You know who you are, but how do you prove it? You can if you have documents such as a bank account passbook, or an income tax permanent account number card. But what if you do not, as is the case with many? Only around 40 per cent of India's population, for instance, has bank accounts.
The Unique Identification Authority of India, or UIDAI, aims to resolve this problem by giving every Indian a unique identification number, which could be used for access to government services. Everyone who gets a UID, or Aadhaar, number, will first have to be fingerprinted and have her irises scanned. A dynamic database of these details could eliminate fraud. Some 20 million bogus ration cards may be rendered useless if Aadhar becomes the basis for distributing subsidised foodgrain .
But Aadhaar will do more. It could enable those with no bank account to get one. It is also expected to create an ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship that fosters technology-driven solutions to benefit all sections. Its first uses are likely to be in the social sector: payments under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, distribution of cooking gas and financial inclusion.
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Enterprise applications are likely to follow. For instance, Aadhaar could help fast-moving consumer goods companies develop applications to overcome last-mile hurdles. "UID will be an app store for development," says Nandan Nilekani, Chairman, UIDAI
Some 70 million numbers have been issued already, and around a million people are being enrolled daily. "With Aadhaar, you get choices," says Ashok Pal Singh, Deputy Director General, Financial Inclusion, UIDAI. The choices will hopefully lead to greater competition, better service, lower prices and more equitable growth.
But Aadhaar has its critics. Some worry that it could invade privacy. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance recently refused to grant UIDAI statutory status, demanding that it distinguish between 'citizens' and 'residents', and avoid legitimising illegal immigrants. It also claimed that, in its data collection, UIDAI was duplicating - at considerable cost - the work of the National Population Register.