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NDA govt ‘gracious’ in taking forward Aadhaar: Nilekani

Former UIDAI Chairman and ex-Infosys chief Nandan Nilekani says he feels “great” after the government today passed the Aadhaar bill using the money bill route in the Lok Sabha.


In an interview with CNBC-TV18’s Shruti Mishra, Nilekani shared his thoughts on the journey that the platform has taken since he helmed it, the change it can potentially bring about and whether the bill addresses concerns that had existed around it.


Below is the transcript of Nandan Nilekani’s interview with CNBC-TV18’s Shruti Mishra.


Q: You are a happy man today. The Aadhaar Bill got passed in the parliament this afternoon. How do you feel?


A: I feel great. It is a very good bill. I wrote about this a couple of days back. It has got some really very strong provisions on privacy, best in class provisions and it is laying the foundation for India’s economy and business to become paperless, presence-less and cashless, transforming and reimagining every sector of the economy. So, it is a great day.


Q: It is also a landmark date. We have 100 crore already enrolled. So, how does it feel, how has the journey been like for you?


A: The journey we had lot of twists and turns and ups and downs in the last six years but by the end of March, early April we will have one billion people on the platform making it the world’s largest digital ID platform and it is not just the platform, on that we have many services like authentication and KYC and all that. All that will lead to a transformation of Indian business and government.


Q: Now that Aadhaar gets a statutory status what are the next steps we can expect in the use of Aadhaar for the rollout of schemes like direct-benefit transfer (DBT), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), fertiliser?


A: That is for the government to speak. If you go by the public statements of the government they intend to use it for kerosene, they are planning for pilots in fertiliser, they are using biometric authentication for physical update (BAPU) for rice and for public distribution system (PDS). Then there is talk about using it for seed subsidies. So, the government side of it will take off with the cash transfer. The other exciting thing now is that with the new private banks and the small banks coming the new banks will use this technology to really create next generation banks.


So, the private usage for providing services and also the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is now looking at how to use for mutual funds. So, we are seeing a lot of other players looking at using it for the next wave of innovation.


Q: Jayant Sinha has commented that Aadhaar statutory status will help save 15-20 percent of the subsidy bill. Do you believe this is an accurate estimation?


A: Easily, as the government has said publicly, from LPG alone they saved something like Rs 12,000-15,000 crore. So, you are looking at a minimum of Rs 50,000 crore a year of savings on subsidy bills and that is just on the central government subsidy bills on LPG, kerosene and food and fertiliser.


There is also electricity and water which is state governments. Even that can be cash transfers. Then interest subvention can be cash transfers. Minimum support price (MSP) purchases we can make it cash transfers. So, there is a whole tonne of things which in the next 5-10 years we will have huge economic benefits.


Q: Since the very beginning privacy and security these have been concerns since the very beginning. Even in the parliament today there was a debate over privacy and security. Do you feel these concerns are exaggerated?


A: Aadhaar has the best security architecture that we have of almost any government system around. It is highly secure, it is minimal data, it is encrypted, it is kept offline, it has multiple layers of security. So, it is a very secure system and anybody who actually understands technology and studies it will be able to understand that.


On privacy this bill has very strong provisions. You can’t share biometric data. You need user consent. You need informed consent. So, a lot of very state of the art cutting edge ideas on privacy in the bill. So, on both counts it is a very good bill.


Q: But the bill says that in case of national security, biometric information will be given out. Is that not a misuse?


A: No, biometric information will not be given out. They need to look at that. My understanding is that biometric information is not given out under any circumstances. In any case, national security in any country if the conditions are there then [they] do open a data.


And if you look at what is happening in the US if something happens like 9/11 then you do get all the data. So, national security is a legitimate requirement. Obviously you would have safeguards that that is used in a very proper manner.


Q: BJD’s Tathagata Satpathy says that the definition of biometric information is too wide and that is why he is opposing the bill. Your comments on that?


A: I don’t know what he is talking about, with all due respect to the honourable member of parliament (MP). It is very clear we have the photograph which is there in many systems. The key biometrics which is different here is the 10 fingerprints and the iris and that is by the way so many countries today when all these propel travel abroad they are giving their biometrics to foreign governments. So, biometrics is a well known sort of thing now and India has taken a huge amount of care to make sure it is very private.


Q: You obviously have studied the current bill and it is not the same UPA bill. Do you support the current bill and anything that would want should have changed?


A: That bill was conceived in 2010 and now it is 2016 and a lot of water has flown under the bridge. The power of this platform for subsidies have come out. So, the fact that they are using it as the platform for subsidies is a very good thing. The privacy concerns have been addressed.


So, this is actually the best of both the governments. The UPA was very gracious in giving me a chance to build this platform and the NDA government also has been gracious in taking it forward. So, I am a happy man because the country is benefitting from this.