With the BJP being in power both in Centre and most of the states, who do you think will face the voter’s ire if Aadhaar-linked subsidies don’t reach the beneficiaries?
After several nerve-racking months of delay, a five-judge Supreme Court Bench delivered an interim order on the Aadhaar issue. Of course, this is not the final word. That is expected only later in the year. Yet, the interim order can describe the current state of play.
The order is so intriguing that even days after the interim ruling, neither party — those who oppose the very idea of Aadhaar as well as those defending its universal usage — is sure whether it is winning or losing the debate. That’s because the SC has, for the most part, made a clear distinction. If a person is getting social welfare from the government, he/she would have to get an Aadhaar.
On the other hand, if a service is not linked to a government subsidy — say an existing bank account or mobile phone number or even the Permanent Account Number — then one doesn’t have to get an Aadhaar straightaway or get it linked by March 31. They can rest easy till the Court comes up with the final order. A curious little exception has been made for opening new bank accounts and availing passports on a Tatkal basis as both these services still mandatorily require Aadhaar.
Overall, this is a neat enough distinction. The relatively better-off Indians can sit back and relax. This is the class that has prioritised issues such as privacy, security of data and the freedom of choice. They seem to have been heard, at least for the time being. No more mandatory Aadhaar for them, unless the government can convince the Court otherwise. The other group includes the economically and socially marginalised people. They obviously prioritise delivery of benefits. Privacy, choice, and security of personal data are unlikely to be their main concern.
On the face of it, the interim ruling would appear to be a snub for those fighting against the very idea of Aadhaar. That’s because many consider the basic technical operations of Aadhaar — such as collection of biometrics — as unconstitutional and illegal. There are others who question Aadhaar on the grounds that it violates an individual’s right to privacy and a life of dignity. They have apprehensions about the state’s ability and intent to conduct
unauthorised surveillance. Others question the infallibility of technology and how its failures could lead to exclusion of the needy especially when Aadhaar is linked to their legal entitlements. Then, there are those who question whether a government can — in a manner of speaking — violate one’s fundamental right to privacy as it dispenses social welfare to that person.
Lastly, some like former Finance Minister P Chidambaram question the manner in which the existing Aadhaar Act was passed in Parliament as a money Bill. As things stand, most of these worries are unlikely to derail the Aadhaar project. And that should be a cause for celebration for the BJP government and the Unique Identification Authority of India since they were pushing for Aadhaar to be the centrepiece of everything possible in a person’s life.
Frankly, if the government’s push is accepted in toto, parents can consider forgoing naming their kids and just wait for the UIDAI to generate the Aadhaar number for the new-borns. But there’s a slip here. While there is no point speculating what the apex court may finally say, the fact is this: If the Court stays on with this neat little distinction, the BJP government may find that it has lost out on both fronts.
If Aadhaar is not made mandatory for non-subsidy related services, it is likely that most people who do not depend on subsidies — the ones with the purchasing power in the economy — will stop using Aadhaar, thanks largely to the growing concerns about data privacy. On the other hand, the government would be left with the onerous task of making Aadhaar work effectively for various social welfare schemes.
Now, most of the evidence suggests that Aadhaar-related delivery is pretty shoddy. With the BJP being in power both in Centre and most of the states, who do you think will face the voter’s ire if Aadhaar-linked subsidies don’t reach the beneficiaries?