IN FIRST remarks on the Supreme Court judgment that recognised privacy as a fundamental right, the government said on Thursday that the ruling has reaffirmed its stance on the issue. Both Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley welcomed the ruling as “a positive development”.
While the ruling party members invoked Emergency to counter what they called “mischievous propaganda” by the Congress, they also sought to protect the Aadhaar legislation, which has become the bedrock of many reform initiatives undertaken by the Narendra Modi government. “It is a positive development. As evolution of Constitutional law goes on, there is always an effort to strengthen fundamental rights,” said Jaitley.
“The government welcomes the Supreme Court judgment making privacy a fundamental right. We have been consistently of this view, particularly with regard to Aadhaar, that this right flows from Article 21 and is hence subject to reasonable restrictions. The case predates us… it is from the (previous) UPA regime when the question arose on how the government can collect data without any legislative backing. We have always looked at privacy as a fundamental right and that is what we argued in court, too,” said Prasad. Read | Opposition welcomes Right to Privacy verdict, Congress says blow to ‘unbridled encroachment by state’
Addressing a press conference after the verdict, the Law Minister quoted from Jaitley’s speech in the Rajya Sabha, when the Finance Minister had said that the Aadhaar Bill “presupposes” that “it is too late in date to contend that privacy is not a fundamental right”. BJP president Amit Shah, too, drew attention to Jaitley’s remarks on privacy being a fundamental right during discussion on Aadhaar. However, all the ruling party leaders skirted the position taken by the government’s top legal officers, objecting to inclusion of privacy as a fundamental right, during the hearing.
Responding to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s statement that the “SC decision marks a major blow to Fascist forces”, both Jaitley and Prasad highlighted the suspension of fundamental rights during the Emergency. “Congress’s record of crushing civil liberties is too well known. It was their Attorney General who had said that there was no recourse to fundamental right to any detainee during the Emergency,” Prasad told The Indian Express. Shah, too, referred to the Emergency as he criticised Congress’s “false show of jubilation and vindication”.
“Those waxing eloquent today on privacy architecture are the ones who have ensured India does not have a robust privacy law for decades. Those commenting on Aadhaar are the same people who did not provide it a legal backing for years,” he said in a blog adding, “Congress should remember their record of trampling on Right to Life & Liberty as well as Internet Censoring.”
The BJP leaders also defended the Aadhaar legislation. “The UPA brought Aadhaar without a law, without safeguards for data, therefore the challenge was there,” said Jaitley. “Aadhaar (as) conceived by the Congress government was flawed. They had started collecting biometric data without any legislative back-up. We have come up with an Aadhaar legislation which has a very tough privacy law embedded in it,” said Prasad.