Stating that the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, was constitutionally valid, the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down some of its provisions by a 4:1 majority. The apex court said a person’s rights could not be denied on the ground of lack of the unique ID.
While the majority judgment, written by Justice AK Sikri in concurrence with CJI Dipak Misra and Justice AM Khanwilkar, upheld seeding of PAN with Aadhaar, it set aside linking Aadhaar to bank accounts and mobile phone numbers. In his concurring decision, Justice Bhushan said the Central government had given sufficient reasons to uphold Section 7 of Aadhaar Act, which deals with grant of subsidies and welfare benefits.
However, in a dissenting judgment, Justice Chandrachud said the Aadhaar Act was liable to be struck down as being violative of 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. He also asked telecom operators to delete all data they had collected from users.
Ruling that Aadhaar was not compulsory for school admissions, the SC said no child could be denied benefits of any scheme for not having Aadhaar number. “CBSE, NEET, UGC cannot make Aadhaar mandatory, also it is not compulsory for school admissions,” Justice AK Sikri, who is part of the five-judge bench that heard a clutch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar Act, said.
Stating that Aadhaar empowers the marginalised sections of society and gave them an identity, the SC asked the Central government to introduce a robust data protection law as soon as possible. Justice A K Sikri, who is part of the five-judge bench ruling on the validity of the Aadhaar Act and who wrote the majority judgment, also struck down Section 57 of Aadhaar Act, which permits private entities to avail of Aadhaar data. He also said Aadhaar authentication data cannot be stored for more than six months.
“Minimal demographic and biometric data of citizens are collected by the UIDAI for Aadhaar enrolment. Aadhaar number given to a person is unique and can’t go to any other person. Aadhaar identification is unparalleled,” Justice Sikri said. Justice DY Chandrachud said allowing private players to use Aadhaar would lead to profiling, which could be used in ascertaining political views etc of citizens
The bench, also comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan, had on May 10 reserved its judgment on a string of writ petitions, pending since 2012, challenging the constitutionality of the Aadhaar Act, bringing to a conclusion which, in the words of Attorney General KK Venugopal, was the second-longest hearing in the history of the apex court. The case was heard for 38 days.
The first petition was filed by former High Court Judge Justice K S Puttaswamy in 2012. He had argued that Aadhaar violated the right to privacy and had no legislative backing.
The brainchild of the UPA government, the Aadhaar Bill was passed by the Narendra Modi government in 2016, with the mode of the passage of the Bill itself raking up controversy. The government termed the Aadhaar Act, 2016, a Money Bill and passed it in Lok Sabha. However, former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh challenged the manner used for the passage of the Aaadhar Act and the case was clubbed with the petitions.
In his judgment, Justice Chandrachud differed with Justice Sikri, saying the Aadhaar bill should not have been passed as a Money Bill. “Passing of bill as Money bill when it does not qualify as a Money bill is a fraud on Constitution and violates its basic structure,” Chandrachud said. He also said the decision of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha to treat a bill as Money Bill could be subject to judicial review.
The main thrust of the case brought by petitioners was that Aadhaar encroached on the privacy of citizens because it entailed collection of fingerprints, iris scans and other details of citizens with/without their consent. Last year, the Supreme Court had ruled that the right to privacy was an “intrinsic part of life and personal liberty”, guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.
During the hearing, which spread over four months, the Centre defended its decision to link Aadhaar to social welfare schemes, saying this had ensured that subsidies went to the right people. It also touched upon the national security angle, saying it had a vital role to play in curbing terror and preventing money laundering and crime financing.
#AadhaarVerdict — key points
Welfare schemes ✔️
I-T returns ✔️
Linking to PAN card ✔️
Banks accounts ✖️
SIM cards ✖️
Private companies ✖️
School admissions ✖️
NEET, UGC, CBSE ✖️https://t.co/Z2cZMEauxz
Though it was initially linked to social welfare schemes, the unique identity was later tied to bank accounts, financial and property transactions, the filing of IT returns, and even mobile services. However, in March, in an interim order, the apex court had said that the mandatory linking of bank accounts and mobile phones would stand extended “indefinitely” till judgment on the petitions pending before it was pronounced.
Aadhaar is presently the world’s largest biometric and identity database with 122.56 crore numbers issued to Indian citizens. These have been used for 2,322 crore authentications.