can be tracked and the data downloaded to the local computer. It can also be connected to a telephone line to send to the block/district server. The Smart card would help to store the entire attendance information. To eliminate any doubt in the mind of the worker, an Instant printout of the attendance slip can be given using a palm printer. The pay slip can be generated automatically and credited into the account for use through the BSC, says Dev.
Various State Government Departments, NGOs and Micro Credit organisations, among others, have shown interest in adopting the technology.
Mindsets and funding are tedious roadblocks. Also, says Dev, "The Indian Government must bring about an amendment in the NREGA and RTI Act, to include Biometric Tracking of Citizens."