Business-Minded Indian PM Seeks to Use Biometric Citizen Cards to Fight Graft

International BiometricsIndia’s Prime Minister is trying to fast-track the national program to compile a biometric registry of citizens connected to identification cards, according to a new Bloomberg Businessweek article by Unni Krishnan. According to unnamed government sources, the goal is to get an identity card to every Indian citizen by June of next year, as part of an effort on Prime Minister Modi’s part to come up with a budget surplus for next year.

The idea is that by shifting the delivery of government services over to a model based on the national identity cards, graft will be cut down dramatically, since the identity cards employ biometric authentication measures. India has an elaborate subsidy system intended to help the country’s poorest citizens, but according to a recent McKinsey & Co. report, only about half of the money spent on these subsidies actually finds its way to the people it’s meant for, the rest being lost to graft and inefficiencies.

Nevertheless, the subsidy system is too popular to simply axe, so the biometric system might provide the only real opportunity to cut down on its inefficiencies. And the massive program has other benefits too in terms of streamlining administrative costs, in much the same way as can be seen on a smaller scale with private companies employing biometric technology to track employee attendance, rather than going to the trouble of onerous paper timesheets. It also offers security benefits with respect to matters of border control – a matter of concern to governments all over the world – and it does put India in a unique position as an international biometrics pioneer, potentially allowing it to attract the best technologies before costs inflate with demand.

November 21, 2014 – by Alex Perala