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India’s digital ID system has become ubiquitous and is rapidly being incorporated into service delivery. With more heat than light so far in the Aadhaar debate, the State of Aadhaar report is a major step forward in understanding the world’s largest ongoing transition to digital governance, one that is being watched closely by many other countries.
With few systematic studies of its impact on program beneficiaries, the debate on Aadhaar has, so far, seen more heat than light, but this is changing. The State of Aadhaar Report looks into many dimensions, including beneficiaries’ views of the new digital delivery systems, and the impact of the new approach—which combines financial inclusion (Jan Dhan accounts) Aadhaar, and mobiles (the so-called JAM trinity)—as well as financial inclusion and digital payments.
Aadhaar, the world’s largest biometric ID program, is at a crossroads. After a remarkable effort to enroll almost the entire Indian population of 1.25 billion in just over half a decade, its impact on privacy and distribution public benefits are being called into question.
How do you give over a billion people a digital ID within five years? How do you improve learning for 200 million children in India and countless millions worldwide within a decade? How do you improve health outcomes for billions of poor people and achieve the goals of Universal Health Coverage within a generation? How do you solve the world’s most pressing challenges, not incrementally, but with the urgency they demand?
India’s shift towards direct benefit transfers (DBTs) is on the fast track. According to official statements, in the 2015-16 fiscal year the central government deposited nearly $5 billion of subsidy and welfare payments directly into the bank accounts of 300 million beneficiaries. It has also set an ambitious target to transfer all payments to the Aadhaar-based biometric DBT platform by the end of 2017. This will surely be the greatest subsidy reform in the world, but we need more data to accurately evaluate its impact.
India has embarked on a program using biometric identification to enable a shift from blanket price-based energy subsidies to targeted compensation payments based on actual, individual energy purchases.
According to current estimates, some 10,000 people have been killed in the Philippines by super-typhoon Haiyan, 620,000 displaced, and over 9 million affected. Emergency relief and reconstruction assistance will be required on a large scale and for an extended period – perhaps more frequently in future years as climate change leads to an increase in extreme weather events.