Plan to collect personal details of 10 million people for National ID card hits snagOfficials now plan to take the programme to sparsely populated areas in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Had the lockdown been not enforced to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 in March, District Administration Office Chitwan could have completed collecting biometric and other information from people of the district for the distribution of National ID cards by mid-July.
Now, the district administration office is collecting details of residents of only a few wards of Bharatpur Metropolitan City and Ratnanagar Municipality.
“We had planned to collect details of people in Madi Municipality too. But, the local government there refused to entertain the idea,” said Chief District Officer Narayan Prasad Bhattarai.
He said that the details of the people are being collected by strictly following health protocols. The government had chosen Chitwan, along with Jhapa, Sankhuwashbha and Kanchanpur, for the current phase of data collection for the National ID card programme.
According to the Department of National ID and Civil Registration, the coronavirus pandemic has emerged as a major setback for its plan to collect personal details of the 10 million people in 38 districts in the current fiscal year.
“We could hardly do anything during the first two months of the current fiscal year. We don’t know if we can move ahead with our plan even after Dashain and Tihar if coronavirus continues to spread in the country,” said Jitendra Basnet, director general at the department.
The government plans to introduce national identification cards that contain personal and biometric details of citizens with a unique number. The card is to become a key basis for the delivery of various government services.
Once implemented, the card, which bears the holder’s name and surname, address, father’s name, mother’s name, photo and prints of both the thumbs and index fingers, shall replace the existing citizenship card.
The biometric smart card, according to the department, will have multiple applications and can be read by officials using highly secure terminals.
The department has already set up stations at 73 of the 77 district administration offices to collect details of individuals. A total of 1,066 pieces of equipment to register biometric data have been kept on standby to be mobilised in each ward of the districts where personal details are being collected.
However, work has been halted due to the pandemic. “There is risk of transmission of the infection while the biometric data is registered as each person has to register his/her finger print and retinal scan on a machine,” said Basnet.“It is also risky to record digital signatures and photographs of individuals.”
In Chitwan, according to Chief District Officer Bhattarai, officials have made it compulsory for people to use satiniser while getting their personal biometric data recorded.
“Our biggest concern is about convincing people to use the same machine others have used,” said Basnet.
Although the department had planned to start collecting personal details in densely populated areas first, it is now considering doing so in sparsely populated hilly and mountainous districts amid the coronavirus threat.
The department started collecting personal details and distributing national identification cards two years ago. So far, only around 117,000 people have received their cards. “Our focus for this fiscal year was to collect personal details of 10 million people and distribute the cards in the next fiscal year,” said Basnet.
In November 2018, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa inaugurated the distribution of national identity cards in Panchthar district by handing over the first card to 101-year-old Bhagawati Devi Bhandari of Phidim Municipality-4.
Given that crucial biometric data of citizens is controlled by the state, questions have also been raised about its impact on the constitutionally-guaranteed right to privacy.