Basis of a revolution

Aadhaar Bill will enable government to go paperless, presence-less and cashless.

Written by Nandan Nilekani | Published:March 9, 2016 12:00 am
aadhaar bill, Aadhaar Bill in Parliament, Arthur C. Clarke, public policy, Aadhaar Bill in Parliament, Aadhaar numbers, paperless governmnet, LPG subsidy, aadhaar job, MGNREGA, Unique Identification Authority of India, digital colonisation, indian express The Parliament House.

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. He was absolutely right but in public policy, engineering is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the widespread adoption of any technology; it also has to be buttressed by design simplicity, a scalable architecture, an “open” platform, satisfying multiple stakeholders, privacy safeguards, and trust. India will soon cross 100 crore Aadhaar numbers, and the current Aadhaar Bill in Parliament is important infrastructure to enable government to go paperless, presence-less and cashless. This will catapult India to the front of the league of nations whose governments use technology to create an effective, efficient and modern welfare state that treats its people with dignity.

Every entrepreneur knows that if you wait for all lights to be green, you will never leave home. I took the Aadhaar job in 2009 with the understanding that a law would eventually be passed and that we had solid legal grounds to initiate the project. Because of the decision to start and not wait, today we have close to a billion numbers issued, and visible evidence of its utility with Rs 10,000 crore-plus savings in LPG subsidy in one year alone. But Aadhaar now needs regulatory legitimacy to operate at its full potential. The current bill is a balanced synthesis of various stakeholder perspectives and adequately addresses the concerns of the Supreme Court. Let’s take a look at the bill and what kinds of revolutions it could enable.

The key features of the Aadhaar Bill are in the details. Enrolment is voluntary. It shall only be used as proof of identity and not as proof of citizenship. It enables the government to prevent fraud, corruption and waste by requiring the Aadhaar number for delivery of any benefit, subsidy or service from the Consolidated Fund of India, such as LPG subsidy, MGNREGA wages, various insurance schemes, provident fund schemes, government scholarships, and much more. It does not prohibit the usage of Aadhaar for any other purpose by any public or private entity. It provides privacy protection at an unprecedented level for Indian law. For example, it has, one, “use limitation” — it can only be used for the purpose for which the user gives consent. Two, “collection limitation” — no information other than demographic (name, address, date of birth, sex and, optionally, email id/ mobile number) and biometric (photo, fingerprint and iris scan) will be collected. No other personal information of an individual will be in the Aadhaar database. Three, “access and rectification” — the user can access his own information and has an obligation to rectify it if it needs updating. Four, no demographic information or identity information received from the Unique Identification Authority of India can be displayed publicly. Five, the only exception to certain confidentiality (but not security) obligations is national security, provided an order to disclose information is issued either by a court, or by a joint secretary or higher officer, and vetted by a high-powered committee headed by the cabinet secretary. Even then, sharing of a particular piece of information will be permitted only for a limited time period. Further, that no core biometric information can be shared is a principle without exception — people saying that core biometric information will be shared are wrong because Clause 29(1) is not overridden by Clause 33(2). Finally, the bill includes stringent penalties, including imprisonment for breach of privacy and other violations. Overall, the law represents a useful synthesis of the learning, feedback and advice that two governments have received and should take care of the Supreme Court’s concerns that Aadhaar was functioning in a legislative vacuum, without accountability.

Moreover, as the recent net neutrality debate shows, there is a clear and present danger of “digital colonisation”. An important aspect of that is who manages the online digital identity that people will use to access the internet. We run the grave risk that all our online access will be in the hands of a few foreign internet “gatekeepers” that will track all our digital activities. In that context, the Aadhaar platform, which gives an open, secure and privacy-protected digital ID to a billion Indian residents to access the internet, will be a critical bulwark to ensure our digital independence.

The massive savings from a limited deployment of Aadhaar show that it is a powerful instrument against retail corruption, far better than creating another bureaucratic layer that only deepens the decision-making gridlock. Once the bill is passed, India could see a Cambrian explosion of innovation inside and outside government. It would enable unprecedented financial inclusion. It could eliminate more than 2,000 crore pages of paper (a low guesstimate). It could enable more than 300 million daily seekers of government services to save at least two hours every day. It could eliminate fraud in government subsidies of at least Rs 50,000 crore every year. It would enable linking individuals to an organisation that has a unique enterprise number and this would shift enforcement to big data rather than feet-on-street. It could unclog our highways and eliminate waiting rooms in hospitals. It could eliminate fraud in degrees and substantially improve labour market matching. And much more.

