Aadhaar finds a new destination in Fiji

Aadhaar, a biometrics-based identification system, continues to attract interest across the world with Fiji, a group of islands located in the South Pacific Ocean, being the latest nation to reach out to learn from India’s expertise, according to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman R.S. Sharma.

Sharma, along with Nandan Nilekani, former chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), has been credited for the success of Aadhaar identification numbers issued by UIDAI. Sharma was UIDAI’s director general from 2009 to 2013 and has been an Aadhaar evangelist, promoting the model from the World Bank platform.

Aadhaar identification numbers have been successfully used by the Indian government to provide direct benefit transfer (DBT) in case of domestic cooking gas, wherein beneficiaries buy cooking cylinders at the market price and the subsidy amount is credited to their bank accounts. The government has also rolled out DBT in foodgrain and plans to replicate the model for fertilisers.

“Earlier, through a Web conference, I spoke to executives from 17 countries in Africa and Latin America, which have evinced a lot of interest in this digital identity project. Morocco has now changed its entire strategy after I gave presentation for three days,” said Sharma.

Russia, Morocco and countries from Africa have already shown interest in India’s ambitious Aadhaar project, under which the UIDAI has given identity to more than one billion people over a period of five-and-a-half years.

“The world is looking at India. In fact, many countries are looking at India’s experience of building this digital identity infrastructure at such a large scale, which is robust, unique and authenticable,” Sharma said.

“I am now going to Fiji to speak on digital financial inclusion,” he added.

Fiji is an integral part of India’s strategic game plan in the Pacific. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the island nation in November 2014 and attended the India-Pacific Island Countries Forum Summit, which saw participation from 14 Pacific countries.

Also, the Union Cabinet approved the signing of new Air Services Agreement between India and Fiji last week. State-run New India Assurance Co. Ltd, Life Insurance Corporation of India and Bank of Baroda also have operations in Fiji.

Sharma added that Aadhaar is a robust method of human verification and with it now being used for issuing mobile phone connections, the lacunae in verification will be addressed.

“Without a consumer’s active consent, now no mobile SIM card will be activated. Earlier, there have been instances otherwise. Most importantly, linking Aadhaar for mobile verification will make it a paperless process, which will be done instantaneously,” Sharma added.

The government recently issued e-know your customer (e-KYC) guidelines for mobile connections.

Enthused by the response, Bibek Debroy, member at the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s think tank National Institution for Transforming India (Niti) Aayog, is in favour of extending the DBT scheme to Indian Railways for better targeting of subsidies for needy passengers.

Experts believe there are obvious benefits of Aadhaar and a lot can happen through it.

“It is very good (global replication). Aadhaar is something that has been tried and executed in a country of 1.2 billion people. Globally, the scale would be much smaller, which means it is doable,” said Krishnan Dharmarajan, executive director, Centre for Digital Financial Inclusion, a think tank.

He added that it can be used for authenticated transactions, and can be used for financial and non-financial purposes.

“Aadhaar is now the largest digital platform in the world for good governance and transparent delivery of services of subsidies and services,” the minister for electronics and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad had said when the Aadhaar numbers crossed a billion mark in April this year.

Ensuring 100% Aadhaar enrolment is critical given that the intended subsidy will be directly credited to the unique identification-linked bank accounts.