Why the country needs the UID project to fight corruption

The Aadhaar project, also known as the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), launched its Authentication services on February 7th. It appeared as a few articles peppered across newspapers. Some coverage on the successful Proof of Concept in Jharkhand, where money was transferred to the bank accounts of NREGS workers directly; and other new pilots on payment of scholarships etc also came through.

Its ironic that while Lokpal’s each stage was being tracked so closely, something as potentially revolutionary as the launch of Aadhaar’s Authentication services was mentioned in passing. Or maybe it’s just as well for the project to remain as low profile as it can.

The reason why this launch was revolutionary is that it seeks to fundamentally alter the nature of the billions of transaction points between Government and Resident – The last mile. This also relates directly to one of the sticking points of the Lokpal, in terms of corruption in the lower bureaucracy who most residents interact with.

Let us take an example of typical last mile leakages. There are physical registers maintained at Ration shops in the remotest villages, with individuals necessarily linked to only ONE Ration shop. This automatically gives the Ration shop owner discretionary powers, hence the opportunity for corruption to breed. Imagine now a world where there is an electronic register that only registers a transaction when there is a fingerprint based authentication. This suddenly stops the ability for the Ration shop owner to siphon away food supplies. Also, localized corruption or denial of services can be further tackled since Aadhaar enables supply to be “universal”. Hence, if the locality shop creates an issue, they can go to another Ration shop and avail their quota. Suddenly, the eco-system shifts from being supply driven to demand driven!

Aadhaar’s authentication services along with analytics at the backend to detect fake/duplicates or attempts to fraud can help take on a corruption at a grassroots level. For the cynicism that often accompanies these kind of examples; right from unavailability of Electricity, Connectivity, Infrastructure, Devices etc; one has to trust the ability of the Indian entrepreneur and consumer to adapt a solution in their own way that benefits them.

The use of technology has consistently improved delivery of services even in Government institutions (Railways, Banks). Aadhaar is not a panacea that will remove all corruption – the judiciary and policing are still required as a deterrent to wrong-doings by personnel; it however uses technology to reduce dependence on these personnel in the first place. Its not just the Lokpal or Lokayukta or police that will stop corruption at the last mile, its the “Techpal”.

[Guest article contributed by Sudarshan Gangrade, who has just begun his stint with Hoopos.com, an early stage babycare focused Ecommerce firm. He leads their digital insights and Analytics work. Just before this, Sudarshan has worked for 2 years with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). He worked in 2 roles there –  anchoring the creation and running of the Analytics and Reporting backbone for UIDAI. Sudarshan is an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and IIM Bangalore.]

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