Infra-digital must increase access and affordability: chief architect of Aadhaar

While millions of the poorest India who have taken dangerous journeys with empty stomachs and empty pockets during the Covid-19 lockdown no longer have to endure such misery, the next wave of world-wide digital infrastructure population must enable a dramatic reduction in their cost of accessing food, loans and health care regardless of physical location, the chief architect of the world’s largest platform told IANS. biometric identity to the world, Aadhaar.

“Nobody wants to lend you $ 100 for two days! The permanent solution is to look at access, affordability and choice and say how can we dramatically reduce costs and dramatically increase access and affordability. And if you do that, we can solve a bunch of problems. things, ”said Dr Pramod Varma, chief architect of Aadhaar and India Stack, in the context of those hardest hit by the national Covid-19 epidemic.

As of June 28, the coronavirus has sickened more than 500,000 and killed more than 16,000 in India, according to the Johns Hopkins global tracker.

In April and May, in an unprecedented exodus to India since Partition in 1947, Indian migrant workers, the backbone of the country’s workforce, left the large closed cities and pledged to travel hundreds of kilometers to get home. . Their travels have documented deep sinkholes in the social delivery system despite India’s more than 10-year long journey towards a presence, paperless, and cashless service delivery to the masses.

As in the case of migrant worker Rampukar Pandit, for example. The image of Pandit is among the most haunting of the migrant exodus last month. Holding a phone, exhausted and helpless, Pandit collapses when he learns that his son is ill, in another state. Pandit’s son is dead. As in Pandit’s case, food, money, and health care were elusive for India’s poorest at a time when they needed it most.

How could the next wave of digital infrastructure make a difference in the lives of these Indians, we asked Varma. Varma’s answer follows the mental model hard-coded in the Aadhaar framework: to ungroup the problem to its micro state. Access first, then affordability.

Migrants board a special train to reach their place of origin during the coronavirus lockdown, in Ferozpur on Saturday.

“Imagine,” Varma says, “if he (Pandit) had an identity he can prove, a bank account he can prove and access to credit he can prove and get a little sachet of money in. any post office anywhere in the country. “

“Likewise, we have advocated for the portability of public food distribution.”

According to Varma, the former chairman of the Single Identification Authority of India, Nandan Nilekani, had “explicitly recommended” the portability of the PDS straddling Aadhaar.

“You can’t double dip, you only have one identity. So it doesn’t matter if a person is in Bihar or Tamil Nadu. It’s your right. If you are entitled to food, you should have food anywhere. Covid-19, they all woke up and they said make the PDS available. They (the migrants) could have had access to food in any store as they walked. “

Based on information gathered over the past 10 years since the start of the Aadhaar Project, Varma says population-wide problems cannot be solved with “one more solution or one more website.”

“It’s about building an infrastructure that allows a lot of people to build a lot of solutions on top of it.”

Even as the India Stack technical infrastructure evolves, Varma believes technologists need to double down on the twin concepts of “resilience” and “combinatorial building blocks” for a digital infrastructure that evolves with a diverse, large-scale society.

“It means our ability to reshape, readjust and manage when something else is wrong. When schools are closed, does learning continue? When the workplace is disrupted, does the work continue? “

Varma said, “We must be so humble. Put your head down, keep believing that we have a long way to go, but here we are, we are building this infrastructure. Society, market, and government all innovate on top of that, but innovation is not costly because underlying level blocks are available and you can combine them to provide solutions. “

India Stack provides the technological backbone of Digital India initiatives. Its layers such as eSign, Digital Locker, and Unified Payment Interface (UPI) all operate population-wide in India.

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