Aadhar Project

The year that was for Aadhaar, India’s most ambitious technology project [2012 Recap]

Aadhaar, the Unique Identity project of India made a lot of progress in 2012. As the core technology team wrapped up implementation of its  technology backbone, government has begun mobile enabled citizen service delivery in pockets. Full fledged service delivery will begin in January 2013.

This year wasn’t off to a good start for the folks at the Unique Identification Authority of India. The government body tasked with issuing a unique, online, verifiable number to every Indian was looking forward to the National Identification Authority of India Bill which was to give legal credence to the Aadhaar project. However, in December 2011, a Parliamentary standing committee on Finance rejected the bill raising concerns about the future of the ambitious project.

Despite the setback, the authority pushed forward as planned and managed to meet most of its goals for the year.The government had set a target of reaching 600 million people enrolled to the database by 2014. UID is now processing about 6 lakh enrollments a day. Around 270 million people have already been enrolled, says UIDAI Chief Nandan Nilekani.

Technocrat Nilekani had put together an amazing team to set up the tech architecture for the project. Srikanth Nadhamuni, one of the people who helped chip-maker Intel build the first Pentium chip, Pramod Varma, the principal architect of the project and many others like Sanjay Jain, Mathew Cherian and Tushar Vashisht were part of the team that came together to work on the project.

Aadhaar database became the world’s largest biometric database and continued to grow fast. The entire system was built on the open scale out architecture where off-the-shelf commodity hardware was used to achieve massive scale. An Aadhaar enabled payment system was also designed.

With the technology in place, various pilots were initiated in districts of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh. The projects tested the efficacy of Aadhaar enabled service delivery in Public Distribution System, Liquid Petroleum Gas distribution, Banking and other services. Some ideas were dropped and some new ones were included.

The core technology team is now slowly moving out of the UIDAI. Srikanth Nadhamuni is now the CEO of Khosla Labs in India where Sanjay Jain has joined as an entrepreneur in residence. Pramod Varma is an adviser to many startups and is an adviser to the Government. Mathew Cherian and Tushar Vashisht are now doing their own startup called healthifyme. Sanjay Swamy who was a part of the early UIDAI team launched Angel Prime, an incubator for startups with others.

The government recently approved direct cash transfers to beneficiaries of government schemes through the Aadhaar platform. It is also planning to spend nearly Rs 7,000 cr (~$1.2 billion) to distribute millions of free smartphones to the poor next year. These phones will have free internet and a low rental plan. Center will move most of its service delivery to the mobile platform starting next year.

Data source: NIPFP, Nov 2012

Once direct cash transfer is implemented, subsidies and money from the government under various schemes will go directly to the beneficiaries bank account using their unique identification number issued by the government. Starting January, 51 districts will move to the new cash transfer scheme. From April 2013, 18 states will move to the new system.

Five of the country’s largest banks including the State Bank of India launched Saral Money bank account service, with which a beneficiary can withdraw their money from any ATM or a micro ATM using biometric authentication provided by Aadhar or bank using their mobile phones.

The coming year will be crucial to the success of the project as service delivery brings tangible evidence to the claims made by the government.

[This article is part of our 2012 Recap series, and is supported by CCAvenue.]

2012 Recap/ 2013 Trends
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