Aadhaar judgment: Silver lining to dense dark cloud

The wait is finally over. After 6 years of considering multiple petitions on the Aadhaar project, a five-judge bench has given a 1,448 page long Judgment upholding its validity. The lone judge who dissented with the majority opinion, Justice DY Chandrachud, said that the whole project should be scrapped because it violates the Citizens’ Fundamental Right to Privacy & also that the Aadhaar Act being passed as a money bill was a “fraud on the Constitution”. But he was in the minority, so the Aadhaar project now continues to limp towards glory with constitutional backing.

Overall it’s a judgment that provides a silver lining to the dark cloud. The silver lining being the fact that the Supreme Court has disallowed private companies from using Aadhaar and it’ll now only be the state’s prerogative to use citizens’ data for delivering benefits & subsidies. They have also clarified that even the ‘benefits & subsidies’ that the Government intends to deliver need to have proper legal backing. Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for getting admissions in schools or matriculation either. Banks and mobile companies cannot force Aadhaar linking, which is a big relief for people who were getting annoyed by all the spam they were getting in their inboxes.

But that is where the silver lining ends. The dark cloud is quite dense. It is in the form of a Money Bill & exclusion caused due to the project.

The Aadhaar Act, when it was passed in 2016, completely bypassed the Rajya Sabha and they got no say in it whatsoever. A Money Bill is a legislation which concerns itself with the appropriation of money out of the Consolidated Fund of India. Meaning, matters related to imposition, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation of any tax & borrowings by the Government fall only under the purview of the Lok Sabha.

The Aadhaar Act does none of that and it only sets up a mechanism to enable subsidy delivery so it’s bizarre that it was certified as a Money Bill in the first place. But the majority of the Supreme Court bench ruled that Aadhaar Act does satisfy these conditions so it can be certified as a Money Bill. What is worrisome is that this might set a precedent for future legislations and the Government -- any Government, not just the current one -- might choose to bypass Rajya Sabha whenever it’s convenient & bulldoze bills through when they have the majority in the Lok Sabha.

The other worrisome aspect of this judgment is the fact that it does not consider Aadhaar problematic because it is leading to exclusion. According to the Supreme Court, the number of people getting excluded is minuscule so the majority -- who are getting benefits via Aadhaar -- cannot suffer because of it. However, they’ve clarified and said that the people getting excluded should not be denied services and the Government must make provisions to allow alternative identification methods.

The implementation of Aadhaar on the ground, based on reports coming from rural areas, is abysmal and any policy that causes deaths of citizens is, in my book, is a bad policy. Dismissing these deaths as collateral damage is a problematic outlook to adopt. While the Supreme Court has watered down many problematic provisions of the Aadhaar act and provided relief to a certain section of the public, the poor will continue to suffer till the implementation is fixed on the ground. The only hope now is that the Government takes course-correction measures so that no further loss of human life occurs.

(The writer is a public policy professional, columnist and YouTube Creator)

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