“It is better to be unique than the best” quoted the Supreme Court (SC) while delivering the judgement on the commonly dubber ‘Aadhaar Case’. This statement is of significance as the original idea behind the formulation of the Aadhar scheme was to provide a ‘Unique ID’ to the citizens of the India for providing direct benefit of the governmental policies and schemes and mitigating the corrupt role of the intermediaries.
The SC pronounced a 3:2 verdict on the Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Another v. Union of India and Others, dubbed as the ‘Aadhaar Case’ and stated that “Aadhaar is constitutionally fair and gives dignity to the marginalised”. The SC upheld the validity of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016.
History of Aadhaar
Aadhaar, the 12-digit unique identity number, as we know it today was not at all conceptualised like the current version. Such an idea was given by the Kargil Review Committee, set up after the Kargil War 1999 to study the status of the national security. One of the recommendations submitted in the report by the committee to the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was to issue identity cards to the citizens of the villages in the border area on a priority basis and subsequently to the whole of the state adjoining the border. This recommendation was accepted by the GoM (Group of Ministers) and stated that the multi-purpose National Identity Card would be provided to the citizens of the villages soon. This led to technology upgradation in the Government Departments so that such a task could be handled and the concept of People of Indian Origin was introduced while working towards the National Identity Card.
In the UPA Government, this scheme was given the name of Unique ID which would differ in certain basic aspects from the National ID scheme. A body under the Planning Commission, UIDAI, was established in 2009, and the co-founder of Infosys, Nandan Nilekani was made the head of the project. This idea under the UPA Government was just to provide direct benefits to the people, so that the proper implementation of the the government schemes and policies can be done. Though the idea behind this whole scheme was praiseworthy, but the government did this whole thing as an executive order and had not statutory backing.
In November 2012, former Justice K.S. Puttaswamy of Karnataka High Court and a lawyer, Parvesh Khanna filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court contending that the government was implementing this whole project without any legislative backing. Thereafter, the present NDA Government introduced the Aadhaar Bill, 2016 as a money bill and passed the same which came to be called as Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016.
The SC Verdict
The SC gave a 3:2 verdict of the much awaited Aadhar case. The case was heard by the Constitutional Bench of five judges headed by CJI Deepak Misra and included Justice A.K. Sikri, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan. There were three judgments in total by Justice A.K. Sikri on behalf of CJI Deepak Misra, Justice Khanwilker and himself; Justice Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan.
The majority judgement given by Justice Sikri, upheld the validity of the Aadhaar Act, 2016, but with certain conditions and also struck down certain provisions of the Act. Sikri J. said that Aadhaar is constitutionally fair and gives dignity to the marginalised. He also added that the UIDAI takes minimalist data from of the citizens and the same cannot be held to be violation of the right to privacy. He took the stand that there is about 3.23% misuse of the Aadhaar and that should not be the basis of the pulling down the whole system; plugging the issues is what is required and not pulling down the whole infrastructure. He enumerated that he is not making the 3.23% misuse a trivial issue, but wants to the plug the gaps so that this minimal misuse is also taken care of. One of the major points made by him was that the Aadhaar Act, does somewhere affects the right to privacy and the right to dignity but the merits of the same does overweighs the harms.
He also agreed on the validity of the Act, though being passed as a money bill. He said that it could be passed as a money bill, but also stated that the AAdhaar should be used under the Consolidated Fund of India only and not in any other way. The majority verdict also struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act 2016. SC has also asked the government to make stringent data protection laws as soon as possible and shall endeavor towards data security.
The decision of the speaker to decide whether a bill is a money bill or not has also been put under the purview of judicial review, but the power to decide it has been kept exclusively to the speaker of the Lok Sabha.
The dissenting verdict was given by Justice Chandrachud. He said that the Aadhaar Act is not valid, as it should not have been passed as a money bill and moreover it is completely against the right to privacy laid down under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. He even told the telecom companies to delete all the Aadhaar data they have stored of their customers.
The third judgement was given by Justice Ashok Bhushan largely agreed with the majority verdict given by Justice Sikri and also stated that the seeking of biometric data was not a violation of an individual’s privacy.
The future of Aadhaar
The majority verdict has given a list of services where the use of Aadhaar is mandatory and also have provided with a list where it will not be mandatory.
Where Aadhaar is mandatory? Aadhaar is mandatory in PAN Card – Aadhaar linkage and also mandatory to issue the PAN Card. It has also been kept mandatory in the filing of the Income Tax Returns with the Government. The Aadhaar is also mandatory in all the government subsidies, schemes and policies. Thus majorly there are only three areas where Aadhaar has been kept mandatory – PAN Card, IT Returns and Government Subsidies and Schemes.
Where Aadhaar is not mandatory? There are certain areas where the usage of Aadhaar is not mandatory. It is not mandatory in admission in schools, also not under CBSE, NEET, and UGC. The compulsion of using Aadhaar while opening bank accounts and getting a telecom SIM card has also been done away with, and other identity card issued by the Government can be used as well. The SC has also made it absolutely clear that benefits of subsidies or schemes cannot be denied to a person who is not able to prove his identity via the biometrics. Other alternatives can also be used for the same.
All the stakeholders to the judgement are satisfied by the judgement except for the the Human Rights Activists and Food Activists. They said that without the Aadhaar the marginalized are not able to get the benefits of the subsidies and the schemes and there are various examples where people have registered themselves with UIDAI, but have not received the document, and thus the people are not able to get their much required subsidies. Many food activists have said with dejection that they wanted the SC to keep the Aadhaar compulsion away from the subsidies as well.
All in all, it is a very balanced judgement by the Supreme Court and it can surely be said that this judgement in towards the right direction.