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ISLAMABAD: The National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) pleaded before the Supreme Court on Monday that non-payment of Rs2.5 billion arrears by the federal government might affect the authority’s sustainability as an identity-management organisation of international repute.

“Nadra does not take any funding from the government for running its vast operations nationwide and worldwide,” said a report submitted to the apex court in compliance with a suo motu notice taken by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on exorbitant fee being charged for issuance of National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP) and cancellation of the Pakistan Origin Card (POC).

Nadra explained that the pending amount of Rs2.5bn was in view of the government’s decision to make the first-time issuance of ID cards free of cost to citizens and agree to partially bear the cost. But the federal government was not making these payments and, therefore, the receivable was continuing to increase, the report regretted.

It said the authority issued two different cards under the Nadra Ordinance 2000 — NICOP to overseas Pakistanis under Section 12 and POC to those eligible for it under Section 11. About the card being expensive, the report explained that Nadra operated 14 registration centres abroad whose expenses were incurred in foreign currencies at rates prevailing there.

Similarly, it said, the cost of POC for seven years was $150 whereas the cost of obtaining a Pakistani visa was between $197 and $228 in different countries like Norway, Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom, adding that NICOP/POC holders could enter Pakistan by showing their respective cards.

Salary of the staff, rents and cost of renovation and maintenance of the centres were higher because these were paid in foreign currencies, the report said, adding that Nadra was also contemplating to open more centres in near future to facilitate a large number of Pakistanis living abroad.

The expensive IT infrastructure abroad was another reason for the higher cost of overseas cards, it said, adding that the cost of operating centers abroad was much higher than in Pakistan.

According to the report, Nadra is also issuing NICOP and POC online, which requires a high-availability mission critical redundant internet connected system with state-of-the-art cyber security infrastructure and integration with international credit card services.

“Not only this infrastructure is procured from international vendors, it also requires support and maintenance from original manufactures due to the mission critical nature; it requires highly specialised workforce round the clock to manage the technical operations and a dedicated international standards data centre,” the report said.

It said NICOP/POC fees had not been increased in 2012, adding that NICOP validity had been enhanced from seven to 10 years without any additional charge to the applicants.

In its earlier report, Nadra had explained that its chip-based NICOP/POC was equipped with 36 security features (overt and covert) which preserved a citizen’s identity more efficiently by preventing all types of forgery.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2017