On October 12th, the Center hosted Professor Reetika Khera of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi to give a talk on her ongoing work on Aadhaar, the Indian government’s ambitious biometric ID card program. Professor Khera is a development economist who has written widely on various aspects of social policy implementation in India, including the right to education and right to employment acts. A true public intellectual, Professor Khera’s work appears both in peer-reviewed venues and in venues like thewire.in and the pages of The Indian Express. Professor Khera’s talk was a comprehensive overview of how the government is linking the identification project with welfare programming, the various implementation hurdles the government has faced, the ongoing battle in the Supreme Court as well as the recent right to privacy that was granted to Indian citizens. Professor Khera was in residence at Stanford for the month of October, 2017, as an External Faculty Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center and was nominated by the Center for South Asia. While in residence at Stanford, she was working on an edited volume on Aadhaar.
We were most fortunate to have had the opportunity to interact with her and hear about her work in person. Her talk elicited a great response from the Stanford community. In her talk, Professor Khera described how the government is interested in using the Aadhaar card as a tool to eliminate corruption in programs like the public distribution system, which provides subsidized food to the poor. She described three kinds of corruption: identity fraud, quantity fraud, and inclusion fraud. While the Aadhaar card can help to eliminate identity fraud, it does little to stem middlemen from denying people their fair share (quantity fraud), nor does it help in identifying the deserving beneficiary (inclusion fraud). These latter two modes of corruption are far more significant problems than identity fraud, she argued. Professor Khera also showed clips from a documentary on the Aadhaar card based on fieldwork with colleagues in the state of Jharkand, giving compelling insight into how Aadhaar has been disruptive to the lives of some of the poorest of the poor in India, as technical glitches and unreadable fingerprints render some ineligible for services. The documentary can be found here: https://video.scroll.in/…/video-how-mandatory-biometric-aut…. We would like to thank her for the time that she spent interacting with students and faculty, and wish her well! Her most recent article on Aadhaar can be found here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3045235