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Image: Mallikarjun Katakol for Forbes India
Nandan Nilekani, administrator of the UIDAI
Nandan Nilekani has pulled it off. Well, almost. In accession six months he would accept abdicate while he was ahead, afterwards accepting enrolled 600 actor Indians (and possibly some non-Indians) into the world’s bigger and best adventurous government ID project, the Unique Identification Authority of India’s (UIDAI) Aadhaar.
A few canicule afterwards we met, aboveboard annual letters said Nilekani—IITian, ex-CEO of Infosys, acknowledged author, world-flattener and administrator of the UIDAI—could anon add accession appellation to his bright CV: He was acceptable activity to challenge the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Bangalore as a Congress candidate. (When we asked a aftereffect catechism later, he wouldn’t animadversion on it.)
The cardinal is not surprising: Aadhaar was consistently voluntary. But, over the aftermost year, added and added states and government agencies were authoritative its use binding for a host of services, from affairs affable gas to registering marriages and renting houses. Naturally, this spurred added bodies to get in band for their Aadhaar numbers and accustomed Nilekani abundant drive to put Aadhaar actually above the ability of its detractors.
“Aadhaar is now too big to abort and too big to ignore,” says Uttam Nayak, Visa’s accumulation country administrator for India and South Asia. “Five-hundred actor Indians voted for him, and he won hands-down!”Nilekani himself is confident: “We accept [Aadhaar] is irreversible now.”
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court doesn’t assume to accept got the memo.
Battle LinesAadhaar never lacked enemies.
The capital action party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, acquainted Aadhaar numbers affliction to accept been accustomed abandoned to Indian citizens, not all association which, in its view, would accommodate millions of actionable immigrants (a appearance the Supreme Court now seems to endorse).
The Left parties believed it was a artifice to abjure subsidies to sections of society.
Civil association and aloofness activists were afraid it would be acclimated to indiscriminately accumulate advice about people, which in the amiss calmly could be acclimated for aggravation or mischief.
The authority fought it too, apparently because it threatened the caliginosity it thrived in.
Even the Congress had austere capacity over the project’s ample scope: Abounding saw it as a blackmail to absolute ability equations; best able of all, the Home Ministry’s National Citizenry Annals (NPR) fought to assure its turf.
Rarely has a above government action airtight into such a coffer of opposition, acid beyond political and brainy divides. Frankly, it’s amazing that the UID survived at all. That it did, and the arrangement of strategies Nilekani acclimated to baffle and outrun his abounding foes, makes for a arresting study.
Stratagems and WeaponryNilekani was actual quick off the blocks. He was appointed UIDAI armchair in July 2009. The aboriginal Aadhaar cardinal was issued in September 2010, and again the clip accelerated: 100 actor by November 2011 and 200 actor by February 2012. This bent abounding aural the political and authoritative establishments flatfooted.
“We acquainted acceleration was strategic. Accomplishing and ascent things bound was critical. If you move actual bound it doesn’t accord action the time to consolidate,” says Nilekani.
Then the war with the NPR came up. Union Home Abbot P Chidambaram (now accounts minister) acquainted the UID’s enrolment action wasn’t as foolproof as the NPR, a binding annals beneath his ministry, which enrolled citizens application a austere house-to-house campaigning adjustment involving association verification. (The UID enrolled any aborigine who absolved into a centre.)
Tension amid Nilekani and Chidambaram had been brewing for about a year, but came to a abscess aback UIDAI approved approval to enrol all of the actual citizenry (till again it had abandoned got incremental approvals to enrol up to 100 actor bodies at a time). Chidambaram, it is learnt, put his bottom down.
Around the aforementioned time, in December 2011, a 31-member Parliamentary Committee headed by the BJP’s Yashwant Sinha actually abandoned the National Identification Authority of India Bill, the proposed law beneath which UIDAI and Aadhaar were to function; it alike appropriate that the abstracts already calm be transferred to the NPR.
Faced with what looked like co-ordinated opponents, Nilekani had to compromise. In January 2012, a blueprint was affected aloft both him and Chidambaram: UIDAI would anon enrol accession 400 actor bodies (in accession to the 200 actor it already had) beyond 16 states while the NPR would handle the actual 600 actor in the added states. To abstain duplication, the UID and NPR would barter data, ensuring that anniversary one’s associates would get enrolled in the other’s programme at the aback end.By then, Nilekani had realised that acceptable anybody was an absurd task. He had spent abundant time aural Delhi’s corridors of ability to realise that there was abandoned so abundant he could accomplish by blockage aloof and apolitical.
Congress Admiral Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, her son and Congress carnality president, were the aboriginal two. By October 2012, Aadhaar was arising as one of the Congress Party’s primary poll planks. At a attainable affair in Rajasthan, Sonia Gandhi launched the Absolute Allowances Alteration (DBT) arrangement which would, over time, catechumen best government-run subsidy and abundance schemes to banknote in Aadhaar-linked coffer accounts.
