March 28, 2020
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Nandan Nilekani, UIDAI

Nilekani executed the Aadhaar project, an ­attempt to create a biometric database of the entire population of India. It was hailed as the biggest social project on the planet.

Nandan Nilekani, UIDAI
Photograph by Vishal Koul
Nandan Nilekani, UIDAI
  • Under him, the UIDAI issued 60 crore Aadhaar ­numbers


ROM the start, it sounds like another one of those ‘middle class boys making it big in life through sheer hard work and grit’ stories, except, there is much more to the tale. A son of a textile engineer from Bangalore, Nandan joined the hallowed IIT Bombay after school to do electrical engineering.

He then joined Patni computers in 1978, where he met N. R. Narayana Murthy. This meeting was in some ways the genesis of Inf­osys, which he later founded with six others including Narayana Murthy in 1981. He became the CEO of Infosys in 2002, a post he served for the next five years , considered one of the best years for the company.

Post 2007, Nandan was appointed as the co-chairman of Infosys, a post he gave up in 2009 on a momentous call from the then PM Manmohan Singh to lead the Unique Identification Authority of India as its chairman for a project, the scale and vision of which was unprecedented in India. As chairman of UIDAI he implemented the Unique Identity (UID) project in India. The initiative aimed to provide a unique identification number for all residents of India which was to be used primarily as the basis for efficient delivery of welfare services. The identification method was biometric, and the drive to create this government database of the entire population of India was called the biggest social project on the planet.

Right from the beginning, the project was criticised and attacked by activists and anti-surveillance advocates. Yet, Nandan executed it with great efficiency. Even after he has left the UIDAI, the Aadhaar project remains the biggest identification project India has ever taken up.

The Fortune Magazine conferred him with “Asia’s Businessman of the year 2003”. He also received the Joseph Schumpeter prize for innovative services in economy, economic sciences and politics in 2005. And in 2006, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan. 

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