Technically, the challenge India has set for itself a unique, legitimate ID for every individual in society reminds me of the polio mass immunization efforts of the 1950's and the goal is no less importance.
A unique, legally recognized individual identity is a prerequisite to any sort of decent society. It is an infrastructure without which many things those in the developed world take for granted simply cannot exist: compulsory primary education, successful immunization against preventable communicable disease, social safety nets, effective democracy.
Vince Beiser at Wired has written the best piece I have seen on the humanity of India's Unique ID (UID) project. The photos by Jonathan Torgovnik are an excellent addition to the piece. The quote below gives a flavor, but anyone interested enough in the subject to have landed at this blog would be utterly remiss in not clicking through to read the entire article.
Massive Biometric Project Gives Millions of Indians an ID (Wired)
Kiran has never touched or even seen a real computer, let alone an iris scanner. She thinks she’s 32, but she’s not sure exactly when she was born. Kiran has no birth certificate, or ID of any kind for that matter—no driver’s license, no voting card, nothing at all to document her existence. Eight years ago, she left her home in a destitute farming village and wound up here in Mongolpuri, a teeming warren of shabby apartment blocks and tarp-roofed shanties where grimy barefoot children, cargo bicycles, haggard dogs, goats, and cows jostle through narrow, trash-filled streets. Kiran earns about $1.50 a day sorting cast-off clothing for recycling. In short, she’s just another of India’s vast legions of anonymous poor.
Now, for the first time, her government is taking note of her. Kiran and her children are having their personal information recorded in an official database—not just any official database, but one of the biggest the world has ever seen. They are the latest among millions of enrollees in India’s Unique Identification project, also known as Aadhaar, which means “the foundation” in several Indian languages. Its goal is to issue identification numbers linked to the fingerprints and iris scans of every single person in India.
India should be encouraged, cheered and supported in its efforts. Hundreds of millions of people stand to gain if they are successful and will continue to suffer in poverty if they fail.
Other posts about India and development.