Aadhaar enables Indian govt save $9 billion: Nilekani

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The Indian government’s Aadhaar card scheme, which has enrolled more than 1 billion people, has helped the exchequer save about $9 billion by eliminating fraud in beneficiary lists, its architect Nandan Nilekani has said here.

The system, launched by the previous UPA government, has been “enthusiastically” supported by the current government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, said the 62-year-old non-executive chairman of Infosys — India’s second largest software services firm.

It has really been a bipartisan thing, Nilekani said while participating in a World Bank panel discussion on Digital Economy for Development on Thursday. He said that it is easier for the developing countries to leapfrog by building a right digital infrastructure. Aadhaar now has more than a billion people registered on its system, he said.

“It has also saved the government about $9 billion in fraud and wastage because by having that unique number you eliminate fakes and duplicates from your beneficiary and employee list,” Nilekani said at the event on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

“We have about half a billion people who have connected their ID directly to a bank account. The government has transferred about $12 billion into bank accounts electronically in real time to the world’s largest cash transfer system. There are many things like that. “I’m a big believer that if you build the right digital infrastructure then you can leapfrog,” Nilekani, the former chairman of Unique Identity Development Authority of India (UIDAI), said.

In the new world of data economy, identity authentication, frictionless payments, paperless transactions these are all very important layers of the new digital economy.

That is what India has done, he said. India is the only country in the world where a billion people can do completely paperless, cashless transactions on their mobile phones using this infrastructure which dramatically reduces costs.

“Once you bring cost down, automatically inclusion happens,” Nilekani said, adding that there is a fundamental strategic way of looking at it.

Now it is very clear that date is where the action is, he said. The infrastructure that India has created enables every individual to use his or her data for their advancement, which is fundamental. Herein an individual used data for their personal advancement, Nilekani said.

“There is a fundamental inversion happening of the way we think of data, which is unique,” he said, adding that this has a lot of implications for the bank and people in public policy who have to look at what’s the new rules of the game in the economy.