India’s Aadhaar Project: The Unprecedented and Unique Partnership for Inclusion

The burgeoning economy of India still precludes many marginalized individuals at the bottom of the pyramid from obtaining basic benefits and welfare services due to the lack of a proper form of identification. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) established a program in 2009 called Aadhaar as a method for providing identification to the marginalized residents of India. The purpose of the identification project was to promote greater social and financial inclusion for all residents in the formal economy of India. UIDAI leadership implemented a public-private partnership that leveraged the strengths of both the Government of India and the private sector, giving Aadhaar the ability to overcome the challenges of a project with such a large scope and size. 
This comprehensive analysis may provide a broader interest for developing or industrial countries with a model for implementing their own mechanism for the provision of a nationally recognized identification system.
Keywords: Aadhaar, Biometric Identification, Financial Equality, Public-Private Partnership, Social Equality, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)

Introduction: India’s Unique Identification System

In many developing countries around the world, the process of social and financial inclusion of all residents is an arduous and convoluted process. The basic concept of having an identity in numerous industrialized nations is taken for granted. Conversely, the luxury of having an accepted means of identification in developing countries is often not offered to many, especially those that find themselves at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid. One of the first steps of greater social and financial inclusion of all residents of a common locale begins with providing a basic nationally recognized form of identification. India is currently the largest democracy and is the second most populous country in the world. India continues to be an emerging democracy to this day with a robust and burgeoning economy. Despite the flourishing economy, many residents of India are unable to obtain basic benefits or sorely needed welfare services because they do not have proper or accepted identification. India has a population of 1.2 billion people and approximately 400 million people are unable to prove their identity (Sathe, 2011). This barrier exists due to the fact that both public and private sector organizations require proof of identity prior to providing any services to residents. 

The inability to prove one’s identity precludes the poor, the marginalized, and the underprivileged populations of India from gaining access to benefits and subsidies, applying for welfare benefits, accessing education, opening a bank account, or attaining employment (Greenleaf, 2010; Sharma, 2011). The goal of Indian government officials in implementing a broad identification system is to successfully address the concerns of national security, corruption, and anti-poverty efforts. There have been many documented cases of fake identities, fraud, and duplication of welfare services across the country, and corruption in India sadly diverts approximately 80% of the funds targeted for its poorer residents (Sathe, 2011). In order to improve the economic situation of all of its residents, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) implemented an ambitious and innovative program known as Aadhaar. Aadhaar, which translates to ‘support and foundation’ in most Indian languages, would allow residents to prove their identity through a unique identity number provided by the officially recognized agency. The issuing of an Aadhaar number would be provided to all residents of India, whether or not they are permanent citizens. 

The purpose of providing a number to all residents as opposed to only citizens is to have the system be inclusive rather than exclusive. Aadhaar provides residents with an identity, but the issuance of that identification does not constitute rights, entitlements, or benefits. Aadhaar’s objective of providing identification for 1.2 billion people is one of the largest, most distinct, audacious, and ambitious biometric identification programs in the world (Das, Maitra, & Bagchi, 2011; Khanna & Raina, 2012; Mathew, 2014; Sharma, 2011). In India, approximately 42% of the population find themselves at the base of the socioeconomic pyramid, and Aadhaar strives for greater economic inclusion of this largely poor and underprivileged segment of the population. Aadhaar allows these marginalized residents of India to participate in society and to benefit from the tremendous economic growth by giving them a means to prove their identity when obtaining services. For example, approximately only 20% of India’s residents have a bank account (Khanna & Raina, 2012; Sathe, 2011). A bank account can be a vital component for working ones way out of poverty, but how does one open a bank account without being able to establish their identity? The purpose of this comprehensive research is to examine the unique interaction between a bold concept, the integration of modern technology, and the influence of public private partnerships in the implementation of Aadhaar. Even though this paper only focuses on India’s Aadhaar project, the findings and analyses provide a broader interest for the international community on public-private partnerships. 

This paper is organized as follows: 
  • The examination of standard approaches of identification in India;
  • Aadhaar’s innovative approach in providing identification to all residents of India; 
  • An analytical assessment of Aadhaar’s implementation process compared to the conceptual framework advanced by Kania and Kramer (2011) on publicprivate partnerships; 
  • The most current updates and outcomes of Aadhaar; and 
  • Concluding remarks on the challenges and adversity of Aadhaar’s future prospects. 

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