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‘Aadhaar’ is Reaching India’s Poor, but at What Price?

Johanna Martinsson's picture

Since the Unique Identification Authority of India embarked on its unique identification project (UIDAI) in 2010, an estimated 200 million people have voluntarily enrolled.  As discussed in a previous blog, the UIDAI aims to administer some 1.2 billion unique identification numbers by the end of this decade.  The 12-digit online number, also referred to as Aadhaar (“foundation” in Hindi), is issued upon completion of demographic and biometric information by the enrollees. The number will give millions of Indian residents, previously excluded from the formal economy, the opportunity to access a range of benefits and services, such as banking, mobile, education, and healthcare.  The UIDAI specifically aims to extend social and financial services to the poor, remove corrupt practices plaguing existing welfare databases, eliminate duplicate and fake identities, and hold government officials accountable.

According to a recent study, the UIDAI is on the right track in "bringing entirely new segments of the population into the mainstream economy". The data shows that more than 56% of the enrollees did not previously carry a formal identification, “and 87% of those households have an annual income below $2,000 a year”. The study, led by Professor Arun Sundararajan of NYU Stern and Professor Ravi Bapna of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, with support from the Indian School of Business, is an ongoing multi-year national survey carried out by India’s National Council for Applied Economic Research and will measure socioeconomic impact over the next decade.  The professors predict that if enrollments continue in its current pace, 300 million citizens will be enrolled by the end of this year. They believe that progress so far “is an extremely important first step towards tackling India’s persistent socioeconomic inequalities and bringing the country’s recent progress to the masses.”

While the UIDAI has made great progress in enrolling residents, challenges persist. The legislation that would have enforced the Aadhaar on all Indian residents was rejected by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance in December, 2011.  It was rejected due to a number of reasons, including: lack of clarity, security of data, enrollment of illegal immigrants, identity theft, duplication of efforts in collecting biometric information, lack of coordination among government agencies, and difference of opinion on Aadhaar within the government  (for the full report, click here).  While the Committee asked for a “new fresh” legislation, the UIDAI has continued implementing Aadahaar.  It’s not clear what the status of a new bill is and what steps the UIDAI is taking in addressing some of the issues raised by the Committee. However, they have worked with the National Population Register to minimize duplication in collecting data.

The UIDAI has sparked a lot of controversy in the public space from various groups.  This has not stopped the project’s leader, Mr. Nandan Nilecani, who is determined to make a change and to better the lives of the poor.  His perseverance must be admired. The project’s communication strategy (“Aahdaar – Communicating to a billion”) has clearly been effective considering the high enrolment rate in a very short period of time and the fact that it’s reaching intended segments of the population.   However, one can’t help but speculate whether some of the challenges and concerns raised by opposing groups could have been minimized had the UIDAI conducted a sound analysis of the political economy and stakeholders before implementation. In a recent interview by Fareed Zakaria, Mr. Nilecani addressed dealing with political obstacles. As opposed to the private sector, in which Nilecani used to work, he recognizes that there are far many more stakeholder groups to respond to in the public space, and the amount of time it takes to craft a strategy that reflects everyone’s views.  Also, while opposition to any change is a fact, Nilecani is focused on building alliances with those supporting the change. For example, the UIDAI has signed a Memo of Understanding (MoU) with a number of states, banks, and other partners. However, for Nilecani the greatest allies are the people themselves, as they see their lives improving with access to financial and social services. 

The UID is a fascinating story, and one to watch in the years to come. There will certainly be many lessons to learn from this program and the outcome could be monumental.
 

Picture credit: benoit.crouzet

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Comments

Submitted by AADHAR on
As far as the stats related to Aadhaar are concerned, it seems as if the project has been able to really impress the residents of the country. This is the reason why the outcomes from the project are well above what was expected by UIDAI. I am so happy to see such types of great steps from the Indian government.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Hi Aadhaar, Are you not bothered by such little things as the need to respect Parliament? If a Standing Committee has rejected the scheme, should not the government(s) and UIDAI, Mr. Nilekani, at least justify why they are ignoring the Committee's report and proceeding merrily to implement the scheme? Are you not aware that there has been criminal activity by enrolling agencies? Are you not aware that neither fingerprints nor iris scans "uniquely" identify a person and that the identification is probabilistic, as best? In a country where corrupt and loot of national wealth by politicians is the norm, what would the UID project do? How is it that Nilekani did not imagine that it is necessary to conduct a feasibility study before launching the project? Where did all his commercial prudence vanish when it came to spending public money? Would he have done so in his company?

Submitted by Subramanian on
Aadhar and UIDS - invasion of privacy. Also see the Data Sharing policy and Open Government platform. Under the relevant provisions of Aadhar and UID, the date can be shared under orders of competent court. But competent court is not defined. An officer of the rank of Joint Secretary can decide whether to divulge or not. Thus collecting biometric data and sharing without consent of party is illegal. Moreover most of the companies doing the work have overseas limbs and they will be forced to divulge data. Iris scan is injurious to health as pointed out by many. Government saying that Aadhar is not compulsory but making it applicable to various schemes is illegal. WP(C) 494 of 2012 is pending in Hon'ble Apex Court. Till its disposal, such proceedings by Governments are not in good spirit. Why should an Indian Citizen give biometric data to Government when it can be shared by the Government without his consent.. When I sent an email to Open Government Platform seeking clarification regarding sharing of biometric data collected by state, I got an evasive reply. Subramanian

Submitted by Rahul on
Hi Johanna, India is a large country with people of many kind and different backgrounds so its not surprising to have different views on different matters. Regarding aadhaar there may be many if's and but's but still the concept of aadhaar is good and will ultimately help the citizen's of India. May be there are few issues regarding funds and corruption but they will be minimized soon. No one can guarantee a perfect system at least we can try to build a one closer to it.

Submitted by Aadhar on
The concept of aadhar card is entirely new and will certainly help of Indian people.At the same time,they have to be very transparent in issuing the aadhar cards.As you said 200 million people are already enrolled,i think Indian government succeeded in creating awareness among the citizens of India.Wishing this idea to help the poor and needy between appreciating the move.

Submitted by Sanjeev on
There are so many fake PAN cards and Voter cards floating around in the country, eating into the countries financial health. I sincerely hope and wish with this move (which is somewhat similar to SSN in the USA), will bring a change for good. I hope people take a back seat and avoid frauds with this system and do their country some good this time around.

Submitted by Akshlat on

i too have received the aadhar card but still folks don't understand the main concept of it and citizens are looking forward to it.

Submitted by SanTa on

Aadhar card is a success. Everyone I know have already applied for their card. This single document can now be used almost everywhere where you need ID and address proof.
Good job, government.

Submitted by Norway on

Is it safe for Indian people because everyone know the database of the aadhar card in the USA. It is totally insecure for Indian people. Because the detail of every person is save in the US.

Submitted by Akshay on

Hello Admin
As far as the stats related to Aadhaar are concerned, it seems as if the project has been able to really impress the residents of the country. This is the reason why the outcomes from the project are well above what was expected by UIDAI. I am so happy to see such types of great steps from the Indian government.

Submitted by Adarsh on

Aadhaar is now becoming the only medium for recognition of identity of an Individual persons in our country. Happy to have Aadhaar.

Submitted by Suchi on

With Aaadhaar card implementation, at least intention of government seems to be good, Though it does not seem to be reaching home population of India before year 2020

Submitted by akshay on

Aadhar is the identification of an individual.Government should increase the process of enrolling in the aadhar card.

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