AADHAAR: Fading Fingerprints Mean This Ageing Space Scientist Can't Care For His Son

Indrani Basu
Radha, 75, a vegetable vendor, poses with her hands after she got her fingerprint scanned for the Unique Identification (UID) database system at an enrolment centre at Merta district in the Indian state of Rajasthan on February 22, 2013.

For 54 years, Chandrasekhar hasn't been able to move from his bed. Born with a 97% physical and mental disability, he can't communicate with anyone. His parents have taken care of him his entire life. But now his future is uncertain.

"We have come to realise he might survive us," said P.V. Manoranjan Rao, Chandrasekhar's 81-year-old father. "But whenever I try to make some arrangement for my son, I fail."

Rao is a space scientist who retired as the Group Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre of the ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) in 1996. Unlike most octogenarians, he is comfortable with technology. But now technology — specifically biometrics — is failing him.

Last year Rao, who lives in Thiruvananthapuram, sought to add his son's name to one of his bank accounts, so Chandrasekhar's care that could continue without Rao and his wife Anjali's active involvement.

But Rao's fingerprints could not be read by the bank's biometric machine, and he couldn't link his account to Aadhaar and add his son's name. He tried to get an Aadhaar card for his son, but officials were unable to record Chandrasekhar's fingerprints and iris scan. Chandrasekhar's application for Aadhaar is still "under process" according to the Aadhaar website, Rao said.

"Aging results in loss of collagen; compared to younger skin, aging skin is loose and dry. Decreased skin firmness directly affects the quality of fingerprints acquired by sensors."

Biometric authentication forms the cornerstone of India's controversial universal identification project, also known as Aadhaar. Repeated government directives have pushed millions of Indians to try to link their Aadhaar with essential services like bank accounts and mobile telephones. Yet, most biometrics, particularly fingerprints, degrade with age as skin loses its elasticity, according to experts. Thus, while the fingerprints remain the same — it becomes harder for machines to recognise and match the prints of the elderly.

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