While the government readies to start cash transfers for welfare schemes to help the poor in remote parts of India using the Aadhar unique identity card scheme, critics, as is their wont, are raising questions over either privacy or authentication or actual delivery issues related to it.
In this pessimistic ritual, a glorious opportunity may be lost. The scheme led by former Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani is dramatic in future possibilities, and ironically, the critics may be better off examining what more Aadhar can do to fill the holes they are picking.
Aadhar was conceived as an ID card that would become a smart card with various bits of information for verification and delivery of services. My contention is that Aadhar should not be a smart card but a smartphone or sorts, given to poorer citizens free.
Last week, Visa and some banks announced a partnership under which the Aadhar card would serve as a know-your-customer verification for banks. This is only the beginning. A verification is the minimum a unique ID can do.
Now, consider the fact that smartphones are now available for R3,000 in the market and smart feature phones that have customised applications or buttons for specific Web-based services (such as Twitter or Facebook) are available even cheaper. I should think smart feature phones can be made available at R,1000 in a couple of years from now.
Let us say the government decides to incentivise the use of Aadhar by offering a free touchscreen phone, called the “Aadhar Phone” to every registered voter below the poverty line and at a nominal cost (or cost price). I should think 400 million citizens can get one at a budget of R40,000 crore.
In country where spectrum is being auctioned to raise that kind of money for the exchequer, an Aadhar Phone can become an interactive service delivery instrument. Customised with the right apps, it can be used to take instant surveys or even votes, get feedback and spread awareness on social issues. With geographical positioning system (GPS), it can become a tracking instrument and can even help check illegal immigration.
And finally, cash transfers can even be done in the form of mobile money — something that can help cash delivery even better.
These services will cut costs for the government and the increasing penetration will make spectrum worth paying more for telecom operators — and that will bring more money to the government. So it won't be a handout at all.