Aadhaar in India

According to the World Bank, as of February 2016 approximately 1.5 billion people in the developing world lack proof of legal identity. Without proof of identity, individuals may struggle to access government services, to exercise their right to vote, seek formal employment, or purchase a sim card. In short, a person without legal identification is more likely to experience exclusion. Even more troubling, when poor and marginalized individuals lack a legal identity, they may miss out on the very government welfare and protection schemes that are intended to benefit them.

With a growing population of over 1.25 billion people, India’s government faces the complex task of finding and identifying hard-to-reach populations and delivering services to them. In particular, the poorest of the poor, some without a bank account, formal employment, an address and even a single piece of identification, have the hardest time accessing the social programs through which they would benefit the most.

In 2009, the national government established the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), an organisation mandated to provide a biometric and non-duplicable form of identification, referred to as Aadhaar, for all residents in India. By providing individuals with a form of identification, Aadhaar aims to facilitate access to government services, welfare schemes, and other services that require proof of identity. Since the establishment of UIDAI, over 1.1 billion Aadhaar numbers have been issued.

Our research team is interested in Aadhaar enrollment among India’s poorest and most marginalized - those who have previously not had any portable identification, or any form of identification at all. In our research to-date, we have identified several factors that may explain how the UIDAI has been successful in ensuring that marginalized populations are enrolled and receive an Aadhaar number. These include:

  1. The UIDAI took a pro-poor approach when designing the Aadhaar program. From the outset of the program, the UIDAI has been concerned with enrolling marginalized populations and has been innovative with the approaches used to do this.

  2. The Introducer Program is one of the innovative approaches the UIDAI has used to enroll marginalized and excluded residents who cannot provide Proof of Address or Proof of Identity, which are required during the enrollment process. Examples of individuals who may not have these documents include undocumented children, refugees, individuals living in slums, members of scheduled tribes, and individuals who are homeless. An Introducer is a person authorized by the UIDAI or by a Registrar to introduce individuals for enrollment if someone does not have sufficient documentation.

  3. The UIDAI has tried to reach the hard to reach by partnering with NGOs and civil society organizations (CSOs) across India. The UIDAI has done this by signing Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with NGOs and CSOs. The purpose of these MOUs is for NGOs and CSOs to widen the spread of Aadhaar through their networks which are already providing services to hard to reach people.

  4. Mobile Enrollment Centres (ECs) are used for small villages of about 500-600. These ECs – mobile vehicles fully equipped with enrollment equipment – have routes planned to reach various villages in a certain number of days. This allows the program to reach even the smallest and most rural villages.