Building On Aadhaar

The project revealed that technology can solve many development challenges

Written by Nandan Nilekani | Published:June 7, 2017 12:10 am
aadhaar card, aadhaarpay, aadhar, uidai, bhim, uidai project, uid scheme, india news, modi govt There are over 400 million people who have linked their Aadhaar number to a bank. An Aadhaar law has been passed with advanced data protection and privacy features.

My work on India’s unique identification project — named Aadhaar — began in July, 2009. I was invited by then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to join the government and lead this project. At that point, I had worked for 28 years in Infosys. I had written about how getting every Indian a unique ID would be beneficial for the economy and society in my book Imagining India. Now I was being given a chance to actually implement the idea!

The Aadhaar project had two purposes. One was inclusion. Since the birth registration system was not robust enough, there were millions of people in the country with no birth certificates. So, a large number of people had no ID, or relied on a group ID like a ration card, or a voter ID that was only for adults. Having everyone on a single digital ID which could be verified anywhere in the country would be hugely useful for people as they migrated… or wanted to access their benefits or learn new skills. The second purpose was efficiency. As India built a welfare state with pensions, employment guarantees, scholarships, etc., it was deploying a large part of its budget to such social benefits. However, the lack of a proper ID system meant that in every welfare scheme, there were lots of ghost and duplicate beneficiaries…

The project faced several challenges. The first was how we establish uniqueness… This had to be done without most people having a “root” document like a birth certificate. It was decided that the only way to do so was by biometric deduplication. This meant taking a person’s biometric (in this case, the fingerprints of both hands and the iris prints of both eyes) and comparing them to the entire set to ensure a person was not in the database twice…

The second challenge was scale at speed. To cover a billion people, the system had to do more than one million enrolments a day. Moreover, it required at peak time more than 30,000 enrolment stations… Scale in the technology was achieved by using an internet class open source software-based architecture. Scale in enrolments was done by activating a whole network of registrars and enrolment agencies…

The third challenge was design for privacy and security. A lot of thought went into the design, to keep it minimalistic, to have secure encryption and the use of digital signatures.

The final and most important challenge was executing such a large project in a complex political and bureaucratic environment… The Aadhaar project had complete political support. The project was conceived, and implementation began, in the UPA government. The current government… has not only endorsed Aadhaar, it has accelerated its use and adoption. Today, over 1.1 billion Indian residents have an Aadhaar number. There are over 400 million people who have linked their Aadhaar number to a bank… An Aadhaar law has been passed with advanced data protection and privacy features…

The Aadhaar ID system has been designed like a platform of innovation, like the internet or GPS. Early signs are emerging of various innovative uses of the platform… This has been enabled by creating a set of layers above the JAM infrastructure, which allows presence-less and paperless applications.

A separate initiative of India’s national payment company, NPCI, has led to a advanced mobile-to-mobile payment platform called UPI (Unified Payment Interface) which will accelerate India’s move to a less cash economy…

This convinced me that several challenges in developing countries can be solved at speed and scale in a sustainable way, by using technology wisely, built in a way that society can take advantage. We call this building “societal platforms”. My wife Rohini and I are funding one such societal platform as a philanthropic initiative called EkStep to make learning opportunities widely available. Being selected for this very prestigious Nikkei Prize has reinvigorated our efforts to solve social challenges leveraging technology.

The writer is former chairman, Unique Identification Authority of India. This article is an edited excerpt from his acceptance speech of the Nikkei Prize 2017 on June 4

