'Aadhaar' man Nandan Nilekani roped in to steer PM Modi's digital payments drive

Ever since the Narendra Modi-led NDA government announced the demonetisation exercise early last month to drive out corruption from the system, the focus has since then shifted to making India a cashless economy through faster implementation of digital mode of payments system across the country.

Aiming to make cashless transactions a success story, Prime Minister Modi has roped in former UIDAI chairman and Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani as the government's digital advisor. His appointment comes in the backdrop of the government's decision to ban Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes from the system in November, and encourage masses to switch from cash-based transactions to digital payments platform going ahead.

Nandan Nilekani. PTI

Nandan Nilekani. PTI

Although the government's intention seems to be exciting for the country's future growth, implementation remains a key challenge, especially at a time when pressure is mounting on the Centre to improve cash flows at the ATMs and bank branches.

Nilekani along with his 13-person committee will be meeting soon to work out a strategy on how to get more Indians to move to digital payments through smartphones and point-of-sale machines in local villages, a Bloomberg report said.

"India has the underlying digital financial architecture in place to get this going," Nilekani said in an interview after the committee's first meeting. "How quickly the government can reach everyone is a question of execution and speed," according to the Bloomberg report.

Spotting an opportunity in the government's cashless drive, several startups such as Paytm, MobiKwik and Freecharge are pushing their digital wallets to lakhs of smartphone users. However, the committee will focus on two important things; to get more merchants to accept the government's United Payments Interface and procure more point-of-sale devices, the report added.

"There is a sense of urgency," said Nilekani. "All the strategies have to be deployed at the same time to aim for universal coverage," Bloomberg report said.

The ex-Infosys top honcho had openly supported the government's demonetisation move, saying the economic slowdown will be short-term in nature and the country's growth would soon bounce back on the back of government's thrust on digitisation and adoption of technology.

Besides his ability to execute key important projects in the past, few may still construe that Nilekani may have been awarded this post for supporting Modi's demonetisation drive.

As the government intends to link governmental banking services directly to its employees, including the army, judiciary and paramilitary forces, Nilekani's expertise could come handy.

Nilekani's journey so far

Nandan Nilekani has had a fairly successful career at Infosys, as the company's topline grew six-fold under his stewardship when he was the CEO between March 2002 to April 2007.

After leaving Infosys in 2009, Nilekani accepted the invitation of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to steer the implementation of Unique Identification Authority of India or UID card project across the country. This was aimed at providing a unique identification number for all residents of the country, and will be used primarily as the basis for efficient delivery of welfare services.

He is also a member of the board of governors of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) and the president of NCAER (the premier independent applied economics research institute in India).

A sour point in his otherwise successful career has been the dismal show on the political front. After joining Congress party in 2014, he contested from the Bangalore South constituency but lost the Lok Sabha election by a wide margin.

Nilekani is currently a chairman of a non-profit literacy and numeracy platform called EkStep, which help children in improving their learning outcomes quite early in their life.

With his wealth of experience in the field of information and technology, one hopes the digitisation project would be implemented successfully during his tenure.

Updated Date: Dec 08, 2016 12:44 PM

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