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The pitfalls of India's JAM

India's national ID and financial inclusion system creates the rails on which food and financial aid can reach some of the most vulnerable in society. But its rigidity in a crisis is a weakness.


Picture this: you are the leader of a developing country. Out of 1.4 billion people, nearly 70% live in rural areas, over 20% are illiterate and 22% live below the poverty line of $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank.

Suddenly, a viral pandemic such as Covid-19 hits. In an attempt to save lives and stop the spread of the virus, you introduce an all-encompassing lockdown that forces people to stay at home and businesses to close.

But the vast majority – 80% – of people work in the informal economy, living hand to mouth, relying on working every day to feed themselves and their families.

They have two choices: go against guidelines and continue to work to put food on the table, or obey and starve.

What is the solution? For India, it could be JAM – the combination of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, known as Jan Dhan, (J) and Aadhaar (A) programmes, and the prevalence of mobile phones (M).

Ambitious plan

In 2014, prime minister Narendra Modi launched an ambitious financial inclusion plan – Jan Dhan – to expand access to financial services to every eligible person in the country.

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