Hal Hodson reports:
A schoolgirl arriving for class presses her thumb against a fingerprint scanner, verifying her presence. Since April, this has been the scene at a handful of schools in the state of Jharkhand in eastern India. There, the attendance of students and teachers has been tracked using biometrics that are linked with India’s huge national database, Aadhaar. It is the world’s largest biometrics database, but now it is under threat.
Started in 2009, Aadhaar holds the fingerprints, iris and facial scans of 600 million Indians. Besides school attendance, the database is used to provide natural gas subsidies to India’s rural poor, and to send wages directly to people’s bank accounts. It is a way of providing identification to people who may not even have a birth certificate, and has been trumpeted by the national government as a way to stamp out fraud.
Aadhaar was the flagship programme of India’s Congress Party, which lost to Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on 16 May in the country’s general elections (see “A social election“). The BJP slammed Aadhaar in the run up to the election, calling it a failure and a waste of money. “They’ve been speaking out against it publicly,” says Reetika Khera, an economist at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. “They’ve been trashing it.”
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