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?
CGD Policy Blogs
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.
The state of Rajasthan in north India has become the digital frontier, with a program that registers all family members under a single identity document known as the “Bhamashah Card,” but it still has to overcome significant challenges of poverty and inequality. In a state that is similar in size and population to Germany, it is no small achievement to take on the ambitious task of providing each family with a unique ID and deliver it within a short span of three years.
Today, June 30, marks six months from the day Indians had to change their old 500 and 1000 rupee notes following the “demonetization shock” announced by the government. The turmoil in the economy has since calmed to a large extent. In the past six months, the government also launched a concerted effort to wean Indians away from cash as the preferred method of payment for transactions.
Demonetization is yesterday’s news. The India of today is going full steam ahead towards a digital economy powered by financial inclusion, the mobile revolution, and Aadhaar—the biometric ID system that now covers 90 percent of its 1.3 billion population. And the social compact of the future will restructure subsidies and provide a basic income for the poor.
It has been more than 100 days since the Modi government declared that the two largest denomination notes in India—the 500 and 1000 rupee notes—would no longer be accepted as legal tender. The announcement of “demonetization” had an immediate and sweeping effect on Indian households, which were no longer allowed to use the notes (outside of a few narrow exceptions) and were given less than eight weeks to deposit or exchange them.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announced a bold measure on Wednesday to reduce the role of unaccounted for cash or “black money” in the country’s economy by “de-monetizing” higher-denomination currency notes. The new policy bans the use of 500 rupee and 1,000 rupee currency notes. While this measure may have the positive (though potentially temporary) effect of forcing illicit activity out of the regulated economy, the process could be disorderly, with the poorest members of society bearing the brunt of the disruption.
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.
When the Upper House of India’s parliament recently passed the landmark Goods and Service Tax (GST) legislation, India finally, after more than six decades of independence, became a truly common market. That could be a game changer for India’s development in the coming years.
The biometrics revolution has allowed more countries to create strong ID systems for their citizens. These systems have mostly relied on fingerprinting, but with the advent of low-cost, highly effective iris readers this is about to change.