THE INDIAN IDENTITY
A BILLION DREAMS
Awelfare state’s biggest challenge is to precisely identify the location of the recipients. The larger the population, the greater the challenge. For decades, this identification crisis lay at the heart of India’s notoriously leaky and inefficient public distribution system. Only 15 paise of every rupee reached the downtrodden, as former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi famously said in 1985 after travelling to Odisha’s drought-hit Kalahandi district. Opacity encouraged corruption as the state kept shooting in the dark.
It all began as a National Identity Card pilot project in 13 states in 2003, but got a boost with the creation of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) headed by Nandan Nilekani for an ambitious project to use thumbprints and retinal scans of the world’s second largest population to create a unique database, using 10 fingerprints, two iris scans and one facial photograph of
1.12 billion Indians. The scheme survived the test of government change. The NDA buried its scepticism to become its biggest proponent, enshrining it in the Aadhaar Act of 2016 to make it mandatory for obtaining benefits from government schemes. The world’s largest biometrics-based identity platform, which covers roughly 88 per cent of India’s population, is now paying for itself. In 2015, the government distributed Rs 61,000 crore to over 300 million beneficiaries via direct benefit transfer. The flip side was the detection and deletion of 16 million bogus ration cards and resultant savings of about Rs 10,000 crore. India’s 12-digit revolution is here to stay.