These villagers are workers under the National Rural Employment Guarantee programme (NREG) and are among 170 men and women in two villages who would be the first to be registered as NREG members through a foolproof biometric verification device.
For three days from last Tuesday, after the initial hostility and scepticism, villagers in Kurkuri and Dhuparchak Mushahari in Phulwarisharif block of Patna district, gathered at the Panchayat office to place their fingers (all 10) on a Korean-made biometric device. Each finger was registered twice for getting the best value of minutiae counts (the whorls and ridges on a finger).
Then the villagers were photographed and all their personal data was registered on their NREG Card. With the photograph and details scanned and attached to their names, the state created a permanent database on the workers.
After the registration process was completed, the verification was done immediately by entering the NREG ID number, and the beneficiary was asked to place any finger on the biometric device, a small machine that is easily portable to the worksite. The individual’s photograph instantly popped up from the database on the computer monitor.
All that a panchayat would need for implementing a fool-proof registration and verification process is a biometric device costing about Rs. 20,000, a laptop computer of about Rs. 25,000, a webcam or a digital camera and a personnel for operating the devices.
With Nitish Kumar keen on making the poverty alleviation programme a success in his state, his government had initially hit on the idea of fingerprinting each of the NREG workers at the time of registration and during payment of their wages. But this was hardly effective since verification of the fingerprints was a mind-boggling process and required a forensic expert to certify each of them.
It was around this time that an article in The Indian Express on January 28 this year on a biometric tracking concept devised by Kris Dev, a Chennai-based e-governance consultant, caught the attention of the Bihar administration. Mukherji got in touch with Kris Dev and asked him to prove to the state government that the technology worked at the ground level. “If your solution does all that the article describes, it would be ideal for Bihar where people find ways to beat all systems,” Mukherji told Kris Dev.
Dev went to Patna in February to make a presentation to the Bihar State Electronics Corporation and later at two villages. On June 7, Nitish Kumar watched the demo in the two villages that Kris Dev presented and gave a spot clearance for the concept to be implemented throughout Bihar.
“It is surprising that Bihar should become the first state in India to introduce biometric tracking for NREG,” said Dev today.