Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, who now heads the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), promised his body would herald a transformation in the country’s rural jobs programme, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), “within the next two to three years”.
The UIDAI is the country’s most serious bid yet to provide an identification number to every Indian using biometric technology, in an attempt to improve the delivery of public services.
At a meeting on Thursday attended by parliamentarian Rahul Gandhi and former National Knowledge Commission Chairman Sam Pitroda, Nilekani argued that UIDAI and NREGA were natural allies:
“Both are about inclusion, both are about delivering to the poor,” he said.
Nilekani suggested three areas in the Rs 31,900 crore jobs programme where his team’s work would focus in the coming months.
The unique identity numbers would be put on NREGA job cards and bank accounts of villagers, and muster rolls of works in villages. Nilekani hoped this would eliminate corruption and harassment, and “dramatically improve our ability to deliver wages to those who deserve it”.
Currently, wage payments are often delayed by months. This, Nilekani said “was simply not acceptable”.
He envisaged a fundamental overhauling of current official information systems, and enrolling every Indian into a central database after formulating a set of standardised procedures.
“We will need to rethink our system as an online real time system. This will require extraordinary coordination… and help from the civil society, so that no one gets excluded,” Nilekani said.