In the wonderful book, The Case for India, written in 1930 by historian Will Durant, he lamented, “…study and writing were frivolous things in the presence of a people — one-fifth of the human race — suffering poverty and oppression bitterer than any to be found elsewhere on the earth… I was filled with astonishment and indignation at the apparently conscious and deliberate bleeding of India by England throughout a hundred and fifty years. I began to feel that I had come upon the greatest crime in all history.” India has not only beaten the odds but come a long way since 1947; we are a vibrant democracy, a growing economy, and a cultural honeypot. Aadhaar can accelerate India’s rise and fulfil our tryst with destiny. It is time for legislation, action and innovation.


The writer is former chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India.

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  1. A
    ak dev
    Mar 9, 2016 at 6:06 pm
    He should be in Modi's team but he seems to be hesitating.
  2. A
    ak dev
    Mar 9, 2016 at 6:15 pm
    If a person can be uniquely identified electronically, why do we need to print the ID and hold it as evidence. Can somebody explain? Is ideny validating technology not yet full proof?
    1. M
      Mukesh Mukesh
      Mar 9, 2016 at 2:05 pm
      Join Forces In Support of Aadhaar: Privacy bogey being raised by the leftists is a ploy to keep status quo on PDS and other corrupt practices. They always are deeply concerned about everything that takes the country forward. Fingerprints and iris patterns are barely distinguishable by unaided eye. Even if someone takes your iris patterns and uses it for defrauding the system he/she is going to be caught pretty soon. Outrageous arguments regarding use of iris patterns and fingerprints have been made where a hitler like dictator was invoked to cause fear in people and aadhaar was made out to be a weapon of m destruction. Opponents have used every trick to paint a horse as donkey. Postmen threw aadhaar cards in the nullah. People enrolled their dogs and cats. Some subverted enrollment station created aadhaar card for coriander s/o v etc etc. Alas they did not succeed.
      1. J
        Jaya Hariharan
        Mar 9, 2016 at 6:32 pm
        u r right!! Right person in the wrong company of congis! He can be better utilised for the benefit of the country in PM Modi's team where he will get free hand unlike with Congis where he will be controlled, lest he becomes por than their darling Pappu!!!
        1. G
          Girish Ramaiah
          Mar 9, 2016 at 2:49 pm
          Congratulations Nilekani, Sir. Ever since Modi Government took charge, I have been suggesting Modi to invite and offer Mr. Nilekani in a suitable post in Government. A great leader has to scout for talent wherever talent is available be it within the party or from opposition party.
          1. G
            Mar 9, 2016 at 7:20 am
            well said..and obviously well initiated effort..hope Aadhar gets legal sancy so that the deprived sections of society are no more at the mercy of few self serving beaureucrats
            1. I
              India Is
              Mar 18, 2016 at 1:35 pm
              Dear responsible citizen of INDIA and stake holder for this mission - Operation -- India Is My Country or “ ओय ”, request you to spare your precious time for the below valuable reasons. Under “ ओय ” series - Project or Mission - AADHAAR -- “ A A ” or “ आ ”. About “ आ ” : This Operation -- India Is My Country AADHAAR -- “ A A ” or “ आ ” ( OI – “ ओय ” - A – “ आ ” ) is in continuation of earlier project / mission under “ ओय ” series ANYWHERE ANYTIME -- “ A ” or “ अ ” for achieving 100% voting which was released in December - 2014, herewith presenting “ आ ”. Mission of this OI – “ ओय ” - AA – “ आ ” is - How can we acheive the following A) 100% de-duplication of AADHAAR numbers - Slide no – 31 B) Zero % legal heir issues - Slide no - 25 , 33 , 34 and 74 C) Unique Ideny for every individual i.e. citizen of India D) Criteria for deciding the BPL / Economically backward cl categories - Slide no - 25 Highlights of OI – “ ओय ” - AA – “ आ ” : 1) The lifeline of India and every Indian citizen. 2) 100 % “ BAAHUBALI ” and catalyst for Digital India 3) 100% NATIONAL INTEGRATION in terms of Socio - Techno - Geographic - Economic 4) 100% de-duplication in every sector and how it can acheived 5) 100% perfect re-engineering tool with a 360 degrees view - Slide no - 120 6) Smart policing and investigation by Geo tagging the AADHAAR number and biometrics alongwith registration of date and time - Slide no - 107 7) Replacing of all existing idenies and registration numbers, whether issued by govt or pvt agencies 8) Will force to do the reconciliation of various legislation acts On Twitter iimc On Facebook On Google plus On Slideshare
              1. K
                kamath Ramesh
                Mar 9, 2016 at 10:58 am
                The person who has made the aadhar a reality is all praising the bill. Let us see now the party pioneer of the aadhar backs the bill or for the sake of opposition this will also be opposed.
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