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Conversations on Progress
India has rolled out the world’s largest biometric ID program, named Aadhaar (meaning “foundation”). Through the program, each individual is assigned a 12-digit unique identification number (UID) after submitting their fingerprints, iris scans, name, date of birth, and address. The ID remains valid for life, and has already proven that it is resilient against political leadership changes. India officially rolled out the program in 2010, and as of 2015 an estimated 67 percent of the Indian population has a biometric ID.
The Aadhaar initiative was created specifically to increase financial inclusion, and the department that runs the initiative, the Unique Identification Authority of India, worked closely with the Reserve Bank of India to design the product. Rollout, aided by mobile-enabled tablets with fingerprint and iris scan attachments, was focused on rural areas before moving to more urban areas, consistent with rural outreach within India’s approach to financial inclusion.
For many Indians, the ID is the first form of identification they have ever been issued. all someone needs to prove their identity and their address is a fingerprint. For those in the direct benefit system, the ID has increased security and transparency of G2P payments. For the general population, possessing a national ID means increased inclusion in society, including being able to open bank accounts, receive government benefits, and vote.
The much-discussed Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) program, which aims to put a bank account in every household, can attribute its success to the Aadhaar program. When India introduced “no-frills accounts” prior to Aadhaar, the lack of identification among the population stood as a major barrier to success. With Aadhaar, however, verifying someone’s identity and address is fast and easy for providers. To date, 179 million accounts have been opened under PMJDY.