How Aadhar Was Planned To ‘Solve India’s Problems’: Nilekani Explains In New Book

Posted on June 8, 2016 in Books, Sci- Tech, Society

By Deepak Venkateswaran:

Aadhar card Nandan Nilekani
Image Source: Priyanka Parashar/Mint via Getty Images

“In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” – Alexander Hamilton

It is not every day that one comes across a book that is an appropriate blend of a vision for development and the pragmatism to give shape to it. This is what ‘Rebooting India’ is all about. The author had caught my imagination with his first book ‘Imagining India’. It was only obvious that I grabbed one of the earliest copies of his second book when it hit the shelves.

Nandan Nilekani is known as the brain behind Adhaar more than his contribution to the Indian IT Industry. The book talks about his vision to deliver a Unique Identification Number for each Indian, and how he started building his team (comprising of the best in Industry and some Government experts) even before the formal approval from the Government of India. The reader is taken through a narrative of how a start-up organisation was set up inside the Government system to which is perceived to be rigid and antiquated.

Bursting a myth:

The biggest misunderstanding of Adhaar most Indians have had is the fact that it is an ID Proof (like PAN, License, etc.). Nandan has been quite articulate and clear in busting that myth through this book. He clarifies that the purpose of Adhaar is just that of authentication and that it will not serve any purpose the other ID Proofs serve.

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The data collected during the enrolment process will be stored in a stable and secure server, called CIDR (Central ID Repository), across a network of data centres in Bangalore. With the approval of competent authorities, the biometric data can be shared with the concerned department to improve and provide better services.

The process has been set up by using the best consultants and professionals for each of the following processes:

1) Enrolment: It will be handled by a series of enrolment agencies who will be certified by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) as authorised.

2) Biometric Service Providers (BSPs): To provide the Automatic Biometric Identification System (ADIS) and Multimodal Software Development Kit (MSDK).

3) Registrars: They are representatives of state departments. Local authorities who are closer to the lower tiers of the government, with support from a network of sub-registrars, will take up the collection of Demographic data and document verification of eligible people.

Opposition to the Project:

In a country like India, it is too hard to reach a consensus on anything. This was the same in the case of Adhaar with the left and right of Political spectrum coming up with their concerns and oppositions.

With a combination of sustained dialogue involving all stakeholders, policy makers and using the traditional art of convincing the bosses with the bigger picture, the team set about taking everyone on board with consensus. This part of the book re-affirms the theory that people, more than buying the ideas, put their faith on the individual executing it. By all means, Nandan Nilekani was the right fit for this then.

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Building the Right Team:

It is certainly not easy to deliver unless you have the right people, and Nandan made sure that he had the perfect blend. Some of the notable names he has repeatedly mentioned in the book include:

1. Viral Shah (Head of Bio-Metrics at UIDAI)
2. Srikanth Nadhamuni
3. Ram Sewak Sharma (Director General of UIDAI)

A combination of experts from various verticals such as audit and accounts, banking, IT, bioinformatics, income tax, etc. were brought on board to create a lean but strong team.
This is extremely important for any project or organisation to smoothly function, as individuals with complimentary skill sets hold the key to complete the big picture.

Technology in Governance:

The latter part of the book is all about how technology can transform governance, and how Adhaar can be put to use for delivering an entire range of services to the common man. Right from plugging leakages in PDS system to banking services; smart grid electricity to free and smooth conduct of elections, Nilekani has a crystal clear idea of how Adhaar can fit into all models. Each chapter of the book is a new idea in itself; coupled with brilliant infographics for all readers to connect with.

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By extension, the author has envisioned a cashless economy where every Indian citizen, irrespective of his proximity to a physical bank, is linked to the mainstream finance.

This would be probably one of the models where everyone would agree “One Size Fits all”; with a catch that the right alteration should be done by each division of the government to put the data to good use. Nilekani takes the vision to a whole new level where he talks about the concept of bringing in a start-up culture into the government, with each one performing a specific task and in the end everything falling into place perfectly like a jigsaw.

While somehow Adhaar went on back-foot during the latter half of the UPA-2 regime leading Nandan to take a slew of decisions, including joining politics and losing to Anant Kumar of the BJP from South Bangalore constituency, the present government has been quick to embrace the potential of Adhaar. It even announced a slew of schemes using its foundation with the most ambitious plan of Jan Dhan; Adhaar and Mobile (the JAM trinity) for Direct Beneficiary Transfer of various subsidies that people are eligible for.

The legislative backing for Adhaar has also been finalised which makes it all the more important. Barring the controversy surrounding whether Adhaar is a money bill or not, the legislation seems to have set the platform for easing the lives of the people. Adhaar is no doubt a landmark achievement in a country like India in such a short span of time. One can only be optimistic that the future governments use its potential in the right direction.

The absolute beauty of the book is that it has been written in layman terms, with lots of mind-maps and info-graphics that traverse the reader into a world of augmented reality. The ease with which Nilekani creates a free-flowing stream of ideas and concepts regarding the importance of technology in governance makes this book a lot easier to read besides my reviewing effortless. The book talks about the immense possibilities of the Adhaar, beyond just an identity document.

For anyone interested in technology or governance or public policy this book is a must grab. It is sure to tickle your grey cells and make you come up with a lot of more ideas. Rebooting India also has a Twitter handle for constant updates to micro-bloggers that interested folks can follow.

There’s a lot more about the Aadhar card on Youth Ki Awaaz. Some of it might not agree with Nilekani’s book though. Give it a read if you like:

How Aadhar Cards Make Our Private Information More Exposed Than You Thought

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