THE IN­DIAN IDEN­TITY

India Today - - STATES - —San­deep Un­nithan

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.

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