Aadhaar architect wins innovation prize
30 September 2014 14:39 GMT

Nandan Nilekani was chairman of Infosys from 2002-2007 before taking on the UIDAI project.

Former Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairman Nandan Nilekani has been awarded the Economist magazine’s 2014 Social and Economic Innovation Award for his leadership of the country’s vast national identity scheme.

The UIDAI has been given the task of generating 1.2 billion unique identification numbers for every Indian by the end of 2015, with so-called Aadhaar numbers hoped to integrate citizens into government welfare schemes and reduce paperwork and corruption.

Taking charge as the project launched in 2009, former Infosys CEO Nilekani led the UIDAI team to create a biometric database of personal identities relying on fingerprints and iris scans. As of 23 September this year, some 680 million numbers had been issued.

 “The judges have awarded Nandan Nilekani the 2014 Social and Economic Innovation award for the remarkable achievement of imagining and then implementing in India one innovation that every developing country needs (and what most of their people want) - a way to bring the majority of the people operating outside the law in the informal economy, where they do not exist legally, into the legal system,” said Hernando de Soto, Chairman of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy.

“The idea - to give all Indian residents a ‘unique identity’ - and the government agency to turn it into a reality has already given some 600 million poor Indian residents excluded from the formal economy access to property and business rights, banking, credit and all the other legal tools essential for lifting themselves (and India) out of poverty.” 

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