By Alexandra Hansen
Nandan Nilekani, the chairman of the Unique Identification Authority India (UIDAI), told a packed audience at the Australia India Institute last week how giving every Indian citizen a unique 12-digit number could change their lives, and the nation.
In his oration India’s transformation: The role of information technology, Nilekani said by mid-2014 600 million Indians, half the population, will have been entered onto the UIDAI system, and given a unique number that can be used as a form of identification.
More than half the children born in India have no birth certificate; less than one Indian in 20 has a passport – and only three per cent pay taxes. The lack of formal identification denies many access to basic services and hinders their full participation in society, such as enrolling in school or applying for jobs.
Nilekani described the “Aadhaar”, or identification number,as a platform that could be used for other applications.
Every Indian is eligible for an Aadhaar card, which uses biometrics to ensure unique identification, and gives the holder the means to apply for government services, bank accounts, and mobile phones.
Since the project started, 30 million bank accounts have been opened as a direct benefit of the Aadhaar card, and 10 million transactions have been made using the unique ID number.
Asked about downsides to the system, Nilekani said the project was difficult to pull off given India’s 1.2 billion people. And while it could solve many problems, it could not solve deeper social inequalities.
“This is just a platform to participate,” Nilekani said. “A simple number gives so much flexibility.”
Watch the full lecture:
Media for Nilekani's visit: