Aadhaar: India’s answer to most problems?

Posted on August 2, 2012


Accountability will soon be found in a 12 digit number in India.

Or at least it could be thanks to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIAI) and their Aadhaar project. 

Aadhaar means foundation or support in Hindi.

Aadhaar is a 12 digit individual identification number issued by the UIAI on behalf of the Indian government. The number serves as a proof of identity and address anywhere in India and residents there are encouraged to enroll for free.

The project started in September 2010 where they began to scan irises and fingerprint Indians across the country.

The project is spearheaded by Nandan Nilekani, the former co-chairman of Infosys. The idea behind it is that it hopes to be able to link payments of several government sponsored programmes to identity cards. In one fell swoop, once in force, the project will empower millions of faceless identities residing in India (almost working like a  social security number).

At the heart of the whole project is the technology centre in Bangalore where a confluence of software engineers, research scientists, professors and government officials are working together.

The Aadhaar number could also be a possible solution to the many development issues that plague India. It could make every individual accountable to the government and therefore could help them gauge demand for many services that are more of a necessity in India like schooling and banking.

The millions of faceless will soon have an identity in India

It was during my dissertation research on the education system in India that I realised how sparse statistical data was on the most vital areas, namely the number of children going to school and the number of children who were not. As I filtered through the Right to Education Act (2009) which was enforced in April 2010, speaking to various professors, teachers, NGO founders and heads of private schools, I realised that implementing the act that gave every child the right to free education from the ages of 6 and 14 was close to impossible without knowing how many were actually NOT attending school. Inevitably, my dissertation research ended with many questions left unanswered. How do you measure attendance? Does enrollment mean attendance? How do you account for those children?

The Aadhaar number is hoping to tackle this very problem of accountability by helping all residents of India access services like banking, schooling and mobile phone connections.

Most importantly, by providing a clear proof of identity, Aadhar’s aiming to empower the poor and underprivileged sectors. In other words, the UIDAI technology will allow people to verify their identity not just by card, but online, on their mobiles, on their landlines, unlocking the door to banking services for many of them.

According to Fast Company, the Bank of India, ICICI Bank and the Union Bank of India have already started doing pilot tests in Jharkhand using the Aadhaar identification system. The bottom line being:

“Residents of about 35 villages have been offered a chance to open a bank account associated with that number, and receive their government-issues wages…”

The article goes on to propose whether the Aadhaar project could be the future of money for India since it’s a huge cash economy.

After countless attempts to pass an Act that stands for some form of justice, the Aadhaar project is a breath of fresh air in India’s rather bureaucratic system . It’s one of the few projects that shows you how enrolling will have an immediate effect. Once completed, the unique identification project will be a boon to Indians by the crore who are denied basic facilities and legal identifications because they don’t have proof of ID. Of course there have been challenges and a few obstacles that have stood in the way:

1) India’s just a tad big. It’s population stands at roughly 1.2 billion (China is at 1.3 billion and the US is at 314 million).

2) There have been reports since its launch, of fake IDs created because they were registered under fake addresess. About 7000 cards are lying in the post offices in Karwar, unclaimed.

3) A possible conflict between the Andhaar card and the National Population Register (NPR) which was created by the government for collecting specific information for an identity database (similar goals)

4) Once all the information is collected, could we have a Big Brother scenario where the data could be misused or hacked into?

5) When will privacy and data laws come to the forefront before it’s too late? 

The project is definitely one with controversy constantly surrounding it however it’s India’s first stab at creating some sort of order and structure in the chaos that it resides in, so I’m on board, one hundred percent.