Aadhaar, midday meals and key questions in SC

Govt has linked Aadhaar to school midday meals, among several other schemes. The Indian Express explains details of the move, and recap the pending legal challenges to Aadhaar

Written by Ritika Chopra , Utkarsh Anand | Updated: March 8, 2017 9:25 am
Aadhaar, midday meals,  Mid-day Meal Scheme-Aadhaar, Supreme court, Aadhaar mandatory, India news, Indian express The Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDMS) is the largest school feeding programme of its kind in the world

How many children have midday meals?

The Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDMS) is the largest school feeding programme of its kind in the world, covering 10.03 crore students enrolled in government schools from Classes 1 to 8. The programme was first introduced in 1925 for disadvantaged children in Madras Municipal Corporation. By the mid 1980s, three states — Gujarat, Kerala and Tamil Nadu — had emulated the scheme’s success. The union government launched the scheme on a pilot basis in 1995 for children in Classes 1 to 5. By October 2007, MDMS had been scaled up to Class 8. The basic objective of this scheme is to enhance enrolment in schools.

How many children might theoretically be left out due to the Aadhaar link?

The HRD Ministry is currently collecting data on how many out of the 10.03 crore beneficiaries already have Aadhaar. However, the government has clarified that no student will be deprived of hot cooked meals in case he/she doesn’t have an Aadhaar number. The February 28 gazette notification states that till the time Aadhaar is assigned to a child, the benefits under the scheme will continue, provided the child can produce an Aadhaar enrolment slip or an undertaking by the parents or legal guardian stating that the child is not availing the benefit at any other school.

What are the schemes and benefits in which Aadhaar is now mandatory?

Following multiple notifications issued last week, Aadhaar is now mandatory for over 30 schemes, including ex-gratia to Bhopal gas leak victims, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Bonded Labour Rehabilitation Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, National Action Plan for Skill Training of Persons with Disabilities, National Water Mission and National Health Mission. The union government plans to make it compulsory for all 84 schemes covered under the direct subsidy benefit transfer programme.

Why are activists opposed to using Aadhaar to identify beneficiaries of the midday meal scheme?

Civil society groups, activists and opposition parties say it goes against the Supreme Court’s order that Aadhaar can’t be made mandatory for welfare schemes. Also, critics say, there is no role for Aadhaar in MDMS, and it would subject children to lifelong tracking without the option to opt out later.

And what is the government argument?

The government has justified the linking of Aadhaar to several DBT schemes saying it would simplify delivery processes, encourage transparency and efficiency, enable citizens to get services easily, clean up databases by removing duplicates and ghost identities, and plug leaks in all DBT schemes.

What has the Supreme Court said about making Aadhaar mandatory?

While the validity of Aadhaar as a scheme remains to be decided in law, the court has passed a few interim orders, saying Aadhaar is not mandatory. In September 2013, it said “no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card”, and that it should be voluntary.

The first modification in this order came on August 11, 2015, when a 3-judge Bench referred the issue to a Constitution Bench but said the government could use Aadhaar for the public distribution system (PDS) and to distribute LPG cylinders. But it must “give wide publicity in the electronic and print media… that it is not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card”.

On October 15, 2015, the court allowed the government to use Aadhaar also for MGNREGS, National Social Assistance Programme (Old Age Pensions, Widow Pensions, Disability Pensions), Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) and Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO). But the 5-judge Constitution Bench reiterated: “We will also make it clear that the Aadhaar card Scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this Court one way or the other.” The court has passed no other direction since then.

What are the questions pending before the court in the matter?

The main petition was filed by a retired Karnataka High Court judge, Justice K S Puttaswamy, in 2012. The 90-year-old has claimed that the UID scheme infringes upon a citizen’s right to privacy, which flows from Article 21, which guarantees the fundamental right to life. The petition underlined there was no system to ensure that people’s biometric data would be safe, and would not be misused by the private collection agencies. Subsequently, several cases transferred from High Courts, and writ petitions by activists like Aruna Roy and S G Vombatkere and NGOs, challenging Aadhaar, were tagged with the main petition.

On August 11, 2015, a 3-judge Bench referred the matter to the Constitution Bench to ascertain whether the Constitution does indeed guarantee a right to privacy and, if such a right exists, what its source and contours are.

The case came up before the Constitution Bench, then headed by CJI H L Dattu, only for the purpose of deciding the government’s application on letting it use Aadhaar for more services. The court allowed it in October 2015.

While the matter has not come up in over a year, a few contempt petitions have been filed in the mean time, alleging that the government has made Aadhaar mandatory for various services not enumerated by the court in its interim order. However, with no Constitution Bench having been reconstituted, there have been no orders in these petitions either.

On January 5 this year, counsel for the main petitioner, Justice Puttaswamy, had made a request for an urgent hearing before the CJI, who declined it “for the time being”. But CJI J S Khehar has now indicated that the 5-judge Bench will be constituted to hear Aadhaar cases during the summer vacation, which starts on May 11.

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