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Aadhaar: Identity for India

"The ability to innovate and then scale those innovations successfully has been the key reason behind the Indian IT industry’s ability to grow into a USD 100 billion industry today."

 

The landmark Right to Information Act has placed a new emphasis on transparency and accountability. Large scale infrastructure investments are connecting once hard-to-reach areas more closely to our towns and cities, aiding migration and trade. Nevertheless, there is enormous work to be done to bridge the rural-urban, rich-poor and digital divides. The use of technological advancements to address some of the pressing issues India is facing is the need of the hour.

Nandan Nilekani is the Chairman of the new Unique Identification Authority of India, UIDAI. Previously, he was the CEO of Infosys Technologies Limited. He is also heading the technology committee of Government of India. Mr Nilekeni holds a B. Tech degree from IIT Bombay.

The lack of identity proof is a serious challenge for a large section of the population in India which is leading to their marginalisation as well as non-inclusion in development programmes of the state. The Aadhaar project addresses this critical issue by providing a universal, nationally portable identity to millions of residents who hitherto had no access to a ‘proof of identity,’ as well as services based on it.

The basic objective of the Unique Identification (UID) effort is to issue a unique number to every resident in the country on the basis of the biometrics of the individual (all 10 fingerprints and both Irises). Issuing this number addresses a fundamental weakness in our economic and social infrastructure – the lack of a voice, the anonymity many residents experience today in accessing services and resources. The possibilities it offers in identification and authentication will be critical in helping governments achieve their goal of sustainable growth by ensuring that the benefits reach the citizens they are meant for.

The Aadhaar number will become a tool for the government to make these welfare investments more effective, inclusive and transparent. The unique identification that the Aadhaar number guarantees will help align welfare programmes more closely to the needs of individuals, whether pregnant women, young children, the aged, or the unemployed. The number will enable the government to weed out fakes and duplicates from its databases. In addition, the ability of individuals to remotely verify their identity through the Aadhaar authentication, before receiving benefits, will enable governments to ensure that welfare payments and subsidies reach the people they are intended for, and are not diverted en route.

India has achieved impressive growth, thanks to new technologies and productivity-enhancing infrastructure. This has enabled progress within a short period of time, helping the nation to go directly from a dirt road to an expressway, and from ‘no connectivity’ to pervasive access. The Aadhaar project is a prime example of how the latest technological advancements in biometrics and ICT can help improve governance as well as enable more inclusive growth and development.