Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairman Nandan Nilekani on Friday said he would resign from his job by March end to join mainstream politics and contest the Lok Sabha election on a Congress ticket, causing many to wonder if his absence at the helm would derail the Aadhaar project, vital for slashing India’s subsidy expenditure and increasing the efficacy of welfare programmes.
Helped by Nilekani's model of third-party collection of biometric data, UIDAI has so far issued Aadhaar numbers to 58.7 crore people and targets to take the tally to 90 crore in another year.
Nilekani is expected to contest elections from the Bangalore South constituency, standing against the BJP’s Ananth Kumar, who has won five Lok Sabha polls consecutively from there. Though a political novice, Nilekani has an impressive track record of a corporate career followed by several years of public service.
“I will be there for a few more weeks. I will be stepping down by end of March,” Nilekani, who also co-founded one of the country's leading software services firm Infosys, told reporters here.
The government relies on Aadhaar-enabled better targeting of oil and fertiliser subsidies to realise the aim of reducing subsidy spending to 1.6% of GDP in three years from 2.2% this fiscal. Also, the outcome of the Centre's welfare spending through flagship schemes on employment, education and health is expected to be enhanced thanks to Aadhaar.
“There are issues like how to improve water supply. Education is a big challenge for children, and jobs also,” Nilekani said of the prospects ahead. Nilekani, 58, has already been running an “Idea for Bangalore” on his official Facebook page, talking about issues such as transportation, infrastructure and environment in the city. He added that the UIDAI is now in a position where anybody can take it forward from this point.
Nilekani's stint in the government has not been without trouble. The Aadhaar project faced stiff resistance not just from the opposition parties but also from senior Congress leaders who resented the growing stature of the IITian in the party. Besides the ministries of food and home, which had a turf war with the role of the UID authority (Census of India had wanted sole rights to issue biometrics), the finance ministry, which had backed most UIDAI decisions, too rejected its demand to increase its biometric capture mandate from 200 million to all 1.2 billion.
Despite these odds, Aadhaar-based direct benefit