Editor’s note:  On 17 January, India’s Supreme Court commenced the final hearing on petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, the unique identity programme. On the same day, The Economic Times reported that a group of private companies have filed a petition to the court, extending support to and seeking continuity for Aadhaar. The petitioners argue that Aadhaar is used by private companies ‘in a big way’ and ‘innovative solutions’ are being created in the digital economy using Aadhaar. To recap, some of the people in these private companies were part of the Unique Identification Authority of India team that conceptualised and built Aadhaar. The conflicts of interest are sometimes subtle and sometimes glaring. It is in this context that we are republishing our September 2017 two-part investigative series on iSpirt and India Stack, the two entities around which the private Aadhaar ecosystem has been built.

“Can you name one entrepreneur in India who has built a successful platform?” asks Sharad Sharma, the passionate but combative co-founder of iSpirt. He’s attempting to address why iSpirt is putting an enormous effort into creating its own platform today.

That platform is India Stack.

The pithily-named India Stack refers to a collection of APIs—software algorithms and frameworks—that are built on top of a common foundation: Aadhaar. With over 1.17 billion Indians enrolled, Aadhaar is the world’s largest unique identity project today. As things stand today, India Stack is the only mainstream channel through which solutions can access and interact with any facet of this identity platform.

Want to create an app that makes sending money between people as easy as sending email? Build it using UPI.

Want to enable secure and authenticated storage of digital records like driving licenses, college certificates, and land records? Build it using DigiLocker.

Want to authenticate a customer who wants to sign up with you in real-time? Do it using eKYC.

Want to enable people to digitally sign contracts in a secure manner? Do it using eSign.

Now, some questions.

Is India Stack owned and controlled by the government?

No.

Is it operating under the supervision of a government-nominated organisation or public sector unit?

No.

Then who owns this supposed public good?

iSpirt.

Originally set up to help India’s fledgeling software product startups share their best practices on growth, iSpirt, which is a private non-profit organisation (Section 8 company) has now “pivoted” to building and evangelising India Stack.

It coined the term India Stack to represent access to five services: Aadhaar, eKYC, DigiLocker, eSign and UPI (Unified Payments Interface). According to iSpirt, India Stack would enable governments, businesses, startups, and developers to create, provision or consume “presence-less, paperless and cashless” service delivery.

AUTHOR

Rohin Dharmakumar

Rohin is co-founder and CEO at The Ken. He holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta and an engineering degree in Computer Sciences from the R.V.C.E., Bangalore.

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