At the end of its enrolment drive, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) will collect about 12 billion fingerprints and 2.4 billion irises, besides 1.2 billion photographs - the largest human biometric data ever collected.

At almost a quarter of the population already enrolled for Aadhaar and the unique identity project surpasses the US human database. Aadhaar also promises to be the panacea for e-governance in India - no duplicates, no frauds and one that an individual need not remember, like a password.

As pilots --using Aadhaar to authenticate people -- convert to actual rollout, people will be able to use fingerprints to avail of government subsidies, insurance policies, buy fertiliser or open bank accounts.

Behind this mega project and an aspect responsible for its most essential feature - uniqueness that can't be duplicated - lies biometrics or mathematical calculation of a human feature - eyes, face, palm, toes, fingers, veins and so on. Fingerprints change the least over time and are relied upon the most for biometric authentication followed by iris.

When UIDAI spearheaded by technology titan Nandan Nilekani was entrusted with the task of giving each Indian an unique identity that will transform delivery of services, this new e-governance initiative fell upon an ancient idea, biometrics -- specifically fingerprints and iris -- to create uniqueness.

Biometrics have been around since 29000 BC when cavemen would sign their drawings with handprints. In 500BC, Babylonian business transactions were signed in clay tablets with fingerprints.

The earliest cataloguing of fingerprints dates back to 1881 when Juan Vucetich, an anthropologist and police officer who started collecting fingerprints of criminals in Argentina. All governments, notably the police departments, use fingerprints and in more than 100 years of database available, no two fingerprints, have been found to be identical. Hence a fingerprint uniquely identifies an individual.

In the case of Aadhaar, biometrics will also translate into a huge business for iris and fingerprint device makers, besides network services providers. Each iris scanner costs about Rs 10,000 and fingerprint scanner almost double that rate...