Aadhaar A Biometric History of India's 12-Digit Revolution
by Shankkar AiyarT
his book is perhaps the most detailed and comprehensive biography of Aadhaar and the people who played a role in its birth and evolution. The author, Shankkar Aiyar, is a veteran journalist, and has marshaled his skills and experience in bringing out this short but crisp account of what is the world's largest biometric authentication system. The book is enriched by the access Shankkar had to the people who were central to the schema, at one point or other, including Nandan Nilekani, Rahul Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee, and even Narendra Modi. The book traces the birth, growing pangs, the creeping at first and then uncontrolled spread of Aadhaar. A long epilogue is dedicated to the issue of privacy, which acquired urgency in the light of a case in the Supreme Court asking the government to clarify whether privacy was a fundamental right. In a most fortuitous turn of events for the book and its author, the Supreme Court, just as the book was released, ruled that privacy was indeed a Fundamental Right, but subject to reasonable restrictions. The book is, on balance, a good place to understand the roots of Aadhaar, the timeline of its evolution, and the contribution of the people involved. It, however, overlooks some of the deficiencies of Aadhaar, but perhaps that is a subject for another book.
The concept of Aadhaar, or a national identity register based on some form of foolproof authentication, is not new. As far back as 2003, a pilot project was launched by the BJP-led NDA government in thirteen states to issue National Identity Cards. In March 2006, the communist-propped Congress-led UPA government "announced a grand plan" to implement a project to provide Unique IDs for BPL (Below Poverty Level) Families within 12 months. Yes, within twelve months. Seventeen months later, "the process committee, which included officials of seven departments, had held seven meetings and put up a proposal for the creation of the UID Authority." Not a single card had been issued, but bureaucrats had kept themselves busy in making themselves look busy.