The Supreme Court has in an interim order said that Aadhaar should not be made mandatory and asked the government not to link it to welfare schemes. It also said that illegal immigrants should not be issued UID numbers. The Supreme Court’s order on Aadhaar has brought relief for common people and troubles for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The order comes at a time when the UPA is stepping up its efforts to roll out subsidy schemes based on Aadhaar across the country. The plan was to make Aadhaar the basis of all its welfare schemes in the long run. It also was hoping to reach out to the poor through these direct benefit transfer schemes just ahead of elections. The Supreme Court’s order on Aadhaar has brought relief for common people and troubles for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). PTI However, the Supreme Court order seems to have poured water on these plans, said media reports. “…The Aadhaar card cannot be made mandatory. If anyone applies for Aadhaar card, then you have to verify whether he is a citizen of India or not. These cards cannot be issued to illegal migrants,” a report in the Times of India quoted Justices B S Chauhan and S A Bobde as saying. The order has been issue in response to a petition filed by retired Karnataka High Court judge KS Puttaswamy. According to a report in the Business Standard, the petitioner has alleged that the Unique Identity Scheme was rolled by the executive with no discussion in Parliament. He also said it impinged on the right to privacy of individuals.
There is no assurance of confidentiality of the biometric data being collected by private agencies. Moreover, non-citizens are also likely to get benefits such as subsidy transfers and illegal immigrants will be legitimised. There is no way the government can verify the nationality of an individual apart from relying on the documents he or she submits. The government’s contest of the petitioner’s allegations was meek, says the ToI report. The report quotes Solicitor General Mohan Prasaran as saying that the enforcement machinery has been tightened. One or two instances reported in the media are just aberrations, he submitted. The government counsels also insisted that the cards were issued on voluntary basis and were not mandatory. This is contrary to a few recent media reports which said Maharashtra has made Aadhaar mandatory for government employees to receive their salary.
There are also cases where Aadhaar has been made mandatory for LPG connections and even marriage registrations. According to the ToI report, the Supreme Court expressed surprise at such developments as the Centre itself has said that Aadhaar is not mandatory. As social activist Nikhil Dey says in the BS report, the scheme is voluntary, but there is nothing voluntary about it. For the ease of rolling out welfare schemes through Aadhaar cards, government officials were forcing it on the citizens. A case in the point is Neeraj Mittal, joint secretary in the petroleum ministry, telling senior officials in the Kanpur Collectorate that Aadhar should be made compulsory for LPG consumers. According to a ToI report, he said customers who have no Aadhaar should not be allowed to avail of the subsidy.
The direct impact of the order will be felt in Maharashtra, where the government was gearing up to launch Aadhaar-linked LPG subsidy payout across the state soon. According to this report in MoneyLife, the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had held a meeting to review the progress of the scheme with senior officers of the state government, all divisional commissioners and district collectors, senior officials from UIDAI and senior officials from the ministry of petroleum and natural gas. The court’s order is clearly spoiling the UPA’s plans to take advantage of direct benefit transfer at the 2014 elections.
But it is also raising doubts about the fate of the cards already issued.