Nepali public questions rationale of national ID cardLaunched to integrate multiple documents, it may be long before the card replaces the citizenship certificate.
Three years ago, Bharat Pokharel had to stand in a queue for eight hours to get his hands on it.
Pokharel, 27, had to go back home with sore legs after obtaining his national identity card from the Narayanhiti Palace-based Department of National ID Card and Civil Registration Office, at a time the country was reeling under the Covid-19 pandemic.
A resident of Shankhamul, Kathmandu, Pokharel had applied for the card after the government promised to provide all its services through the common card, and it was also made mandatory for getting a passport. Like most Nepali youths, he aspired to go abroad.
The national ID is a federal identity card issued by the Department of National ID and Civil Registration with a unique number assigned to each person. The cards can be obtained by the citizens of Nepal based on their biometric and demographic data. It features a unique number, photo, personal information and the fingerprints of the bearer.
Later, Pokharel abandoned the idea of going abroad, and started preparing for the Public Service Commission examinations.
“Now I feel like there was no need to rush to get the card as officials at the Public Service Commission would not accept it in lieu of my citizenship certificate,” said Pokharel, whom the Post met on the commission premises in Anamnagar on Tuesday.
Pokharel has an MSc in botany from the Tribhuvan University and is planning to apply for a gazetted second class officer position.
But dozens of youths who had come to the commission to apply for government jobs had brought along their citizenship certificates as the commission does not recognise the national ID card.
When the Post contacted Madhav Prasad Regmi, the PSC chair, and asked why his office does not accept the national ID and insists on presenting a citizenship certificate, he said they were just following the law, which makes the citizenship certificate mandatory for applying for government jobs.
“There is no mention of the national ID card in the law, so we only accept citizenship certificates,” said Regmi.
And it is not only the PSC. Other government agencies such as the Department of Transport Management and its subordinate offices, and even local ward offices that thousands visit every day also don’t recognise the national ID card as a replacement for citizenship certificates.
“Our law doesn’t recognise national ID cards, so it is mandatory for service seekers to submit a copy of their citizenship certificates,” said Ishwari Dutta Paneru, information officer at the Department of Transport Management at Minbhawan, Kathmandu.
Bimal Kumar Hoda, chair of ward number 7 of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, echoes Paneru. “We will start accepting national ID cards only after everyone in our ward obtains them,” Hoda told the Post. “But for now there is no alternative to the citizenship certificate.”
The government had officially launched the national ID distribution campaign in 2018 by presenting a card to a 101-year-old woman in Panchthar district, and to government employees at Singha Durbar, the central secretariat. It announced plans to digitally integrate the driver’s licence, vehicle ownership certificate, banking services, tax payment system, voter ID card social security system, among other things, in the card. But even after five years since the launch, the card is not required anywhere except while applying for a passport or sitting for a medical entrance exam.
On November 17, 2021, the Department of Passports started issuing e-passports and made the National ID card mandatory for all passport applicants. And the card was made mandatory only recently for medical entrance exams.
“There is no use of the national ID card except for obtaining a passport. And one has to go through unnecessary hassles to apply for it. I don’t know why the government decided to put the public through such trouble,” said Kiran Neupane, 22, from Lamjung, who recently applied for a new passport.
“I had to stand in a queue for hours to get my national ID. I don’t know why the card was made mandatory for passports when all other government offices ask for citizenship certificates,” said Neupane, a graduate student who is applying for a passport to go abroad for information technology studies.
In June last year, hundreds of people had queued for whole nights at the Narayanhiti Palace and District Administration Office Kathmandu in Babarmahal, to get their national ID cards and their ordeals had gone viral on social media.
The Department of National ID and Civil Registration has been touting the card as a digital solution to prevent duplication of voter registration and identity theft, and to maintain proper records of internal voters’ migration.
Former secretary Dwarika Nath Dhungel is among those who question the rationale of the new identification document. “I have my citizenship certificate. I also have a driver’s licence. Now why am I being compelled to obtain a national ID card? Are governments formed to make people suffer? Why can’t I get an e-passport based on my citizenship certificate?” Dhungel expressed his anger on Twitter.
According to the Department of National ID and Civil Registration under the Home Ministry, until now 133,000 cards have been distributed across Nepal, and more than 1.2 million cards have been printed. Officials said that the department has collected biometrics of 11.4 million people across the country from its 122 stations in 77 districts.
When asked why the government is yet to integrate various government services and identification documents with the national ID card, Krishna Paudel, an information officer at the department, said they are working on it.
“Currently, the main issue is to make the card mandatory by amending the laws concerned,” said Paudel.
Paudel added the department’s work has been hampered also because it does not have enough funds, and has been consulting the Home Ministry for the same. He said around Rs4 billion has so far been spent in distributing and storing the national ID data.
Meanwhile, department officials said it will cost around Rs20 billion to implement the national ID card project.
Paudel admitted that people are now unhappy with having to carry multiple documents despite having the national ID card. “But when we integrate all government services with the national ID card, things will be much easier,” said Paudel.
But digital integration is not simple. Among other things, cybersecurity experts have long been expressing concerns about the safety of sensitive personal data and its possible misuse.