Making the Poor Count: India's National Identity Scheme

By Guha, Keshava | Harvard International Review, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Making the Poor Count: India's National Identity Scheme


Guha, Keshava, Harvard International Review


Biometric national identity systems are rare in industrial democracies. Recent attempts to introduce them in the United Kingdom and the United States have been defeated by civil libertarian opponents. In both cases, the proposed identity systems were closely linked to national security and the US-led Global War on Terror. A biometric identity database is now being introduced on an unprecedented scale in the world's largest democracy: India. By 2015, 600 million Indians will be issued a Unique Identification Number (UID), a number linked to a resident's fingerprints, iris scan, and facial photograph. This time the primary motive is not national security, but rather social benefits.

The UID began life in a form similar to that of the abortive UK and US systems. In 2003, the then-ruling center-right coalition proposed the creation of a Multipurpose National Identity Card for the purpose of fighting terrorism and crime. After the coalition failed to win reelection, its successor, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), temporarily suspended the idea. The UPA's 2009 election manifesto, however, revived the notion of a biometric identity system but with a new function. The Unique ID, later branded "Aadhaar," is intended to revolutionize the nature of welfare schemes in India.

Aadhaar is the brainchild of the Unique Identification Authority of India, a new government agency headed by Nandan Nilekani, billionaire software entrepreneur and former Chairman of Infosys Technologies. The scheme has the backing of the three most important figures in the Indian government: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, and her son Rahul, and the first numbers will be issued before the end of 2010. It took the United States three decades to create a de facto identity system in the form of the Social Security number; India is attempting to do the same in biometric form in under five years.

That OECD countries do not have biometric identity schemes is a frequent criticism of Aadhaar. Yet its advocates point out that the absence of identity is a unique impediment to India's poorest, who are thereby excluded from the very welfare programs that are created to help them. For example, millions of the poorest Indians do not possess ration cards, as they are unable to pay the requisite bribe to the local panchayat (village council).

Two schemes that could be cleaned up in the short term are the Public Distribution System (PDS), which distributes food grains, and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which provides enrollees with 100 days work at slightly more than US$2 per day. It is estimated that of the US$9 billion annual outlay for NREGS, up to US$3.6 billion is lost to mid-level corruption; enrollees consequently typically receive only 60 percent of the promised income.

By giving such concrete identity credentials to the poorest Indians, many of whom have never possessed any kind of identity proof in their lives, Aadhaar can ensure that PDS food grains reach their intended source. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Making the Poor Count: India's National Identity Scheme
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.