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India working to replace cash with biometric e-payment


The chief executive of India’s leading economic development agency told attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the country could introduce biometric payments within three years, thereby eliminating the need for cash and typical electronic payment methods, including: automated teller machines, along with debit and credit cards.

Amitabh Kant, National Institution for Transforming India, was quoted in a CNN news affiliate report as saying that such now commonplace e-payment methods may be “totally redundant” by 2020.

According to Kant, thanks to the wide deployment of Aadhaar, in the near future all Indians will simply need to use a biometric identifier such as a thumbprint or eye scan to make routine payments.

Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chair and Managing Director of the State Bank of India, said in the same report that moving towards a biometric e-payment scheme is something that’s “eminently doable” due to India’s wide adoption of Aadhaar.

Aadhaar is the 12-digit unique identification number issued by the Indian government to every individual resident of India. The Aadhaar project aims to provide a single, unique identifier which captures all the demographic and biometric details of every Indian resident. Currently, Aadhaar has issued over 900 million Aadhaar numbers, and has enrolled approximately 850 million people, with a goal of ultimately enrolling 1.28 billion people.

The program, governed by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), is currently used to authenticate delivery of social services including: school attendance, natural gas subsidies to India’s rural poor, and direct wage payments to bank accounts. The system also provides identification to people who do not have birth certificates.

The report by the CNN news affiliate notes that currently, the Indian government is testing a payment application that makes use of Aadhaar biometric data, coupled with portable fingerprint scanners that cost approximately US$30 each.  The government is examining ways to advance e-payment schemes in order to eliminate dependence on physical cash, which encourages the disposition and illegal deposit of proceeds of corruption and criminal activity.

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