Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Aadhar card, can it be a panacea for Indian low levels of development ?

When about two months back I wanted to take my second Jio mobile SIM card, I collected it from a roadside Jio booth selling SIM cards in Bangalore near Christ College on Hosur Road. The employee asked for my aadhar card number which he fed to the Aadhar database and checked my finger print scan with the records in the Aadhar database to confirm my identity. Within 2 minutes my new Jio SIM card was in my hand. This was the first application I experienced wherein my personal details recorded in the Aadhar database has been verified by a commercial operator to establish my identity. It was a big culture shock to me. My existence as an Indian citizen has for the first time been validated and cross checked with the Govt of India database to help me avail of a commercial facility.

The Govt of India's Unique Identification programme Aadhaar (www.uidai.gov.in) is a 12 digit unique-identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data. The programme was implemented by Dr Manmohan Singh under the able guidance of Nandan Nilekani, one of the founders of the IT firm Infosys from Bangalore, an alumnus from my alma mater Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. Though the present PM Modi took scrapping up this project as one of his top election promises, initially out of ignorance of the benefits of such a massive programme, later he accepted the utility and benefits of this programme in eliminating corruption in public systems and has adopted the Aadhar system with great dedication and sincerity now.

Cost of implementing the brilliant unique identification programme, Aadhar card,  of the Govt of India, started by Dr. Manmohan Singh and Nandan Nilekani and presently being pursued with all sincerity of purpose and devotion by PM Modi has been $ 1 billion, app INR 6500 crores.

Nandan Nilekani
Already the GoI has by weeding out false claims been able to save $8.5 billion in subsidies in two and a half years, about one fifth of annual central govt subsidies ..

Once the fingerprints of all the ten fingers and the iris scans of both eyes have been taken, there is no way someone can impersonate a person to run away with his subsidies and rations. (though roughly about 30% of all aadhar authentications are turned negative.)

The Aadhar database is being tapped on an average about 20 million times a day presently and 30 % of authentications are turned negative. About 1200 million people have already availed of Aadhar card across the country as per data released by The Economist of London, covering 99% of the adult population in the country.

The Income Tax department (woefully only 2.5% of Indians pay Income Tax in the country today) has made it mandatory that all IT returns from this year onwards be compulsorily linked with the Aadhar card number of the IT assesee. It is a welcome move as the GoI can keep a track of all citizens and possibly reward them in future for their honesty shown to the nation. It will also identify the dishonest citizens and punish them as the law permits.

With each passing day we find more and more services being linked with the Aadhar card identity of citizens making sure that services reach the actual beneficiary and no impersonation or corruption occurs in the delivery of central govt welfare subsidies and services. No other country has been as successful as India in rolling out this massive database benefiting the 1.25 billion population of the country.

In this recent talk with Quartz, (click here for the link) Nandan tries to defend the security concerns raised against Aadhaar by the tech community and the public at large ..

George (the author wishes to thank The Economist of London, issue of April 12, 2017, and wikipedia for the Aadhar related information provided in this article)

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