IndianI have four documents to prove that I’m an Indian. A passort, election ID, PAN card and my family ration card. Even though the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) classifies me as a non-resident (for tax purposes), these documents ensure that I can vote, pay lesser for flights, hotels and museums when in India.

Now there is one more. A national identity card. A number that’s unique to you, your photograph, your fingerprint. All will be rolled into a smart card to give you your identity wherever you are in India. That’s what an elaborate exercise, undertaken by the Registrar General of India, promises to roll out March onward in a pilot project to cover 18 lakh-plus people above the age of 18 in 12 states and a Union Territory.

In the works since 2003 — it was the brainchild of the then Union Home Minister L K Advani — the project gathered momentum in 2005 and has now reached a stage where a supervising agency is being short-listed to prepare smart cards and distribute them to 18 lakh-plus “Indians” whose identity has been officially established.

The progress of the pilot project was reviewed at a meeting convened by the Union Home Ministry last week. The cards will have the name, date of birth, place of birth, parent’s name and the citizen’s photograph and fingerprint. A network of card-reading machines across the country, including several at selected border-entry points, can scan these cards to authenticate identity.

The National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, has designed the cards. At the moment, 19 MNIC centres are scrutinizing citizenship details in areas covered by the pilot project. These centres have nearly finalized the list of “citizens” eligible for the cards. “Over 30 lakh people have been covered in these areas and about 18 lakh-plus have satisfied the norms,” a Home Ministry official said. The rest will have another year to furnish necessary papers to satisfy the rules of citizenship.

Assam was initially considered for the pilot project but was left out due to objections from the All Assam Students’ Union. But four tehsils in Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir are part of the project. As are Manipur, Goa, parts of Andhra Pradesh and a cluster of villages in Pooth Kalan in north Delhi’s Narela area. Security needs apart, the need for a multipurpose national identity card has been felt for purposes as diverse as applying for a passport or government licences. The ultimate aim — to cover the entire country — is likely to take many years and the government admits as much. Current Census figures put the number of 18-year-olds in India at over 70 crore (that’s 700 million).

So by 2012, when you say, “I’m Indian”, you better have a card 🙂