Public Digital Backbone/Chapter 3. India Stack:Plumbing for the Internet Age

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3. India Stack: Plumbing for the Internet Age

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"India Stack is not just a suite of digital tools; it's the very foundation upon which India's digital future is being built. From biometrics to instantaneous transactions, it epitomizes the nation's spirit of innovation and progress." -An Anonymous Indian Citizen

Not just a pile but...

India Stack represents a suite of groundbreaking digital services that have transformed the subcontinent's digital landscape. From the world's largest biometric system to real-time payment platforms, we provide here an in-depth exploration of the elements that make up India Stack, emphasizing their individual and collective impact on the country's digital revolution


Overview of India Stack components

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India Stack is a comprehensive digital infrastructure initiative by the Indian government, designed to foster innovation and streamline services across the country. It comprises key components like Aadhaar, a unique identity number for residents; UPI, a real-time inter-bank transaction system; eKYC for electronic identity verification; eSign for digital signatures; DigiLocker for storing and sharing personal documents; the Consent Layer for user-controlled data sharing; Account Aggregator for seamless access to financial data; and FASTag, an electronic toll collection system. Together, these tools aim to transition India towards a presence-less, paperless, and cashless service delivery model, enhancing transparency and efficiency in both governance and the private sector.

Aadhaar: Biometric Identification

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Aadhaar is India's flagship program that provides a unique 12-digit identification number to its residents based on their biometric and demographic information. Initiated by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the program is one of the largest biometric identification systems globally. Biometric data collected for Aadhaar includes fingerprints, iris scans, and a facial photograph. This biometric data, combined with demographic information like name, date of birth, and address, ensures a unique identity for each individual. The primary objective of Aadhaar is to eliminate duplicates and fake identities and to enable various public and private services in a streamlined manner. The biometric nature of Aadhaar ensures secure identity verification, reducing fraud and ensuring that benefits and services reach the genuine beneficiaries.

UPI: Real-Time Payment System

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UPI, or Unified Payments Interface, is a revolutionary real-time payment system developed by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI). It facilitates instant inter-bank transactions by enabling funds transfer between two bank accounts through a mobile platform. UPI allows users to link multiple bank accounts to a single mobile application, merging several banking features into one seamless interface. Payments can be made using a unique UPI ID, mobile number, or even by scanning QR codes. The platform also supports features like scheduling payments and checking account balance. With its simple and efficient user experience, UPI has transformed the digital payments landscape in India, promoting a move towards a cashless economy.

DEPA: Data Empowerment and Protection Architecture

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DEPA, or the Data Empowerment and Protection Architecture, is an innovative framework introduced in India to redefine the way personal data is shared and consumed. The primary objective of DEPA is to empower individuals to have control over their own data, ensuring that it's used for their benefit while also protecting their privacy.

1. Data Empowerment: DEPA emphasizes the principle that individuals have rights over their data. It provides mechanisms through which individuals can securely access and share their information with entities that offer services, leading to better financial and health outcomes, among others.

2. Data Protection: While ensuring data fluidity, DEPA also places paramount importance on privacy and security. The framework ensures that data is shared only after receiving explicit consent from individuals, and it is transmitted through encrypted channels to prevent misuse.

3. Account Aggregators (AAs): Within the DEPA framework, AAs play a pivotal role. They are neutral entities that facilitate the secure and consented sharing of data between data providers (like banks) and data consumers (like lending institutions). Individuals can instruct AAs to retrieve and share their data without the actual data ever being seen or stored by the AAs.

4. Consent Artifacts: These are digital records of individual consents, capturing the specifics of permission given (like the type of data, purpose, duration, etc.). Consent artifacts ensure that data is used only for purposes the individual has explicitly agreed to.

DEPA aims to strike a balance between the transformative potential of a data-driven economy and the individual's data rights and privacy. The framework forms a significant component of the India Stack, enabling more transparent, efficient, and user-centric digital services across sectors.

Evolution and impact of India Stack

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The evolution and impact of India Stack is a remarkable journey that has reshaped the landscape of digital services and governance in India. Let's delve into its evolution and the subsequent effects:


1. Aadhaar (2009): The inception of India Stack began with the launch of Aadhaar by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). It provided a 12-digit unique identity number based on biometric and demographic data to Indian residents.

2. eKYC and eSign (2012 and 2015): With the foundation laid by Aadhaar, eKYC (Electronic Know Your Customer) was introduced to simplify identity verification processes for businesses, followed by eSign, which enabled digital signatures based on Aadhaar.

3. Unified Payments Interface (UPI) (2016): The NPCI launched UPI, providing an instant real-time payment system that connected different bank accounts into a single mobile application.

4. DigiLocker (2016): Aimed at digitizing and democratizing document storage and sharing, DigiLocker was launched, allowing citizens to securely store and share digital versions of critical documents.

5. DEPA and Account Aggregators (2018 onwards): The concept of DEPA introduced data empowerment and protection, with Account Aggregators becoming crucial intermediaries for consented data sharing.


1. Financial Inclusion: India Stack, especially UPI and eKYC, has played a significant role in expanding financial services to previously unbanked or underbanked segments of the population.

2. Paperless Transactions: With eSign and DigiLocker, paper-based processes have been drastically reduced, leading to faster service delivery and reduced costs for businesses and government.

3. Transparency and Efficiency: Data-driven components like Account Aggregators foster transparency, reducing fraud and ensuring that benefits reach the intended recipients.

4. Boost to Digital Economy: UPI's success has catalyzed the growth of numerous fintech startups and digital services in India, propelling the nation towards a cashless economy.

5. User Empowerment: DEPA and Consent Layer ensure that individuals have control over their data, fostering trust and encouraging more users to engage with digital services.

6. Government Services: Various government services, from subsidies to scholarships, now leverage India Stack components for efficient, transparent, and direct benefit transfers.

India Stack's evolution represents a progressive and integrated approach to addressing India's challenges using digital infrastructure. Its impact has been transformative, affecting various sectors, from finance to health, and empowering both businesses and consumers in the digital age.

India Stack