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Forests have been all over the news recently as the Brazilian Amazon burns and the world reacts. One of the most consequential decisions for India’s forests will be made soon in a surprising place—the country’s 15th Finance Commission.
As the United Nations General Assembly meets this week, global leaders will be taking stock of their countries’ progress towards the SDGs and mapping out where they still have to go. Our research has shown that, together, financial accounts, ID, and mobile phones can facilitate a wide variety of cross-cutting programs to meet the SDGs, which can be cost-effective at scale.
India is now recognized as a leader in digital government service delivery, enabled by the Aadhaar unique identification platform which has registered the equivalent of almost 15 percent of the world’s population. Many service delivery programs have been deployed at the state level, providing a rich comparative context. Some states have struggled to move towards effective and inclusive digitized programs while others have seemingly achieved a sophistication that is on par with, or surpasses, many developed countries’ capacities.
India’s biometric ID, Aadhaar, is here to stay. This is the verdict of India’s Supreme Court which delivered a historic judgement today on a slew of petitions challenging the growing use of Aadhaar in the country.
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?
Aadhaar has already demonstrated the potential of digital ID to transform systems of governance and increase efficiency of private transactions. By addressing the genuine concerns of individual privacy and data protection, it can lead by example as it has done on the technological side. The right to privacy judgement by India's Supreme Court is an opportunity to make Aadhaar a bigger success than it already is. India can learn from other countries to do just that.