Aadhaar: Propeller of Citizen Services : Dr Ashok Dalwai

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Dr Ashok Dalwai, Deputy Director General, UIDAI, Bangalore

Adoption of IT in service delivery works as a panacea in improving implementation of various programmes and thus it has been the game-changer and inevitably the way forward, believes Dr Ashok Dalwai. Excerpts from an interview with Poulami Chakraborty of ENN

How has ICT been implemented in day to day operations and functioning of UIDAI?

The technology architecture of UIDAI has been built around open architecture, vendor neutrality, horizontal scalability, security and privacy by design, layer-wise platform based approach, analytics based decision making and interoperability and manageability.

Aadhaar technology ecosystem is basically instituted using the open source components leveraging on internationally acclaimed open standards on security, messaging, biometrics, data representation and so on. Widely adopted open source components like Hadoop, MySQL, RabbitMQ and Java form the backbone of Aadhaar technology stack.

Entire application is deployed on open commodity hardware using Blade/Rack servers running on 64-bit Linux. Adoption of such open scale-out technology architecture allows UIDAI to procure storage and servers from any vendor at a competitive price. The privacy and security of resident data, which forms the substance of Aadhaar strategy, is ensured using mechanisms like PKI-2048 encryption, HSM modules, access control, intrusion prevention systems and rigorous audit mechanisms.

Please elaborate on the growth strategy of UIDAI?

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was established in January 2009, as an attached office to the Planning Commission.

“Transparency and objectivity have been key indicators in service delivery. Implementation of schemes in the Indian context has been an elephantine challenge as the services have to be provided to a very large population. This challenge has been compounded by the lack of reliable connectivity. As a result, quality metrics of implementation has been poor”

The purpose of the UIDAI is to issue a unique identification number to all Indian residents with enough robustness to eliminate duplicate and fake identities, and can be verified and authenticated in an easy, cost-effective way.

In addition, UIDAI will partner with agencies such as central and state departments and private sector agencies who will be ‘Registrars’ for the UIDAI. Registrars will process UID enrolment applications, and connect to the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) to de-duplicate resident information and receive UID numbers. The authority is also partnering with service providers for authentication.

Another key feature of Aadhaar is that it can serve as the key factor for linking technology, service delivery and inclusive growth by way of ‘seeding’. The objective is not to replace the currently used unique identifier of the customers/ residents/beneficiaries with Aadhaar but to seamlessly enable Aadhaar authentication without impacting any other interface that the service providers maintain with their customers.

What are your strategies for operations in Tier II cities? What measures have you taken to connect these cities with metros and ensuring at par operational facilities?

The main purpose of the Aadhaar project is to achieve financial inclusion that can be a stepping stone to social inclusion. UIDAI is mandated by the Government of India to provide Aadhaar to 1.2 billion residents who live in places where basic infrastructure may be far less than what is available in Tier II cities.

Enrolment is taking place all over the country through a federated model that provides flexibility and ensures maximum reach. Our model is one where enrolments are conducted offline (suitable for locations with poor connectivity) and data is encrypted and uploaded in a completely secure manner.

Like-wise authentication services have also been provided in remote areas by addressing issues related to connectivity. This will further facilitate our aim of reaching the doorstep of every resident.

What further plans does UIDAI have in the pipeline for expansion in the next five years?

Apart from the generation of Aadhaar, UIDAI is also mandated to provide online authentication services. These services are crucial to the usage of Aadhaar in service delivery at a transactional level.

The Prime Minister has taken a decision to integrate Aadhaar with the databases of major schemes (such as LPG, PDS, MGNREGA, Scholarships, NSAP Pensions), issue of passports and SIM cards etc. Hence, there is a critical need for us to ramp up our capacity to provide these services. We are working towards achieving a volume of 100 million authentication transactions and 10 million e-KYC transactions per day.

Tell us about the new initiatives and innovations that UIDAI has come up with or plans to introduce soon.

UIDAI was incubated under Planning Commission in the mould of a start-up company and innovation has been in the DNA of our organisation. There have been many “firsts” in the organisation since its inception. Aadhaar is arguably the first identification system in the world that is based upon comprehensive biometrics and demographics. The size, speed and spread of the Aadhaar programme make it one-of-a-kind.

Further, the eKYC service has been customdesigned so as to simplify and speed-up the process of bank accounts creation. This innovation has been the need of the hour for financial inclusion. The idea of Aadhaar-asa- financial-address, envisaged by UIDAI, has been fructified via the Aadhaar based financial services platform provided by NPCI (National Payments Corporation of India).

Challenges before UIDAI UIDAI is required to provide a unique identity to more than a billion people within a short time span of 5 years. The sheer effort involved in enrolment alone was mind-boggling considering the need for time bound mobilisation of manpower and machinery. The major technology challenges faced by UIDAI are as follows:

  • The ability to onboard Registrars from different sectors
  • The legal framework of contracts needs to support the variety and spread of stakeholders as their numbers grow exponentially across the country
  • The biometric de-duplication algorithm needs to scale towards checking biometric modalities against every one of 1.2 billion people to ensure uniqueness
  • No single biometric modality is sufficient for uniqueness guarantee. A comprehensive approach was envisaged that includes all 10 fingerprints, 2 Iris and photo

Capturing biometrics accurately is a challenge for some sections of the population. Special processes, operational efforts (including operator training) and sophisticated technology was put in place to ensure that the quality was not compromised.

What is your outlook on IT implementation and it’s taking over of several sectors in India?

Transparency and objectivity have been key indicators in service delivery. Implementation of schemes in the Indian context has been an elephantine challenge as the services have to be provided to a very large population. This challenge has been compounded by the lack of reliable connectivity. As a result, quality metrics of implementation has been poor.

Adoption of IT in service delivery has a panacea in improving implementation of various programmes. There are the shining examples of railway reservation and banking industry that have embraced technology to provide high quality service to their customers.

IT has been the game-changer in these areas and it is inevitably the way forward. Aadhaar is a technology driven programme that provides state-of-the-art identity infrastructure. This is being leveraged by various government departments to radically improve their service delivery.

The present government’s focus on Digital India will further catalyse the adoption of IT and Aadhaar across the country and will provide much-awaited relief to the beneficiaries. It is imperative that we make most of this positive environment so that India is not left out of the global economy.

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