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India Leading the Way on Biometric ID—and Now Replacing Subsidies with Cash

The Washington Post reported yesterday that India will, starting Jan 1st in 51 districts, pay cash directly into the accounts of poor families as it begins unraveling its convoluted web of food, fuel and other subsidies. India’s been toying with this idea for a while, so it’s good news that it’ll finally kick-off in the New Year. Many others will be watching.

Is India’s Middle Class Big Enough For. . . ?

This is a joint post with Christian Meyer.

For global producers of consumer products, the rise of a middle class in India is great news. Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, and IKEA have all recently announced they will move into the Indian market. The Swedish furniture maker plans to invest up to €1.5 billion over the next 15 to 20 years. A growing and more economically secure middle class in a country that, for all its troubles, is expected to continue to grow at a healthy if not torrid pace, ensures a healthy consumer market for years to come.

CGD’s Understanding India Initiative Launches in New Delhi

The audience in New Delhi, India clung to their seats well past the scheduled end of the program at the recent launch of CGD’s Understanding India Initiative. India’s minister for rural development (and former minister for the environment) Jairam Ramesh, presided over the event, which was organized and hosted by Pratap Mehta (president of the Center for Policy Research and non-resident CGD fellow CGD). Among participants was Nandan Nilekani, head of the Unique Identification Authority of India (who we look forward to welcoming to Washington when he delivers the 2013 Sabot Lecture); prominent academics, and the India-based representatives of foreign development assistance institutions.

Technology in the Tropics: a Visit to Bangalore

Bangalore in September. Beautiful weather, luscious gardens, and the din of metro construction. But most importantly (for our purposes, at least), Bangalore is headquarters to the world’s largest biometric identification project. Every 24 hours, the Unique Identification Authority of India’s data center performs 100 trillion matches to ensure that each of the day’s 1 million new enrollees is distinct from the 200 million people already identified. This number crunching will only increase as the program scales to cover India’s 1.2 billion people.

The New Indian Politics: No Slowdown, No Panic

This piece originally appeared in the Financial Times on September 23, 2012 (gated) and is posted here with permission.

The Indian government’s recent reforms to reduce government subsidies and embrace greater foreign direct investment were unexpected and bold. Markets have rewarded them with surging stock prices and a rebound in the value of the rupee. The reforms may yet be reversed or diluted because of the political backlash. Their impact may be more symbolic than substantive. Nevertheless, they are significant in that they reflect changes in the operating assumptions of Indian politics.

Can India’s Power Problems Be Solved?

This post also appears on the Peterson Institute for International Economics Real Time Economics Watch.

In Lord Richard Attenborough’s movie Gandhi, an underling of the British Empire heatedly warns his supercilious boss that Mahatma Gandhi’s impending protest march to the sea poses a far greater threat than the Raj realizes: “Salt, sir, is a symbol.” This elicits the memorable sneering put-down from the boss (played by Sir John Gielgud): “Don’t patronize me, Charles.”

Fast or "Farce"? Whither India's Anti-Corruption Movement?

When I last blogged about India's recent anti-corruption groundswell, a loose coalition of NGOs and citizens led by social activist Anna Hazare had just scored a crucial victory in the ongoing struggle to curb corruption in the world’s largest democracy.  For months Anna's India Against Corruption movement (dubbed “Team Anna” by the press) had engaged in agitations meant to pressure the government of India in