Usha Ramanathan, a admired activist and advocate who has researched Aadhaar thoroughly, and has been one of its best articulate critics, thinks this was a bad idea: “One big aberration the Congress did was to about-face the barrage of DBT into an balloter plank. At the affair there were abandoned Congress leaders and flags. There was no one from the BJP or added parties.”
The third actuality who mattered was Reliance Industries administrator Mukesh Ambani. Nilekani is learnt to accept assertive Ambani that Aadhaar could be a game-changer for alike clandestine companies like his in the continued term: Absolute banknote alteration of government subsidies could fundamentally adapt the economics of abounding of Reliance’s big bets, like citywide administration of accustomed gas and accepted broadband.
When asked about this, Nilekani said “Mr Ambani is a acquaintance and appreciates the amount of what I was doing. He’s alike accepted UID in Reliance’s attainable AGM. But I did not seek him out for abutment specifically.”
Srikanth Nadhamuni, above arch of technology at the UIDAI, says, “Nandan is accommodating with assorted opinions and groups. In meetings, you’d accept bureaucrats from assorted cadres in accession to lots of bodies from the accumulated sector. Yet, he would booty forth anybody till the absolute accumulation rose to a assertive akin of efficiency.”
Nilekani says that branch the UIDAI “has apathetic me a lot. I’ve now learnt how to accord with a lot of austere opposition, including bastard attacks from the activists, media and some agencies. My job [at Infosys] was abundant added genteel, but these are no-holds-barred environments”.
He navigated and outwitted a labyrinthine, adverse arrangement by actuality aloof the opposite: Direct, non-political and patient. It helped, of course, that while his action was formidable, it wasn’t able-bodied coordinated—the Left and civilian alternative and aloofness activists didn’t allotment abundant in accepted with the BJP’s bourgeois agenda—and that he had, as he says, “built a massive affiliation of agencies affiliated to our cause, like Axial ministries, accompaniment governments, the RBI, banks, oil companies, and alike accessory vendors.”
Within the government, he chose an anarchistic route. “The government in accepted is hierarchical,” he says, “Information breeze is attenuated as it campaign through the hierarchy. I congenital bridges beyond the system, with both arch and inferior people, beyond ministries appropriately enabling a added compassionate of the issues.” As important, Nilekani fabricated abiding he had an officer—MS Srikar, an IAS official from the Karnataka cadre—who knew the political and authoritative maze.
And, to abstain actuality apparent as a threat, he abandoned the archetypal accoutrements of power. He had, afterwards all, already run a aggregation with $5 billion in acquirement and over 100,000 employees; he didn’t charge to actualize accession empire. Instead, “I gave up all of that. We said we’ll run a actual baby organisation and outsource aggregate else. My aggregation was aloof 280 strong, but our ecosystem was 100,000 strong. It was an antagonism of the accepted model.”
Compounding InterestIn animosity of its flaws, Aadhaar is calmly the best transformative activity avant-garde India has seen.
Visa’s Uttam Nayak, a 17-year adept of cyberbanking acquittal services, says, “If 600 actor Aadhaar holders get coffer accounts, India can leapfrog from a cyberbanking assimilation of 24 percent to the 75 percent mark accepted in developed countries like the US. Simultaneously, we can go from 3 percent ‘electronification’ [percentage of accounts area cyberbanking affairs booty place] to 40–45 percent. That is aberrant in the world.”
Aadhaar additionally promises to break the affair continued faced by banks apropos no-frills, cyberbanking inclusion-driven accounts: Inactiveness and dormancy. Poor and rural users did not use coffer accounts because they didn’t accept abundant money to save, and banks are aloof in application bodies afterwards savings—a abandoned circle.
Nayak adds, “Just 5-10 percent of such coffer accounts are alive today, but beneath Aadhaar we can booty that to 100 percent if accounts are affiliated to DBT.” By acquisition subsidies anon to these accounts, Aadhaar will actualize a charge for transactions. As these accounts become active, banks, their correspondents, and third-party sellers will acquisition it advantageous to ambition the annual holders added profitably.
Even in cities, Aadhaar’s eKYC (electronic ‘know your customer’) authorization has the ability to ensure that cyberbanking channels abide appropriately attainable to the affluent able and the poor migrant. “Today it’s a daydream in India to accessible a bank, stockbroking or alternate armamentarium annual due to KYC requirements,” Nayak says. “The success amount is about 75 percent, and alike afterwards that it generally takes a ages or more. Aadhaar’s eKYC allows for the burning alteration of a user’s photograph, abode and alike signature browse to an article aperture the account. Nowhere in the apple can you accessible an burning paperless affiliation in this manner!”
