The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked Aadhaar challengers if the state cannot ask its citizens to cite 12-digit unique identification numbers to ensure that the money being spent on welfare schemes reached to the real beneficiaries.
A five-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Dipak Misra began hearing the arguments on a batch of petitions challenging the very concept of Aadhaar and the subsequent passing of law in 2016 and its linking to various schemes as well as bank accounts and mobile phones.
Giving out background of Aadhaar since 2009, senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing as lead counsel, contended it was “an electronic leash” imposed on the citizens by which government could completely destroy an individual by “switching off” the 12-digit unique identifier number.
However, the bench asked if the state “cannot say that it has every right to find out the number of schools, children or the real beneficiaries of a welfare scheme and verify the real beneficiaries of huge funds which it is spending, it needs Aadhaar number. This is a valid argument.”
The bench also sought to know as to what will happen to the biometric data collected before the Aadhaar Act, whether they will be destroyed if the petitioners challenging the validity of the Aadhaar programme succeeded.
The court also asked once the Speaker has declared the Aadhaar Act as money bill, if it can still be questioned. Senior advocate P Chidambaram responded by saying the power of judicial review is still there.
Divan, for his part, contended that through a succession of “marketing stratagems” and by employing “smoke and mirrors”, the government has rolled out a “little understood” programme that seeks to “tether every resident of India to an electronic leash”.
“This leash is connected to a central database that is designed to track transactions across the life of the citizen. This record will enable the State to profile citizens, track their movements, assess their habits and silently influence their behaviour. Over time, the profiling enables the State to stifle dissent and influence political decision making,” he argued.
He also claimed the petitioners are certain that if the Aadhaar Act and the programme were allowed to operate “unimpeded”, it would “hollow out” the Constitution, particularly the great rights and liberties it has assured to its citizens.
Divan is representing several petitioners like former Karnataka high court judge Justice K S Puttaswamy, several activists Aruna Roy, Shantha Sinha and veteran CPM leader V S Achuthanandan.