India’s Aadhaar ID Project Turns Nation’s Poor into Economic Players

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Here in the small village of Ambalavayal, in southern India, in a large dim room beside the local school, about 30 villagers sit patiently on benches.

Young mothers in bright saris with babies on their shoulders. Old men with the dust of the fields on their clothes and coarse work-worn hands.

At rough wooden tables, a jumble of cables connect laptops to fingerprinting machines and eye scanners, and one by one the villagers step forward to be fingerprinted, scanned and photographed.

By being catalogued this way — which would be fiercely resisted by people in the privacy-conscious West — each villager is becoming a part of what has been called the biggest social project on the planet.

The project itself is called Aadhaar, which means foundation, and it has the potential, its proponents believe, to transform India and shift economic power from the hands of the wealthy few to the (potentially) consuming many.

As most of us now know, India has become something of an economic juggernaut over the past decade. In fact, its growth rate this year is expected to be nearly triple that of Canada and other Western nations.

Yet even as the Indian economy produces its annual crop of new billionaires and races ahead statistically, many people are left behind.

One-third of the population, 400 million people, lives on less than $2 a day. Less than half of households have toilets. In even fewer can residents drink water from their own taps. One in four is illiterate.

An almost greater concern is that hundreds of millions of Indians are virtually invisible to the state.

They have no ID. They may have ration cards or election cards but no real identification.

Imagine trying to sign up for government help or open a bank account — less than half the population has one. What’s more, only about three per cent of Indians pay income tax.

This is where Aadhaar comes in. It is a state-organized plan to give every resident — ultimately 1.2 billion of them — a unique 12-digit identity number in which an individual’s identity can be verified online, backed up by fingerprints and eye scans.

Once completed, it will be the world’s largest biometric database, unprecedented in size and ambition.

Source: CBC News (link opens in a new window)

Impact Assessment
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