Standard Approaches to Identification in India


Prior to the creation of Aadhaar, India did not have a nationally or universally accepted method for providing identification to its residents. Lacking a uniform and standard approach, Aadhaar was conceived as a unique and innovative project to deal with this problem. Previous methods and more traditional approaches to dealing with the problem had failed. Typically, government officials and the public sector would attempt to resolve the issue in isolation without coordinating public and private efforts. Like most places, India’s public and private service providers require proof of identity prior to rendering services to an individual. But without a dominant national identification mechanism, service providers establish their own protocols and benchmarks for establishing identification. The lack of a national identification mechanism often leads to the denial of critical services and increases corruption because residents have to bribe government officials in order to obtain services to which they are legitimately entitled (UIDAI, 2014).

As Table 1 indicates, the most standard approaches for identification in India are voter identification, passport, Permanent Account Number (PAN) card, and ration card. The plethora of identification mechanisms leads to multiple and fake identities. The implementation of Aadhaar is meant to curtail these problems and to make obtaining a false identity more difficult by tying Aadhaar enrollment to harder-to-falsify biometric data (Das, Maitra, & Bagchi, 2011). These four identification methods cover only a portion of the 1.2 billion people in India. The voter identification cards cover the greatest portion of the population, 52.5%. Passports cover a mere 3.5%. PAN cards only cover 6%, and ration cards cover 19% of the population (Lambda & Gupta, 2011). The redundant processes waste time and money, and are inefficiencies that residents stuck in poverty could ill afford.

Voter identification cards are prone to duplications since voters migrate from one area to another and then register for a new card. Passports are rarely used by the underprivileged since they are unable to afford the cost of obtaining a passport and are even less likely to travel. PAN Cards do not require physical verification during the enrollment process, may not have the person’s current address, and are not cancelled or withdrawn upon the death of the cardholder.

Ration Cards are primarily given to residents at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid and are uncommon among middle and upper tier residents. Perhaps more importantly, there is no centralized database that stores information about recipients assigned ration cards. By centralizing and standardizing identity, Aadhaar could address these and other shortcomings of the current systems while also reducing the inefficiency, corruption, and malfeasance endemic in them. Aadhaar consolidates the identification processing associated with each of these agencies into a single mechanism with a standardized procedure.
Note: The data are adapted from “A Foundation for Financial Inclusion. Conference on Inclusive & Sustainable Growth,” by R. Lamba & M. Gupta, 2011, Proceeding from Institute of Management Technology. 

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