corruption, development, India, poverty, technology, UID

India: We have a lift off

After initial hiccups, the government’s ambitious direct benefits transfer programme through a unique identification number kicked off smoothly today, though the number of transactions carried out by the banks on the first day remained low. About 2,000 beneficiaries were transferred an amount of Rs 35 lakh on the Aadhaar platform, but the figure is expected to go up tomorrow. The programme is aimed at covering two lakh beneficiaries.

Photo of UID taking off. Source: NASA

After several years of preparation and on-the-ground effort, the National Payments Corporation of India disbursed the first government payments directly to individuals using the UID (Aadhaar) platform. This is a big deal.

We’ve repeatedly used the “moon shot” metaphor here to describe the ID management projects India has been working on for the last several years.

The audio and video of UID won’t be as dramatic. The narrative won’t be as clear-cut. There won’t be a cathartic moment where a “one giant step” speech is appropriate. So, in this sense, UID falls short of the metaphor. [The audio of the Apollo 11 launch that inspired this post’s title is here (NASA.gov; 1 min.)]

But if the UID project succeeds it will have overcome daunting technical, logistical and managerial challenges to have a tangible effect on the material well being of hundreds of millions of people, awakening the rest of the developing world to new possibilities to simultaneously help the most vulnerable and reduce the corruption that keeps much of the world poor. Few government initiatives could boast of as much.

UID also reminds me of the great global efforts to eradicate small pox and polio in that they had to, quite literally, touch everyone.

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