The Supreme Court Wednesday declared the Aadhaar Act, 2016, constitutionally valid. The five-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra ruled that the Aadhaar programme served the “larger public interest” in ensuring that the poor have access to resources. It found that the programme eliminated any chance of duplication and that enrolment was foolproof. Justice A K Sikri authored his judgment in favour of Aadhaar, which was concurred by the CJI and Justice Khanwilkar. Justice Bhushan favoured the Aadhaar Act as well. Justice Chandrachud dissented and found it unconstitutional.
In a 4:1 verdict, the Supreme Court found that the Aadhaar Act, 2016, was constitutionally valid. However, the court struck down some Sections of the Act, including Section 33(2), 47 and 57. It read down Section 33(1).
What do we need Aadhaar for?
Aadhaar is mandatory to avail benefits of welfare schemes, to file Income Tax returns and it is mandatory to link Aadhaar with PAN cards.
Is it not mandatory to provide Aadhaar details to open bank accounts, get SIM cards, or for services from private companies. Aadhaar is also not necessary for school admissions or NEET, UGC and CBSE examinations.
Full list: Where Aadhaar is mandatory, where it is now
Who delivered the Aadhaar verdict?
A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, delivered the verdict. The bench also comprised Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan. Justices Sikri delivered the majority verdict, which was concurred by CJI and Justice Khanwilkar, finding the Aadhaar Act constitutionally valid. Justice Bhushan was in favour of Aadhaar as well. Justice Chandrachud dissented, and found it unconstitutional.
Justice Chandrachud, in his judgment, said the Aadhaar Act was liable to be struck down as it violated Article 110. “Rajya Sabha should not have been bypassed,” he said, referring to the government passing the Aadhaar bill as a Money Bill in the Lok Sabha, where it has an absolute majority.
What was the contention against Aadhaar before the Supreme Court?
The Supreme Court, in a marathon 38-day hearing earlier this year, heard a clutch of petitions against the Aadhaar programme. The main questions raised during the hearing on Aadhaar were:
* Is the Aadhaar Act, 2016, constitutionally valid given that it was passed in Parliament as a Money Bill?
* Why does every citizen need one identity proof — a unique identification number — to acquire government benefits? Can’t this be done using other documents, like ration card or passport?
* Does Aadhaar take away our right to privacy — upheld as a fundamental right by a nine-judge Constitution bench of the court in August last year
* What happens if Aadhaar data becomes a tool for mass surveillance by the state, as the movement and activities of users can be tracked by collecting metadata?
What did the government argue in favour of Aadhaar?
During the hearing, the government argued that Aadhaar would help weed out ghost beneficiaries of welfare schemes. In court, Attorney General K K Venugopal had said it was a serious effort to end corruption and not a “fly-by-night effort to get some brownie points”. He further said, “… the state is using Aadhaar as an enabler of various facets of the right to life of teeming millions of Indian residents including their right to food, the right to livelihood, the right to receive pensions and other social assistance benefits like scholarships etc. by the genuine beneficiaries.”
When and how was Aadhaar conceived?
The Aadhaar framework was first built by the UPA II government in 2009-10. Based on a report of the Kargil Review Committee, a Group of Ministers had recommended a multipurpose National Identity Card. In 2010, the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, was introduced. The Bill, however, was passed only in 2016, under the present BJP-led government. Since the passage of the Bill, several petitions have been filed challenging the validity of the Aadhaar Act, 2016.
On January 17,2018, a five-judge Bench began hearing the Aadhaar case. It reserved its verdict on May 10, 2018.
The Supreme Court’s Right to Privacy verdict
On August 24, 2017, a nine-judge Bench ruled that the right to privacy is a fundamental right, a shot in the arm for the petitioners. However, the court had also ruled that “besides national security, the State may have justifiable reasons for the collection and storage of data. In a social welfare state, the government embarks upon programmes which provide benefits to impoverished and marginalised sections of society. There is a vital State interest in ensuring that scarce public resources are not dissipated by the diversion of resources to persons who do not qualify as recipients.”
Justice B N Srikrishna report
The Justice B N Srikrishna panel was appointed to recommend a data protection framework to the government. It submitted its recommendations in July this year. The Srikrishna data protection report highlighted individuals’ constitutional rights over their data and said efforts need to be made to protect data at any cost. It recommended steps for protection of personal information, defining obligations of data processors as also rights of individuals, and mooting penalties for violation.
Former Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Chairman Nandan Nilekani has spoken in support of Aadhaar on many occassions, calling it an “example of using modern technology to leapfrog” and a programme that has saved the government crores of rupees in fraud and wastage.