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Imagine creating a system to track 1.2 billion people, photographing them, fingerprinting them, cataloging them and giving them all IDs.
Nandan Nilekani is not just imagining that system. He is tasked with making it a reality in India.
Nilekani is the chairman of India’s Unique Identification Authority. Nilekani’s previous claim to fame was as one of the founders of Infosys, India’s pioneering technology firm. He recently talked to Fareed Zakaria on Sunday’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” show. Here’s an edited version of their conversation, which can also be viewed by downloading the entire show on iTunes.
ZAKARIA: So explain how does one even think about this. There are so many parts to it, but let’s just first start with the technical things. So you are taking India’s entire population, which previously had rarely been counted, and you are going to try and give every single person a biometric ID.
NILEKANI: That’s right. We have enrolled 200 million people in the last three years since the project began. And we are using the biometrics to give them a unique number so that they don’t end up having more than one number. But what’s most important is that this is a digital online ID. So we’re taking people, many of whom have no ID whatsoever, and taking them to the digital world. So it’s like a leapfrogging of identity.
ZAKARIA: So why is this so important for India? What one hears about it is that these people are supposed to get loans, or grants or various things from the government. And most of it never gets to them. And I remember the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi saying that of the one dollar that we spend on poor people, on average the poor person receives 10 cents. MORE
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