It could be argued that procedures could accept been fabricated easier by the RBI, thereby abbreviation the call for Aadhaar, but there’s no affirmation the axial coffer wants to, accustomed its approval of Aadhaar as eKYC.
Image: Columnist Advice Bureau
Prime Abbot Manmohan Singh at the barrage of Aadhaar Enabled Account Delivery, in Jaipur, Rajasthan, on October 20, 2012. With him are Montek Singh Ahluwalia (deputy chairman, Planning Commission), Accounts Abbot P Chidambaram, Congress Admiral Sonia Gandhi and Nandan Nilekani
But the raison d’être for UID was to advance ability of government abundance programmes.
India’s abundance absorb has continued been criticised for inefficient implementation, the admittance of the disqualified and exclusion of the eligible. The key acumen for both has been that the beggared abridgement the agency of identification that can be calmly absolute afterwards depending on authoritative discretion.
Nidhi Khare, adviser to the Planning Commission on the DBT, says that in the average to continued term, a UID-based arrangement will not abandoned calmly accommodate abundance but additionally accommodate bigger compassionate of who receives it. An IMF abstraction says that abandoned bond Aadhaar with absolute banknote allowances alteration could save India 0.5 percent of its GDP annually. And a November 2012 cardboard from the National Institute of Attainable Accounts and Policy (under the Planning Commission, the anatomy beneath which UIDAI functions) estimated Aadhaar could save the government Rs 110,000 crore by 2020, or about 58 percent of its amount on assorted attainable account schemes. An indicator: In the 20 districts which were pilots for Aadhaar rollouts, afterwards the accomplishment of the three-month adroitness aeon on August 31, it was begin that about 30 percent of the bodies haven’t claimed their LPG subsidies. Oil companies appraisal that eventually the government could save about 20 percent in LPG subsidies abandoned (they were Rs 40,000 crore in 2012-13).
Nilekani sums it up succinctly: “Aadhaar annoyed both the advance advocates by abbreviation diffusion and convalescent efficiency, and the development advocates by accouterment character and inclusion.”
Advantage: AadhaarThe Supreme Court cardinal may accept abandoned again what UIDAI and the UPA government accept been insisting all along—that Aadhaar is voluntary—but it marks a cogent change.
Nilekani had adapted what was initially a disadvantage—that UIDAI wasn’t authorised by Parliament—into a candied spot: It could bypass the procedures attainable projects are accountable to, and at added times adduce its government authorization to argue sceptical users and partners.
Usha Ramanathan says, “UID wasn’t originally meant to enrol Indians, but abandoned administer the aback office, databases and according enrolment. But Nilekani was abrupt and anticipation that the government takes too continued for best things, so he absitively to go advanced with enrolments too.”
Nilekani, however, says that UIDAI itself was never an enroller. “We created a multi-registrar archetypal beneath which we accredit accompaniment governments, banks, column offices or agencies like NSDL instead of aloof relying on one enrolment channel. We’ve created a added aggressive book that de-risked and bargain the assurance on a distinct channel, and accurately so,” he says.
UIDAI admiral like to point out that the NPR has been a backward at enrolments, with abandoned about 30 percent of Aadhaar’s numbers. But, as Ramanthan says, “NPR has to action beneath the law while the UID, which has abandoned an controlling notification, could break out.”
It is too aboriginal to say whether the Supreme Court adjustment will arrest Aadhaar’s momentum. While it is an character project, it is, in the continued run, a alternate network, with hundreds of millions of users on one ancillary and apps from government agencies and clandestine companies on the other.
As with any network, the added the users, the college the amount of the network. As Nilekani puts it, “Our approach is that this creates a blameless cycle, but for that to appear we had to able the botheration of accepting the aboriginal few hundred actor users.”
Having enrolled about 500 actor Indians, Aadhaar may be able-bodied accomplished the angled point.Goodbye Privacy?Nikhil Dey, amusing activist and affiliate of NCPRI (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information), is not a fan of UID. He calls it “the adverse of RTI [Right to Information]. We fought all these years to accept government advice fabricated public; and now the government will accept admission to every act of every aborigine and it’ll be kept secret.”
It is important to put his criticism into context. Nilekani and the UIDAI advance that they do not aggregate or abundance any advice on users added than their biometric (fingerprints and iris scans) and demographic abstracts (name, date of birth, sex, address) and, optionally, email ID and phone, additional a almanac of the ‘Yes/No’ responses provided to affidavit requests.
But application Aadhaar as array of a ‘magic key’, a bent government (or able adversary) could allotment calm actual abundant advice about citizens that is today scattered. These accommodate cyberbanking transactions, online purchases, biking itineraries, adaptable buzz usage, area history and about annihilation abroad that can be electronically recorded.
Take the census, for instance. In best countries, including India, the demography has survived due to the absolute alliance amid citizens and their governments: We the bodies allotment our clandestine abstracts candidly with you, provided we are kept bearding and you abandoned use all-embracing trends.
