Right-wing and left, opponents to the Aadhaar project appear bunched together in two distinct formations as they separately seek to scuttle a project that aims at providing every citizen a unique identity number for targeted benefits from the government.
Six groups have filed cases in the Supreme Court against UIDAI, the unique identification authority. These have been filed during the last one year; the UPA-II government had set up UIDAI in 2009 and issued the first Aadhaar numbers in September 2010.
Several of the arguments overlap but what sets two petitions apart from the remaining four is that the former’s objections are based on right-wing principles and the latter’s on left-wing ones.
A petition by Justice (retired) Puttaswamy and Parvesh Khanna, and another by Maj. Gen. (retired) S G Vombatkere and Bezwada Wilson, both raise an objection identical to what the the BJP has been raising — that the project has no preventive to block illegal immigrants or non-citizens from getting an Aadhaar number.
In fact, BJP Rajya Sabha MP M Rama Jois, also a former chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, is backing the petition by Justice Puttuswamy.
“Yes,” Rama Jois replied to a question by The Indian Express about his support. “Puttuswamy was a colleague of mine. I had raised my objections in Parliament as well. I had written to the Prime Minister. I am opposed to the Aadhaar project going ahead without legislative sanction. The government cannot go ahead with an executive order alone.”
In contrast, the other four petitions don’t raise Aadhaar’s prospective coverage of non-citizens. The four petitions, including one by Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, have raised instead the left-liberal concerns of privacy, infringement of personal liberties and Aadhaar’s being mandatory for welfare schemes. Usha Ramanathan, a campaigner against Aadhaar on left-liberal arguments, is learnt to be actively supporting some of these petitioners.
“As for which side I stand on. I have been researching the UID project almost since its inception, and I find that the handing over of data to all kinds of companies, the corporatisation of an exercise in generating identity; the fact that this is not about identity but about identification; and that these are about how citizens get converted into subjects — and more such questions are what bother me,” she told The Indian Express in an emailed reply. “If we are going to be looking for the illegal immigrant through this project, we will miss what actually is the problem.”
Ramanathan is learnt to have roped retired Delhi chief justice A P Shah into this cause in the past. Justice (retired) Shah refused to speak on this issue, citing his current job as the chairman of the Law Commission. Shah has, however, spoken publicly against the Aadhaar project in the past. In fact, along with several left-leaning activists, he was a signatory to one of the petitions to the government opposing the project.
The political orientation of the challengers has not been lost on UIDAI. “This appears to be an unholy nexus between the left and the right to kill the project through legal means,” agreed a UIDAI functionary.
Another functionary, however, said that politically there did not appear many objections either from the left or from the right to the implementation of the project. The functionary stressed that the BJP governments in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Goa have been cooperative in the implementation of the project, and that the Left Front government in Tripura has not placed no obstacles either.
Yet the concerns persist. “Though these cases from the left-leaning and right-leaning individuals have not affected UIDAI’s enrolment, which stands about 51 crore, there is a fear of the judicial sword killing the entire initiative in one go the way 122 telecom licenses were scrapped with a single stroke of the Supreme Court’s pen,” said a UIDAI functionary.
“These small groups of activists can bring this entire project to a halt after welfare programmes have leveraged this project for better service delivery,” said another. The functionary pointed out how direct cash subsidy for 12.2 million gas cylinders is now directly credited to the bank accounts of beneficiaries thanks to Aadhaar.