Book Review: The Making of Aadhar by Ram Sewak Sharma

Book Name: The Making of Aadhar

Author: Ram Sewak Sharma

Publisher: Rupa

Genre: Non-fiction

Rating: 5/5

Book Blurb: Aadhaar is the world’s largest identity project that enrolled a billion residents. The making of Aadhaar offers insights into the creation of this one-of-a-kind system, at a fraction of the cost of the alternative, less sophisticated identity systems that had been previously tried in India and elsewhere. That, by itself, makes for an interesting case study because outcomes of major projects, especially in government, tend to range from the ‘overwhelming’ to the ‘spectacular failures’. Aadhaar is the exception that proves the rule.

Alongside Nandan Nilekani, the author led a brilliant team in developing the technology that undergirds Aadhaar, enrolled the Resident population of India, created an online authentication mechanism for the digital world, and operationalize the ecosystem to take advantage of the new identity.
This book is a first-hand account from the trenches which provides a lucid and in-depth understanding of the artefact called Aadhaar and how it continues to change and redefine India.

Review: The Making of Aadhar is perhaps the most comprehensive of the world’s largest such program. Aadhar has been at the forefront of many government flagship schemes in India, the world’s largest democracy in numbers.

The author starts with some inherent problems faced in the absence of any identification documents. He talks about the archaic systems used for matching lost and found firearms, summons for trials, attendance for government employees, elections and grievances.

The author had a front-row seat while building the Aadhar which has penetrated the life of almost every Indian. He discusses the advantages of working for the government and the bottlenecks involved- a system of hierarchies and how people started working co-operatively to bring the Aadhar to life.

“The number should also be large enough to accommodate future requirements. In the case of Aadhar, the 12 digits, with the 12th digit being a check digit, accommodates up to 100 billion numbers!”

Much has been said about the identity debate and this book provides a behind the scenes view dispelling some false notions about the scheme. A frequent argument against the Aadhar is that many western countries have given up on such similar schemes but many western nations do not have to face such challenges delivering government schemes like government servants face on a daily basis in India.

“…an inability to prove identity is one of the biggest barriers preventing the poor from accessing benefits and subsidies.”

It is explained that foreign firms do not have access to all records but work on a plug-and-play model having only read access to biometrics. In any case, Aadhar is not the first and will not be the last project to have some involvement of foreign companies.

The Making of Aadhar is a holistic book and goes into almost every aspect explaining why the Aadhar program was built, how the new government in power was initially against it but came round after realising the benefits offered by the scheme. It dwells into the challenges of building the largest identity document exercise in independent India or anywhere in the world. Read this book for a better understanding of the Aadhar. It is perhaps the most comprehensive account of Aadhar till date.

“UIDAI never claimed to solve all the problems afflicting beneficiary programmes. It is merely removing the disability of people in accessing the formal system due to lack of an ID.”

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