Completed Research

Aadhaar Identification Program: Providing Proof of Identity to a Billion

University of Toronto

India sought to provide a unique, non-duplicable and fraud-resistant proof of identity to every resident (population 1.3 billion). Starting in 2009, India centralized digital identification through the Aadhaar program. The federal government navigated reaching all of India’s diverse populations through partnerships and contracts with other government agencies and private businesses.

The Hard to Reach

People throughout India who do not have reliable, universal proof of identity.

Key Takeaways

By May 2017, 90 per cent of the Indian population had received a unique proof of identity through the Aadhaar program.

  1. Organizations were incentivized to participate in enrolling people in Aadhaar. Additional government involvement was necessary to ensure that remote and marginalized residents also benefit from the program.
  2. As an identification system that would benefit India’s poor and marginalized, the program needed to reduce barriers to enrollment, including setting up a broad list of identity and address documentation requirements.
  3. To bring enrollment to hard-to-reach residents, local partners were recruited and empowered to conduct active reach and target specific hard to reach communities.
  4. Aadhaar cards were delivered to many of India’s residents by leveraging India Post’s extensive network, which is capable of reaching individuals without a fixed address. For cards not successfully delivered, online portals and call center services are available for follow-up.
  5. Aadhaar aims to provide Indian residents with access to a variety of services and benefits. The ability to access services and benefits through Aadhaar has been an important driver of demand for enrolment.


This research was made possible through the Reach Alliance, a partnership between the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Research was also funded by the Canada Research Chairs program and the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professorship of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. The authors of this report would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to those we met and interviewed in India, including government officials, civil society activists, businesses, professionals from international organizations, and scholars. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to speak with and learn from you.

This research was vetted and received approval from the Ethics Review Board at the University of Toronto.