Aadhaar not must for mobile numbers, bank accounts

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the validity of Aadhaar programme, saying that in balancing the right to privacy and dignity of individuals, it is serving a much larger purpose by taking the benefits of various welfare schemes to hundreds of millions of deserving people.

The top court, however, restricted the use of Aadhaar to benefits and subsidies and struck down the orders mandating citizens to link their unique 12-digit numbers with bank accounts and mobile numbers.

The court said Aadhaar gives individuals their unique identity. The inroads into their right to privacy for parting with biometric details are also minimal. It becomes a vital tool for ensuring good governance in a social welfare state with no possibility of creating individual profile.

“The Constitution does not exist for a few or minority of people of India, but ‘we the people’,” it said.


It is valid, but not mandatory

A five-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Dipak Misra declared by a majority view of 4:1 that the Aadhaar Act, 2016, can be passed as a money bill but the decision of Lok Sabha Speaker in such cases is amendable to judicial review.

In his dissenting judgement, Justice D Y Chandrachud held that the entire Aadhaar programme, since 2009, suffered from constitutional infirmities and violations of fundamental rights. The enactment of Aadhaar Act does not save it, he said, adding that constitutional guarantees cannot be subject to vicissitudes of technology.

The 1,448-page judgement by the Constitution bench was passed over 30 petitions filed by former Karnataka High Court judge Justice K S Puttaswamy and others.

The majority judgement noted that during the enrollment process, minimal biometric data in the form of iris and fingerprints are collected and the UIDAI does not detail purpose, location or transaction and the information thus remained in silos, making it fully secure.

“The Aadhaar scheme is backed by the statute, i.e., the Aadhaar Act. It also serves the legitimate state aim — that is to ensure social benefit schemes reach the deserving community,” it said.


Road to the verdict

Justice A K Sikri, who authored the majority judgement on behalf of the CJI, Justice A M Khanwilkar and himself said, “Aadhaar enrolment of the unprivileged and marginalised section of society, in order to avail the fruits of welfare schemes of the government, actually amounts to empowering these people.”

On the contention that it would lead to exclusion of people to avail benefits as the biometric accuracy is 99.76%, the court said, “If the Aadhaar project is shelved, 99.76% beneficiaries are going to suffer. Would it not lead to their exclusion? It will amount to throwing the baby out of hot water along with the water.”

“It cannot be crucified on the unproven plea of exclusion of some,” the court said, adding, “the remedy is to plug the loopholes rather than axe a project”.

In his separate judgement, Justice Ashok Bhushan concurred with the majority view and held that the Aadhaar Act does not create an architecture for pervasive surveillance.

The court, however, directed the government to bring in regulations for establishing identity by alternative means if biometric and iris tests fail. It also said the CBSE, UGC and NEET cannot make Aadhaar mandatory. As far as children are concerned, they would be given an option to opt out of Aadhaar at the age of 18.

It also directed the government to ensure that Aadhaar cards were not issued to illegal immigrants. It also struck down the provision for retention of authentication data for five years, saying that retaining it beyond a period of six months was impermissible.

The court also declared as unconstitutional the sharing of Aadhaar data with corporate bodies, saying it would impinge upon the right to privacy. With regard to provision for disclosure of information on grounds of national security, the court said a judicial officer, preferably a sitting high court judge, should be associated in taking such a decision.

In its judgement, the top court also upheld the validity of the provision mandating linking of Aadhaar with PAN cards.

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