Is Aadhaar At Risk Under Newly Elected Indian Government?

“Though a citizen’s Aadhaar number is not the same as official identification documents, it still has an important place in bringing social services to the nation even if it has room for improvement.”

An historic election took place in India last week, ending in the turnover of the nation’s federal government. On May 16, 2014, The Bharatiya Janata Party, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, beat out the previous ruling party (India’s Congress Party) at the polls.

The Congress Party is notable for instituting Aadhaar, India’s national ID initiative, in 2009. Part of the larger, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), Aadhaar contains the fingerprint, face and iris biometrics of registered Indian citizens. Like similar citizen registration programs that use biometrics, ideally, it exists to make social programs work more efficiently and eliminate fraud.

Now, Aadhaar may be under threat with the new government. In the run up to this most recent election, the Bharatiya Janata Party publicly slammed the program, calling it a failure and a waste of money.

As of the writing of this article, no official moves have been made against Aadhaar, but in an article from the New Scientist published earlier this week, journalist Hal Hodson writes that the program may be under fire.

According to the article, instances of fraud are still an issue, even when national ID has been instituted. Systemic corruption has found a way to survive, simply changing the point of vulnerability from the record system to the weakest link in a chain of people.

This threat to India’s national ID program is reason for concern. Though a citizen’s Aadhaar number is not the same as official identification documents, it still has an important place in bringing social services to the nation even if it has room for improvement. Whether that next step is legislative or technical, additional assurance can go a long way in making national ID programs like this achieve their promise. 

A recent example of how biometric ID is helping can be found in a recent deployment announced by DigitalPersona in which the company’s fingerprint readers are being used to enroll citizens that are eligible for banking services and government privileges such as food distribution programs or the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (a law ensuring work for rural citizens of India).