SC extending Aadhaar linking deadline indefinitely for only banking, mobile leaves most vulnerable with no protection for privacy or basic rights to welfare
The Interim Order issued by the Supreme Court today has come as a grave disappointment, given the large scale exclusion and cases of starvation deaths reported due to Aadhaar, the biometrics-linked resident ID, from the poorest districts of the country.
The Court on Tuesday extended the deadline for linking Aadhaar only for banking, passport and mobile services, for which the Aadhaar linking deadline so far was coming up on March 31, 2018.
It is expected that with respect to PAN linking, the previous orders from June 2017 will apply.
Worryingly, in line with a request by the Attorney General in court today, the deadline was not relaxed for notifications under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, 2016 that practically make it a requirement to link Aadhaar for people to continue to have access to 139 crucial welfare schemes, several of which are citizens’ legal rights.
These include a essential services such as mid-day meals for children, food subsidies under the National Food Security Act, the Right to Education for children upto 14 years, disability, widows’ and old age pensions, scholarships for Dalit and Adivasi students, teachers’ and health workers’ stipends, maternity benefits under Janani Suraksha Yojana, and a wide range of welfare schemes.
Though today’s orders say that previous orders remain in force that provide exemptions for food security benefits when biometric authentication fails, the evidence is that these orders from October and December have been completely ignored by government departments, with UIDAI, the agency managing the database, continuing to push for making Aadhaar mandatory in every aspect of life, and forcing seeding, linking Aadhaar numbers across databases, violating citizens’ right to privacy and security. These circulars on which today’s court order refers to have remained ineffective and failed to alleviate our distress on the ground when Aadhaar authentication regularly fails.
Today’s order says the deadline for mobile and bank linking have been extended till the final judgement of the court. As such no time can be prescribed, but one indicative date may be October 2, when the current Chief Justice of India’s tenure ends.
The petitioners’ advocates will now push for these Section 7 notifications to be covered under the indefinite extension as well, and not limit relief only for bank and mobile customers.
Despite Aadhaar being presented as a voluntary scheme since 2009, two successive prime ministers have forced citizens to submit their biometrics to access essential services. They have done this by making the most basic services for vulnerable citizens available only to those who pass the biometric authentication test, armtwisting citizens to enroll in the database operated without any legal framework while the data was collected.
Today’s order has failed to provide these most vulnerable citizens of the country little protection or relief from disruption of the legal right and access to even basic social services.