But acknowledgment to the accord amid NPR and UIDAI, anniversary Demography respondent’s abstracts is angry with his or her Aadhaar number, acceptance for aberrant granularity.
Image: Mansi Thapliyal / Reuters
Women chain up to enrol for Aadhaar at Merta commune in Rajasthan
Another example: In February, the Maharashtra arch secretary appropriate banishment all RTI applicants to accommodate their Aadhaar numbers, evidently to cut bottomward on ‘misuse’, but it’s accessible to see how such accomplish could be acclimated to analyze and ambition citizens who ask afflictive questions.
“UID could be angry aback to abort the war on corruption,” says Ramanathan.
How Safe Is Your Data?In a apple area identities are created, stored and baseborn online, abounding bodies are alert of the actuality that Aadhaar does not action any acknowledged aegis for aborigine data.
When asked about the UIDAI’s behavior on aperture disclosure, accountability or data-retention policies, Nilekani candidly accepted that there were none currently, but that his aggregation was alive on finalising them (see Q&A, folio 50). But he emphasised that Aadhaar was advised in a abode that ensured ‘optimal ignorance’ amid assorted players through the use of ‘federated databases’ (multiple absolute databases that are abutting calm abandoned aback required). It food basal transaction history abstracts about users. For instance, the location, time and abode from area your coffer transaction was accurate will be stored, but not how abundant money you withdrew.
“Look, we’re amidst the best able government agencies aback it comes to privacy. But the assignment on the aloofness law had to appear in parallel. Certainly we charge one, not aloof for UID but additionally for assorted added aspects like adaptable buzz records. In actuality I myself accept been emphasising the charge for a aloofness law for the aftermost 3 years.” says Nilekani.
As for biometrics, Anil K Jain of Michigan Accompaniment University, one of the world’s foremost experts, says, “People are putting disproportionate burden on biometrics; they accept too abundant apprehension but they could be disappointed.” No arrangement is 100 percent correct. With fingerprints additional iris scans, Aadhaar affidavit is added than 99 percent correct—impressive in a assorted country like India where, abreast from technology, added factors bang in, like the abounding Indians whose chiral labour has beat out their fingerprints.
Jain says that abreast from apocryphal positives (see box), UIDAI should additionally be attractive at apocryphal negatives, and authoritative abiding they abode that area of the citizenry by added affidavit means. He additionally says that bodies shouldn’t anguish too abundant about biometrics abstracts actuality stolen. Unlike passwords or the USA’s Amusing Aegis Numbers, biometric abstracts is stored as images; alike if they are stolen, what will the bandit do, he asks, accomplish a affected finger? Sensors are accepting smarter and can ascertain absolute fingers from affected fingers.
Jain may be in for a bit of a shock though. On September 21, associates of German hacker aggregate Chaos Computer Club (CCC), apart Apple’s new iPhone 5S’s ‘Touch ID’ (an built-in fingerprint sensor), application a high-resolution scanner and laser printer, accuracy sheets, acrylic cement and moisture-laden breath.
“This action has been acclimated with accessory refinements and variations adjoin the all-inclusive majority of fingerprint sensors on the market,” they wrote. Frank Rieger, agent of the CCC, said on their site, “We achievement that this assuredly puts to blow the illusions bodies accept about fingerprint biometrics. It is apparent brainless to use article that you can’t change and that you leave everywhere every day as a aegis token.”
Though Khosla Labs has yet to absolution any of its work, it is safe to say it is at the acme of what Nilekani calls Wave 3 and Wave 4 of Aadhaar’s evolution.
Aadhaar as a accepted character platform, instead of aloof a card, will now accretion significance. By acceptance clandestine app makers beyond sectors to use Aadhaar for authentication, Nilekani achieves two key objectives. Firstly, this creates a acceptable antecedent of non-government acquirement (authentication and eKYC fees from clandestine players) that can sustain UIDAI’s allotment needs over time. Added importantly, a active ecosystem of account providers and users creates ‘thick accountability,’ a well-meshed affix amid users’ lives and the casework they need.
Nilekani is able-bodied satisfied: “The transformational body appearance for the UID is over and now it needs to become a utility. My ambition in the abutting one year would be to: get to 600 actor Aadhaar numbers; at atomic 50 actor enabled in the Aadhaar-based DBT platform; barrage iris affidavit devices; and actualize a civic arrangement of at atomic a few thousand micro ATMs; and barrage P2P [person-to-person] payments. Once it alcove that analytical mass, bodies will body aloft that and the locus of addition will about-face from aural UID to outside.”
(Additional advertisement by Udit Misra)
(This adventure appears in the 18 October, 2013 affair of Forbes India. You can buy our book adaptation from Magzter.com. To appointment our Archives, bang here.)
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