A polity drunk on Aadhaar


The Karnataka excise department is seriously examining the proposal of an NGO to link the sale of liquor to the Aadhaar number as a way to check the menace of bottle-littering. Though on the face of it, the move appears well-meaning, it is not only illegal but is fraught with various dangers, including invasion of privacy. According to the plan, every time a person makes a purchase at a wine store, the barcode on the bottle will be scanned and his Aadhaar details recorded against it. If a bottle is found discarded carelessly, it will be scanned, traced back to the buyer, who would be penalised. Though a final decision is yet to be taken, the excise secretary has sought a detailed report from his department. The fact that the government is considering pursuing such a scheme, instead of junking it, gives rise to suspicion that there could be a sinister move behind it. 

At a time when serious doubts have been raised about the safety of data, it is illogical to assume that the common man would trust his Aadhaar details with the neighbourhood liquor vendor as such information is susceptible to misuse. There is every possibility of rivals embarrassing and harassing a person by releasing details of what one consumes and in what quantities, in the public domain. In these days of moral policing, when the Mangaluru pub attack incident is still fresh in our minds, the likelihood of naming and shaming girls who purchase alcohol, based on the liquor store records, also cannot be ruled out. If at all anybody benefits from the implementation of this proposal, it is the liquor manufacturing companies which can lay hands on exhaustive and minute details of the consumption pattern across age groups, gender and markets, without spending a single paisa. Hence, the proposal itself is suspect.

The Supreme Court had in 2018 struck down Section 47 of the Aadhaar Act that permitted private entities like telecom companies and banks to use Aadhaar data and verification. The Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Act, 2019, also provides for a penalty of Rs 1 crore and a jail term for private entities that store Aadhaar data. At best, the Aadhaar number or any other government-issued identification can be used to prevent sale of liquor to those below the prescribed drinking age. The government should immediately scrap any plans of linking Aadhaar with liquor purchase and think of other viable options to curb littering of bottles.

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