In his book Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century, Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys, talks about how the future of India depends not just on simple economic growth, but also on reforms and innovations in all sectors of public life.
Today, he has the rank equivalent to that of an Indian Cabinet Minister to put many innovative ideas to practice.
A month after forming the new government, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has proved that he means business. Yesterday, his government announced that Nilekani would take over as chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).
Once implemented, the ambitious unique identification (UID) project would ensure each one of India's over 1.1 billion people have a unique biometric identity card.
"This demonstrates the commitment of the UPA government to fast-track the implementation of their election manifesto, which had UID as a key project," Som Mittal, president of software body Nasscom, said yesterday.
Nilekani has since resigned as co-chairman of Infosys, and was reportedly chosen by the PM himself.
Estimated to be worth nearly US$4 billion, the UID project will eventually become the basis of the Citizens Smart Card Project, recommended by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, which would enable citizens to avail of subsidies on food, energy, education, etc.
The appointment of Nilekani has a lot of bearing on the Indian IT industry. Here are some of my thoughts:
• By appointing Nilekani, the government has signaled that public-private partnerships may well be the name of the game (at least, insofar as e-government projects are concerned). • With Nilekani as its ambassador, the IT industry (and citizens) will look forward to speedier action on this project and smoother implementation. This should do a lot of good to the image of Indian IT. • With Nilekani at the helm, India (in all probability) should have a state-of-the-art unique identification card program in place. • This is a very critical project for India. It has significant transformational capabilities. If implemented soon and competently, this project can change the face of the country--by bringing about higher efficiencies and transparency, and reducing corruption (the biggest evil gripping Indian society today). • This project can help reduce poverty by targeting schemes and subsidies toward those who really need it. • The UID project will provide a huge database for planners to launch new schemes that can tackle several problems facing the country. • If implemented properly, the UID can also bolster the country's security issues and curb terrorism and other threats to national security.
I think all Indians should now look forward to their unique ID cards and to days when we wouldn't have to stand in long queues, bribe officials and pay touts to get our work done. I hope it's not too early to imagine that India! Or is it, Mr. Nilekani?