The Big Picture – Implications of SC’s order on Aadhaar
The Aadhaar scheme was challenged before the supreme court basically on the ground that it violates the right to privacy of individuals. Right to privacy has been interpreted by supreme court in various judgments as being part of article 21. Right to life or liberty as mentioned under article 21 cannot be taken away except in accordance with procedure established by law. The real problem with aadhar is the government is collecting biometric details of individuals without there being any authorization by a law. The supreme court has issued the larger issue of the right to privacy to a constitution bench. The court has also refused to relax the order on aadhaar for the use of it in other schemes. The court has said that aadhaar can only be used in PDS and LPG schemes.
Number of schemes, for which aadhaar is necessary, cannot take off unless the aadhar issue is solved. Many schemes including DigiLocker, e-sign and Jeevan Praman, too, are linked to aadhaar and are confused about its status after the SC order. Unless the current order is modified, even the voluntary usage of aadhaar for any other purpose except for LPG and food subsidy by citizens will be disputed.
However, the government says aadhaar is essential for good governance, transparent implementation of government programmes and ensure that its benefits reach only the eligible persons. The government has also told the supreme court that it intends to link the aadhaar to other government schemes such as obtaining passports, PAN cards, immigration, railways, telecommunications and prison management systems. It says aadhaar cards are essential for better management of subsidies.
Supreme Court’s recent judgment will definitely impact all existing linkages and new projects which were in the pipeline. Work has stopped for now for aadhaar. The Supreme Court had, in an interim order passed in August, restricted the use of aadhaar to just food and LPG subsidy, virtually making all other linkages illegal. The Centre, four state governments, and five regulators including the RBI, Sebi and Trai had filed review petitions, pointing out that banks, stock exchanges and telecom companies accept Aadhaar as proof of identity. In defending the aadhaar card project, the Centre has also told the Supreme Court that the right to privacy was not a fundamental right. The proponents of Aadhaar highlight its potential to streamline the delivery mechanisms for social sector schemes by plugging leakages.
While the benefits of Aadhaar are not disputed, extending the unique identification system to all walks of life without parliamentary sanction and legislative cover is unacceptable and legally untenable. It is also being said that the government has concurrently embarked on aggressive Aadhaar enrolment drives and rolled out new services requiring Aadhaar cards while ingeniously claiming that Aadhaar enrolment is not mandatory. This puts immense pressure to enrol on even those who do not wish to submit their personal and biometric information to the UIDAI in the absence of privacy and statutory safeguards.