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Nandan Nilekani

This episode of PrimeTime features Nandan Nilekani, a successful entrepreneur, bureaucrat and former Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

In this episode, Nandan Nilekani, former Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India talks about Aadhaar enrollments touching the one billion mark, the success of Aadhaar and the benefits it offers the government as well as the public. He also talks about how the journey has been over the past five years and the objective of creating Aadhaar; about how ‘JAM’ — a Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and mobile phones — makes it possible for digital services to reach every Indian. He also shares his perspective on IndiaStack and how it is a leapfrog technology for India that can enable a host of things – including payments, banking, authentication and consent architecture.


0:01- Sanjay welcomes Nandan and talks about Aadhaar crossing a billion users. He asks if Nandan ever thought that this project would be so enormous, given that 2009 was a rough phase due to government policies.

0:38- Nandan talks about the continuous effort to make Aadhaar big. He comments on how awesome it feels to see Aadhaar reach 5 billion people in 5 ½ years – comparing it with Google’s platforms, FB, WhatsApp, MS office - all of which took more time to reach that to that number.

2:00- Sanjay asks how only a ‘smart card’ program transformed to being a technology platform for people and about how a similar program was abandoned in UK, while in India, this saw success

2:53- 4:55 - Nandan talks about building Aadhaar ID as a platform with APIs as an open architecture and a way for different people to use the ID in a secure, private manner and how, though initially its use would be in the government, overtime it would be used in financial inclusion. He also talks about how part of the problem was sophisticated technology and part of the issue was managing the politics of change.

4:56- Sanjay talks about his experience as a volunteer for Aadhaar project. He feels privileged to be a part of the project and to have contributed to the extreme good. He asks Nandan to describe the objective of the program and the original mandate given by the government.

5:29- Nandan discusses the objective, the technical architecture that they created keeping in mind that the API should be future proof and to make it compatible with future technologies, notable among them being the smartphones. With the integration of Biometric authentication, Nandan also thinks that in some sense, they’ve unbundled the innovative, biometrics space.

7:11- Sanjay wants Nandan to revisit the political change that Nandan mentioned earlier. While he appreciates the new government on taking the program up with gusto, unlike the previous one, he asks about the tipping point that made the new government support the UIDAI to a large extent.

7:34-Nandan shares his views on how Mr Modi had implemented “Aadhaar” in Gujarat, bringing over 20 million people when he was the CM and that was the reasoning behind the Prime Minister’s thorough understanding. He compliments the PM on having (probably among all Indian politicians) the maximum understanding of technology and its role in governance and politics. He comments on how, with over 250 million bank accounts linked to the Aadhaar, a billion cash DBT transactions a year, it really talks about scale of an unimaginable level and how in the near future, we are going to see the wave of innovation on top of this
He draws a parallel with Clinton’s commercial introduction of GPS back in 2000, which opened the doors to a wave of innovation with Google Maps, Uber, among many other billion dollar businesses changing the lives of people and hopes that by leveraging Aadhaar, over the next 5-10 years, companies will be able to create and deliver benefits for people.

10:03- Nandan agrees with Sanjay’s comment on Aadhaar being open to the private sector, while affirming that it is open in a very secure private manner. He reassures that Aadhaar is a very consent based architecture, enabling people to create utility but keep the safety and privacy intact.

10:36- Sanjay moves to the next related topic of building IndiaStack for the future, with Aadhaar being the foundation, and asks Nandan to share his thoughts on the impact that IndiaStack would have for the government and make the industry more efficient

11:01- Since most people are not in grips with the concept of India Stack, Nandan explains in detail about how IndiaStack will work. He points out that at one level we have the JAM, Jan-Dhan-Aadhaar, mobile and about how each of these have made tremendous in-roads in the country. With these in place, he sees that on top of that we can build a layer of APIs for authentication at various levels through devices, in-turn making the entire process of authentication paperless.
Another layer, he says, is the ability to save these documents in digital repositories, which is open to the public to access their life data, while being secure – this means that the data is completely under consumer control and cannot be accessed without consumer consent and this, he explains is essentially, IndiaStack.He talks about the myriad applications that this sort of innovative architecture could have, changing the common’s man’s life and access to various services through their phones, and says with all these possibilities that IndiaStack is a revolution in the making.s

14:52- Sanjay asks what Nandan thinks about the payments revolution – moving money in a frictionless manner

15:18- Nandan talks about how UPI is another revolution in the making with many banks having signed up and many merchants seeing the power of that. According to him, virtual payment address is another leap frog moment and comments on the explosion of innovation that this could lead to

18:12- Sanjay wants to know if Aadhaar and IndiaStackcould be applied to several other countries as well and if Nandan has seen any interest.

18:39- While Nandan definitely sees interest among other countries, but says it is hard to implement because, unlike India which had a notion of unique ID, other countries view it as a security option which limits the building of a horizontal platform, because in this case, security becomes one more service on the platform

19:48- Sanjay is curious about how Nandan has been managing his time among all this

20:04- Nandan talks about how hectic his life has been for the past 30 odd years, starting with Infosys and then moving to Delhi for Aadhaar, then for election and later, decided to create a balance and now, he relaxes by going for long walks and bird watching .