The Centre on Thursday sought to allay fears of exclusion on account of Aadhaar, saying “there are sufficient provisions in the Aadhaar Act which recognise alternative modes of authentication”. Addressing a five-judge Constitution bench hearing a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Act, Additional Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said beneficiaries would be provided services using these alternative modes of authentication like voter card, ration card, etc.
“It is not that if there is no Aadhaar, there will be exclusion,” he added, countering the submissions of senior advocate Kapil Sibal who said the unique ID excluded people from services they are legitimately entitled to if the authentication process fails.
The government also said that 96 per cent of the population has been given the unique ID and it was citizen-friendly and empowered people. Also read: Fear of Aadhaar misuse not enough to scrap a law, says SC
Justice A K Sikri said people did not know if there were alternative methods of identification. “You have to take care of these issues,” he told the government counsel.
Mehta referred to a letter by the Cabinet Secretary to all departments and ministries in which it was directed that in the absence of Aadhaar, beneficiaries must be provided services on the basis of an alternative ID. The letter called upon authorities to facilitate Aadhaar enrolment by providing the service in post offices and at the taluk level and to make arrangements for senior citizens and the disabled.
The court said that the letter perceives there is a problem and new mechanism has to be put in place. The bench wanted to know what the preparedness was like.
Sibal contended that Aadhaar was different from the social security number used in western countries. The latter was only a number but Aadhaar is “identity plus”. He said: “No jurisdiction in the world has anything which is identity plus. The real intent of the Act is to extend it everywhere.”
The senior counsel also wondered “why all documents that are acceptable to the Authority (UIDAI) for Aadhaar enrolment are not acceptable for authentication.” He said: “Even my tax assessment order proves my identity,” and asked “under what provision of the Constitution is someone entitled to know when I open a bank account?”
Joining issue, Justice D Y Chandrachud said: “Constitutional identity can be multifaceted — based on religion, caste, gender, etc. Identity for the purposes of this Act is not spoken of in that manner.” He asked: “Does this identity infringe upon a person’s constitutional identity?”
Sibal answered in the affirmative and added: “You give me rights under Article 21 of the Constitution and under Aadhaar Act, you take it away.”