Aadhaar is Unique
The Aadhaar card is an idea which has come to stay in India. Already more than ninety crore Indians have Aadhaar identity, a remarkable achievement within a span of three to four years; as noteworthy as the spread of mobile telephony within one decade to the remotest part of India. The vicissitudes of creation of this Unique Identity programme; have outlived the original doubts, groups questioning the feasibility of the programme as also the possibility of national sabotage though ‘sensitive’ population information reaching the wrong hands. Aadhaar has survived all these; the final victory being seal of approval by the Modi government. Rajiv Gandhi had once said that in all development programmes, only 16 per cent of the pay-load reaches the ultimate rural beneficiary; the distribution pipeline is highly faulty, politicised and reeking of corruption. The Unique Identity is a major vehicle for cleaning up the ‘payments’ system, to reach money or services to intended beneficiaries with minimal leakage, at least cost. Thus, as Modi’s ambitious Digital India Programme took off, the impact on issues such as KYC (Know Your Customer), banking facilities in every part of India, micro-financing of small, tiny and atomic sector (which are now out of reach of formal financial institutions and are prey to private money lenders), and finally bringing a near-total cash economy to banking channels can all contribute significantly to system efficiency. Aadhaar is poised to be a key element in the success of the ambitious Digital India Programme, aggressively pursued by the government, which has potential to reach the 3,50,000 panchayats of the country, bridging the urban-rural divide. The Unique Identity is an important cog in this wheel.
Advances in technology need interlocking and converging forward movement in different fields to manifest itself. Indeed the Unique Card idea was proposed formally by many sources as early as the early 90s. But its time had not come, as the other supporting technologies had not arrived on the ground in India. One recalls that as early as the late 90s, the technology was available, the decision was taken and money allotted for commencement of a massive programme for computerising land-records, starting in two states-till date this has still not succeeded, due to major opposition, and vested interests of local authorities and petty politicians who stand to gain by keeping the rural land ownership scene confused and complicated. Indeed, Chandrababu Naidu started computerising urban land records to lead to seamless transparent urban land transactions, starting in Hyderabad and a number of other Andhra towns; even after two decades this is not a reality in most towns and cities in India. Technology per se is only a tool. It is not the final objective; the atmosphere for its application is essential. Unique Identity is not a new concept in the world. The social service number concept of the US and other similar programmes in many countries, including Switzerland, are decades old. India in many ways is unique-many economists transplant foreign ideas into Indian soil, without appropriate modification to meet Indian requirements. The Aadhaar success story brings out clearly the lesson that every good idea cannot be automatically borrowed in India. The stage is set for the rollout of the world’s largest cash transfer programme after Lok Sabha passed a bill providing statutory backing for Aadhaar. The biometric-based identity scheme is expected to make the delivery of Rs 3.5 lakh crore worth central welfare benefits and services such as passports and driving licences quicker and more reliable.
The passage of the Aadhaar bill will help the government move ahead in operation of the JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, Mobile) governance trinity that is at the centre of PM Narendra Modi’s effort to ensure leak-proof delivery of subsidies and welfare benefits and use of UID in a range of services like land registry, purchase of mobile connections, issue of passports and driving licences and banking.
The use of biometrics is seen as a surer means of establishing identity as compared to ration cards, driving licences, election IDs and even passports which are often plagued by duplication and fraud. Aadhaar’s quick and relatively fool-proof technology saves time and costs of banks and, once linked to bank accounts, makes transfer of benefits faster and transparent. In its earlier avatar, Aadhaar merely assigned a unique identity to residents. That changed with the Lok Sabha passing The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, giving the Narendra Modi regime with statutory backing for targeted delivery of subsidies and services. Statutory backing to Aadhaar will help the Modi government roll out its plan to expand the use of unique identification number to all welfare schemes that add up to around Rs 3.5 lakh crore which will check leaks and save anywhere between Rs 50,000 crore to Rs 70,000 crore every year.
The government’s decision to fast-track the parliamentary process by terming the legislation to give legal backing to Aadhaar a money bill is also intended to ensure that benefits start reaching the poor from the next financial year beginning April. The unique identification number programme has already resulted in savings of Rs 15,000 crore in LPG (cooking gas) subsidy. The bill is the key to the government’s plan to plug leakages in disbursal of subsidies and other services and in ensuring that these reach intended beneficiaries. The bill seeks to provide for good governance, efficient, transparent, and targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services, the expenditure for which is incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India to individuals residing in India through assigning of unique identity numbers.
By Nilabh Krishna