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    ThePhantom
    Jun 8, 2017 at 10:34 pm
    Nandan is highly educated, while Sita has not even crossed a primary school threshold Nandan eats heartily food cooked with materials from malls / slick city markets, while Sita has to make do with morsals Nandan has never stood in a ration Q like Sita Nandan is not a MNGREGA beneficiary while Sita is Nandan's condition is not anemic like Sita's Nandan may be forking out at least 10 lacs in taxes while Sita has to slog for her pension Nandan got fat promotor esops of India's bluechip, Infy, also has life-time superannuation /pensions while Sita's monthly pension is less than Rs.2000 was denied rendering her a des ute. Nandan is alive, contributing articles to media while 12 living residents of Rajsamand district are classified as "dead" Nandan is breathing while Devi, a des ute is dead because Aadhar failed. Are you still proud of your brainchild or should one say childish brain To know more about Sita, Dakhu Devi read pg12 June 5 article "excluded by aadhar" Indian Express
    Reply
    1. S
      S bmniac
      Jun 8, 2017 at 8:28 am
      Can someone have a neutral opinion instead of an apolegetic please?
      Reply
      1. S
        Sid
        Jun 8, 2017 at 12:04 am
        i have faded fingerprints.Tried to update my biometrics many times but aadhaar scanners fails to read my prints every time. so no new sim for me, no bank services, no ration, heck i will even be denied in sitting in recruitment exams because of authentication failure. wrote to uidai helpline more than 40 times, lodged complain in pg grievence cell, even on twitter. same reply "update your biometrics". what the hell! they dont even try to understand the serious problems faced by me. UIDAI has declared me dead and ghost. Now, I cant even prove my own iden y. "Aadhaar is a scheme of inclusion"-what a joke? it has excluded me.
        Reply
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          Arun
          Jun 7, 2017 at 9:54 pm
          As an NRI, I tried to get an Aadhar card several times since 2012. And failed. I visited once a year, staying three months a visit. No Aadhar center in Mumbai was open - and if open it was impossible to find. In 2016, I succeeded. My wife is still trying. So much for its success. Meanwhile, we are under stress of bank accounts and tax returns who all want Aadhar.
          Reply
          1. S
            Sid
            Jun 8, 2017 at 12:04 am
            i have faded fingerprints.Tried to update my biometrics many times but aadhaar scanners fails to read my prints every time. so no new sim for me, no bank services, no ration, heck i will even be denied in sitting in recruitment exams because of authentication failure. wrote to uidai helpline more than 40 times, lodged complain in pg grievence cell, even on twitter. same reply "update your biometrics". what the hell! they dont even try to understand the serious problems faced by me. UIDAI has declared me dead and ghost. Now, I cant even prove my own iden y. "Aadhaar is a scheme of inclusion"-what a joke? it has excluded me.
            Reply
          2. E
            Employ Ment
            Jun 7, 2017 at 9:12 pm
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            Reply
            1. S
              Seshubabu Kilambi
              Jun 7, 2017 at 7:46 pm
              The aadhar has left many people in rural areas without avai PDS ...they have become ' nir- aadhar '
              Reply
              1. S
                Sid
                Jun 8, 2017 at 12:05 am
                i have faded fingerprints.Tried to update my biometrics many times but aadhaar scanners fails to read my prints every time. so no new sim for me, no bank services, no ration, heck i will even be denied in sitting in recruitment exams because of authentication failure. wrote to uidai helpline more than 40 times, lodged complain in pg grievence cell, even on twitter. same reply "update your biometrics". what the hell! they dont even try to understand the serious problems faced by me. UIDAI has declared me dead and ghost. Now, I cant even prove my own iden y. "Aadhaar is a scheme of inclusion"-what a joke? it has excluded me.
                Reply
              2. J
                Jan gana
                Jun 7, 2017 at 7:41 pm
                It's sad this was meant to be towards the development of the poor and those who needed it the most and the government is out to convert it to a m surveillance tool with no scope of accountability Mr. Nandan Nilekani was a failure as a programmer and is an even bigger failure at implementing a useful system with adhaar
                Reply
                1. S
                  Sid
                  Jun 8, 2017 at 12:05 am
                  i have faded fingerprints.Tried to update my biometrics many times but aadhaar scanners fails to read my prints every time. so no new sim for me, no bank services, no ration, heck i will even be denied in sitting in recruitment exams because of authentication failure. wrote to uidai helpline more than 40 times, lodged complain in pg grievence cell, even on twitter. same reply "update your biometrics". what the hell! they dont even try to understand the serious problems faced by me. UIDAI has declared me dead and ghost. Now, I cant even prove my own iden y. "Aadhaar is a scheme of inclusion"-what a joke? it has excluded me.
                  Reply
                2. H
                  Harsh
                  Jun 7, 2017 at 6:00 pm
                  Aadhaar would have been very successful in minimizing black money generation, but unfortunately this privilege remains with one percent people and they know how to manipulate the technology. This surpasses its advantage as common people have very minimal capacity of generation of black money in comparison to privileged one. Therefore, we are getting a selective development because of technology as it works for those who know how to make it work for self interest.
                  Reply
                  1. S
                    shah tushar
                    Jun 7, 2017 at 6:26 pm
                    AADHAAR AUTHENTICATION FAILURE RATE IS ABOVE 50 . Who is going to compensate when #AADHAAR bio-metrics get stolen, printed and used for #AADHAAR pay?
                    Reply
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