NEW DELHI — Aadhaar, India’s grand program to provide a unique 12-digit identification number to each of its 1.3 billion residents, appears to be collapsing under its own ambitions.
When it was set up by the Congress Party-led government in 2009, it was touted as a voluntary biometric ID system that would ensure the smooth delivery of public services — notably welfare benefits and subsidized food for the poor — while limiting the risk of fraud.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, then the main opposition party, was among the project’s fiercest critics at first, calling it too costly and a “political gimmick.” But after it came to power, in May 2014, the B.J.P. went further than Congress had ever dreamed of: Since then, it has made Aadhaar mandatory for accessing numerous public services, as well as for some private transactions.
So far, Aadhaar — “the foundation” in Hindi — seems to have helped neither with welfare nor against corruption, all the while creating new problems, including by exposing people’s personal data to theft or predation by the private sector.