The Supreme Court Wednesday declared the Centre’s flagship Aadhaar scheme as constitutionally valid but ruled that the biometric identity card is not mandatory for bank accounts, mobile connections or school admissions. Asserting that the Aadhaar Act does not violate an individual’s right to privacy, a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra paved way for the use of Aadhaar for welfare schemes in a 4 to 1 ruling.
The apex court, however, maintained that Aadhaar would remain mandatory for the filing of Income Tax (IT) returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number (PAN). It quashed Section 57 of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 that permitted private entities like telecom companies or other corporates to avail of the biometric Aadhaar data.
Full Text | Supreme Court Aadhaar judgment
The top court also ruled that Aadhaar authentication data cannot be stored for more than six months and directed the government not to give Aadhaar to illegal immigrants.
The verdict was pronounced on a clutch of 31 petitions, including one by former High Court judge K S Puttaswamy after concluding on May 10 a marathon hearing that went on for 38 days, spanning four-and-half months. The Aadhaar case was the “second longest” one in terms of days of hearing after the historic Kesavananda Bharati case of 1973.
SC finds Aadhaar Act constitutional in 4-1 ruling
Out of five judges, Justice D Y Chandrachud delivered a dissenting judgment in which he ruled the Aadhaar Act should not have been passed as Money Bill as it amounts to a fraud on the Constitution and is liable to be struck down. Justice Chandrachud said it was now impossible to live in India without Aadhaar and it was violative of Article 14 and if it got seeded with every database, there was a chance of infringement of right to privacy.
However, the majority verdict by justices A K Sikri, Ashok Bhushan and A M Khanwilkar besides the CJI upheld the passage of the Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill by the Lok Sabha.
Observing that Aadhaar was meant to help the benefits reach the marginalised sections of society, it said the scheme takes into account the dignity of people not only from personal but from the community point of view as well and served the much bigger public interest. Aadhaar means unique and it is better to be unique than being best, it said.
“Aadhaar gives dignity to the marginalised. Dignity to the marginalised outweighs privacy,” Justice Sikri said while reading out the operative part of the 1,448-page judgement in the packed courtroom of the CJI. “One can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Reading out the operative part of the verdict, Justice Sikri said robust data protection regime has to be brought in place as early as possible, noting that the attack on Aadhaar by the petitioners was based on violation of rights under the Constitution, which they felt led to a surveillance state. Justice Bhushan agreed with the view that there was no need to link Aadhaar with mobile numbers and rejected the argument that revealing demographic information for Aadhaar amounted to violation of Right to Privacy, saying an individual revealed such data for other ID proofs.
Aadhaar neither creates surveillance state nor violates privacy: UIDAI
Welcoming the “historic, landmark” Supreme Court judgment, Aadhaar-issuing authority UIDAI stated the top court has upheld the validity of the biometric identity system that neither creates a surveillance state nor violate privacy. “It has been established by the judgement that Aadhaar is not for the state surveillance as profiling is not possible using the minimal data that Aadhaar has. There are sufficient safeguards to disallow any abuse,” UIDAI said.
“Aadhaar Act has withstood the judicial scrutiny and the purpose of the Act is legitimate,” it said. “Aadhaar as an idea is fully upheld that it does not create a surveillance state and does not violate privacy,” it said in a statement. “The verdict Aadhaar is a tool of empowerment of the marginalised sections of the society.”
Both BJP, Congress claim victory
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley hailed the verdict as historic while Information Technology and Law and Justice minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said it “empowered democracy”. Welcoming the verdict, Congress leader Kapil Sibal told reporters his party supports the views of Justice Chandrachud. Sibal said it will certainly move court if amendments in the Aadhaar Act brought after this verdict are not brought in Rajya Sabha for discussion
Describing Aadhaar as a tool of oppression and surveillance for the BJP, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had thanked the apex court for supporting the Congress vision and protecting India. Hitting back at Gandhi, BJP president Amit Shah mocked his Congress counterpart, saying “Yes, the Congress won today, just like they won Lok Sabha Polls in 2014”.
With PTI inputs