SC Seeks response of states for making Aadhaar mandatory for some schemes
The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday asked major states that have linked government services or welfare schemes to the Unique Identity (UID) number to also present their “justification” for using Aadhaar. The apex court was hearing a review petition, filed by the government, of its past order on the petition filed by retired judge of the Karnataka High Court K S Puttaswamy.
The SC had passed an interim order on September 23, stating that no one should suffer due to unavailability of Aadhaar. Later, some central ministries, three public sector undertakings requested a modification of the order, along with UID Authority of India (UIDAI). Several activists like Aruna Roy joined the petition against the Aadhaar over issues such as privacy.
Around 11 states, including Delhi, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Maharashtra, have made Aadhaar mandatory for availing some government services. While hearing the arguments put forward by senior advocate Shyam Divan, who was representing one of the petitioners, the court said the states should also implead in the matter. The next hearing is slated for December 10. At the end of the almost daylong hearing, Justice S A Bobde said the court is inclined to “modify” and “save” the scheme. However, the challenge is that UIDAI which is a current party to the case has made Aadhaar voluntary. However, it is the states which have made the use of Aadhaar mandatory and so the “stings remain.”
During the hearing, Divan presented before the court that UIDAI is “almost running a private show” and is collecting biometric – a sensitive personal information – without any statutory backing. He called the authority unconstitutional and evoked the privacy concerns involved with the project. The bench of judges, comprising B S Chauhan and Bobde, said the privacy arguments had to be made “keeping the harsh realities of life in mind”, as somebody who doesn’t have access to food and water may not be very much concerned about their privacy.
The next date of hearing may give a window of opportunity to the government to pass the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 which will give UIDAI a legal backing. After being approved by the Cabinet, the Bill will be moved in Parliament during its winter session, which begins on December 5. This may dilute some of the arguments about the unconstitutionality of the authority.
Divan also said the Aadhaar project was based on untested and unproven technology and was being outsourced to private operators who could misuse the data by “duplicating and selling” it for commercial use.
While Solicitor General of India Mohan Parasaran said the allegations about misuse of data by private operators was incorrect, as there were enough checks and balances, the bench highlighted this issue needed to be addressed in detail when the government’s lawyers present their counter-agreements.