Financial justification for Aadhaar doesn’t require it to cover entire population or have multiple uses
Some people think of Aadhaar as a magic bullet for India. Others oppose it for privacy concerns. The government has showcased Aadhaar as a tool for targeted subsidy payments. As with all government programmes, the public should be sceptical, and the government must demonstrate through a cost-benefit analysis that the expenditure of public money is justified. Aadhaar can only address the issue of subsidies having ghost and multiple beneficiaries. In addition to the money spent on Aadhaar, there are the complexities of Aadhaar-integration for each subsidy scheme. The costs are front-loaded, the benefits come much later. Is it worth building Aadhaar? In a recent study at the National Institute of Public Finance Policy (NIPFP), we undertook a cost-benefit analysis of Aadhaar from this perspective. We find that the internal rate of return on building Aadhaar is over 50 per cent. This suggests that we should proceed with Aadhaar in order to run subsidy programmes better. The concerns about privacy can be reduced by limiting Aadhaar to those individuals who benefit from subsidies.
The main conclusion of the study (http://goo.gl/31gBQ) is that it is worth undertaking the expenditure on Aadhaar, if only to plug leakages arising from ghost and duplicate beneficiaries. The financial justification for Aadhaar does not require it to cover the entire population, and it does not require the scheme to have multiple uses.
In developing countries, proposals to spend money on subsidy programmes are generally seen positively. We think that having good intentions in establishing a government programme or a government agency is sufficient for good results. What is needed, instead, is clarity of purpose for each government scheme, activity or agency. Once the objectives are clear, we should be measuring outcomes, and asking about the extent to which the stated objectives were met. The moment outcomes are measured, it becomes possible to ask bang-for-the-buck questions: Is there a way to achieve this goal at a lower cost? Given two different ways to achieve a stated outcome, which one is better?
The subsidy programmes run by the Indian state suffer from immense problems that come from not asking such questions. Once we look beyond the halo of moral purity, there is, typically, a lack of clarity on objectives, failure to deliver on objectives, scanty knowledge of how much money is being spent where and of who the