Accepted paper:

Unique identification number to a billion Indians: Envisioning Aadhaar as a promoter of governance and development


Shirin Madon (LSE)
Ranjini Canchi Raghavendra (Public Health Foundation of India)

Paper short abstract:

The paper focusses on the role of local government in using the Aadhaar platform to develop and implement applications for poverty alleviation.

Paper long abstract:

National ID systems can be considered the latest in e-governance innovations the world over. In the majority of middle-income countries such as Brazil, India and South Africa and many low-incolme countries these systems are used as a platform for implementing cash transfer programmes as part of large scale anti-poverty programmes. This innovation is based on the assumption that the inability of poor marginalised communities to prove their identity has been a major 'structural void' that has prevented this section of the population from being included in the benefits of growth and development. As the current discourse moves away from enrolment and authentication through the use of sophisticated biometric targeting, there is need to address more substantive questions relative to strengthening the governance aspects related to social welfare programmes and poverty alleviation. Focusing on Aadhaar, India's biometric ID system, we commence by identifying the vision that underlies this project in terms of poverty alleviation. We then draw on the concept of inclusive development and its focus on locality and sector-specific development together renewed interest on the notion of the 'local developmental state' and its focus on strengthening local capabilities such as linkages and markets, infrastructure, service delivery in the pursuit of welfare gains. Based on fieldwork in Andhra Pradesh, we consider the opportunities and challenges facing one district authority as it uses Aadhaar as a platform for developing its own application for fertiliser distribution to poor farmers.

panel P01
Power, politics and digital development [Information, Technology and Development Study Group]