The National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) released a study on a cost-benefit analysis of the Aadhaar programme, showing that Aadhaar can plug problems ofleakages and yield very high returns to the government.
This study is significant in the light of the current debates on how to reduce the subsidy bill.
The study finds that substantial benefits would accrue to the government by integrating Aadhaar with schemes such as PDS, MNREGS, fertiliser and LPG subsidies, as well as certain housing, education and health programmes. Even after taking all costs into account, and making modest assumptions about leakages, of about 7-12 percent of the value of the transfer/subsidy, the study finds that the Aadhaar project would yield an internal rate of return of 52.85 percent to the government.
Integrating Aadhaar with government welfare schemes will improve identification and authentication. Hence, the leakages due to duplicates and 'ghost beneficiaries' can be tackled. Plausible estimates about such leakages are available mainly for MNREGS and PDS programmes in government reports and the academic literature. Using these estimates as benchmarks, for the components of the leakages that Aadhaar can directly address, the NIPFP study extends the analysis to include other government schemes where transfer to beneficiaries takes place. A reduction in leakages is considered a benefit to the government since the funds can be saved and used for other purposes.
For the PDS, the benefit accruing due to integration with Aadhaar is assumed to be in terms of reduction in leakages in the delivery of foodgrains (rice and wheat) and kerosene. For MNREGS, using the wage expenditure data and several social audit reports, the reduction in leakage in wage payments through muster automation and disbursement through Aadhaar-enabled bank accounts has been estimated. For fertilisers and LPG distribution, the diversion is estimated as a percentage of the government subsidy, which is assumed to be getting leaked or diverted for purposes beyond the subsidy's rationale. For other schemes, which include the Indira Awaas Yojana, Janani Suraksha Yojana, various pension schemes, scholarships, and payments made to workers under NRHM and ICDS, the leakages due to identfication errors are estimated as a percentage of the value of the transfer payment.
The costs of developing and maintaining Aadhaar, as well as integrating Aadhaar with the government schemes is computed in the study.
Thus, comparing the benefits with the costs, the NIPFP study concludes that the internal rate of return in real terms of the Aadhaar project is 52.85 percent. This analysis shows that even with modest assumptions on benefits, the Aadhaar project yields a high internal rate of return to the government.
The NIPFP study focuses on certain tangible benefits accruing to the government, and therefore does not count the benefits to the economy and the intangible benefits to the government and society. Many benefits of the program are intangible and therefore difficult to quantify. For example, by making every individual identifiable, existing government welfare schemes can become more demand-led. Beneficiaries are better empowered to hold the government accountable for their rights and entitlements, thus influencing the way these schemes can be designed and implemented. Also, with digitised, non-local information on workers seeking jobs, labour mobility and migration experience will become easier.
The study argues that if we were to add more programs and expand the scope of the analysis, and consider the intangible benefits, it is likely that the returns will be higher.
Full details of the calculations have been released on the NIPFP website. Other scholars and policy analysts can modify some assumptions and explore alternative outcomes.