But tech no fix for bad governance.
The Unique Identity (UID) project or Aadhaar, to assign all citizens a unique 12-digit number associated with biometric data, has the potential to improve governance, but is no magic substitute for it.
It can accurately target delivery of development programmes, and more. The number and biometric data being stored in a queriable central database, UID provides indisputable identity that is portable pan-India.
But Aadhaar also presupposes continuing governance reforms, without which the UID’s potential would remain untapped.
The actual access to governmental programmes on health, education and employment do require proactive policy; the UID cannot and must not be seen as a cure-all for responsive governance.
The identity that Aadhaar provides can, however, be used to rightfully access social programmes, and open, say, a bank account (subject to attendant requirements like address verification).
The way ahead is for public agencies and organisations to incorporate UID in their schemes and products.
The the biggest beneficiary of Aadhaar will be the aam aadmi, the common man, provided reform of governance structures and institutions are streamlined for a sound development delivery mechanism.
The reality on the ground is that guaranteed identity is only available at a premium, which is why for, example, the subsidies really meant for the poor are routinely appropriated by the nonpoor.
UID can be used to design a foolproof platform for the delivery of citizen services, as it would link an individual’s digital footprint across multiple government agencies.
The project authorities do need to put in place systems to avoid potential tracking, profiling and data misuse via UID.
But its real potential is that it could put paid to fuzzy policymaking, with beneficiaries traceable and very much identifiable across space and time.
The objective ought to be to purposefully target subsidies, rev up efficiency in policy-making and provide fiscal space for forward-looking investment in social and physical infrastructure.
UID is also a tool for fiscal reform, provided transparency and governance gets the requisite leg up.
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