Arguments before a nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on whether right to privacy constitutes a fundamental right are being heard with rapt attention. But the proceedings Tuesday had their light moments when Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta engaged the judges.
Appearing on behalf of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the nodal agency for implementation of Aadhaar, Mehta said his position was like the seventh husband of Elizabeth Taylor — his turn to speak had come after several others . He said on being asked how he felt, Taylor’s husband had replied that he knew how to do it, but didn’t know how to make it interesting.
At this point, Justice R F Nariman, one of the judges on the bench, asked, “What happens to the eighth and ninth?” — the judge was referring to those who were to still address the bench. All present in the court room burst into laughter.
During the course of his arguments, Mehta pointed out that many countries had protected privacy via statutes without making it a fundamental right. Joining issue, Justice Nariman said, “We are told that our neighbour, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, recognises privacy as a fundamental right.”
Mehta was quick on the draw. He said he had heard a story though he could not vouch for its authenticity. A minister from a country with no access to the sea, he said, was visiting Pakistan and found himself at the immigration counter. The official at the counter, on realising that the minister’s portfolio was related to the sea, wondered how that could be when the country did not have access to the sea. The minister replied, “So what, even you have a minister for law and justice.”
At another point, Mehta tried to explain that privacy was perceived differently in different countries. In the West, he said, couples express love publicly but that was not the case in India. Justice D Y Chandrachud quipped “it may be because we are more private”. Justice Nariman echoed: “Brother judge was saying may be we are more private”. At this, Mehta remarked that “there are also some things which we have no problem doing in public, but for which the West needs a washroom”.