At the end of a long-drawn battle, since 2013, some of the original petitioners react to the Supreme Court’s verdict delivered on Tuesday.
Maj Gen Sudhir Vombatkare (retd), Mysuru
In coming days, there will surely be a spate of arguments on the “correct” import of the 1,448-page verdict, with varying and possibly conflicting interpretations. Even when differences in opinion are resolved, it is possible even at this very preliminary stage to point out some of the issues concerning implementation of the intentions and directions of the judgment. This is because the judgment cannot possibly deal with the details of implementation, and in any case the Aadhaar system had infirmities, some of which were based on poor implementation, mis-implementation or non-implementation of its provisions.
In general, the issues of “opt out”, irretrievable deletion of data, security of databases, protection of privacy, and accountability of controlling agencies and officials are unclear. The threat to national security due to creation of UIDAI’s Aadhaar database (Central Identities Data Repository, or CIDR) by foreign biometric service providers (BSPs) appears to have been explained to the satisfaction of the five-judge bench by the assurance that even though the source code is with the foreign entity, the data in the server rooms is secure as the software operates automatically, the biometric data is stored offline, and there is no opportunity available to the BSP to extract data as it has no access to it.
For the present, the devil is in the details of implementation of the judgment, howsoever it is understood or interpreted by whomsoever.
With a clearly dissenting judgment by Justice Chandrachud, and a “in-broad-agreement-with-the-majority” judgment” by Justice Bhushan, the judgment has skilfully steered a course between (a) not condemning the violation of the Supreme Court’s interim order of 2015 that no person should be denied a benefit solely on the basis of not possessing Aadhaar, (b) the fait accompli presented by the government/UIDAI in using essentially coercive methods to ensure large-scale enrolment, and claiming high enrolment (nearly 95% of 1.3 billion population) as evidence of public acceptance of Aadhaar, and (c) accepting Aadhaar as Constitutional with conditions and exceptions.
Bezwada Wilson, Delhi, (Safai Karamchari Andolan)
The judgment is a disappointment. We were hoping that the spirit that pervaded the court with the privacy judgment will do so now too, but it does not. I do not understand this judgment. Justice must be meted out to those who have the least – the marginalised. I do not see that as the case here.
Regarding privacy and identity, why is so much information required to be collected about all? Individuals like scavengers, whom we petitioned on behalf of, or sex-workers – even if they escape their condition, they will be condemned to be remembered and details recorded at length forever. Why is this necessary? It is like a branding. I am asked, ‘why are you against Aadhaar’? But that is not the right question. The government must answer, ‘why do they want an Aadhaar’? Why not any identity card, why just this?
On subsidies, to make this (Aadhaar) compulsory is wrong. The government has no way to control (Vijay) Mallya, (Nirav) Modi and (Mehul) Choksi from running away (after defrauding banks) with a lot of money. But they (government) want to see and scrutinise how much food the poor are consuming. The government is allowing so many NPAs in banks, and has no solution to it, but small amounts of subsidies need to be made to look suspect, so (are) being tied in with Aadhaar.
Shanta Sinha, Hyderabad, child rights activist
My interest was in children, and their rights appear to have been secured – they don’t need it to secure entitlements, according to the judgment. But what affects adults in the family also impacts children eventually. How much can you insulate children from their parents’ situation and the burden on them? You need to rectify the system, and that cannot be done by putting the burden on the poor and punishing them.
The judgment says the system will work, but making this compulsory is mistrusting the poor…it (verdict) is nicely sensitive for the rich, but not the poor. Identity and dignity is OK but do just the rich have privacy? Actually the poor need it so much more.
Maj Gen S C N Jatar (retd), Pune, (Nagrik Chetna Manch, working on transparency and good governance)
We are happy at first glance that a lot of points we had raised got accepted, (that) private companies will not have access to Aadhaar and only government will. We work towards good governance and this will give a lot of relief to people. So I am generally happy.
But while attention has been paid to children not having proper biometrics, and they have been kept out of the (Aadhaar) ambit, I am worried about its impact on the elderly. They have issues with biometrics. Those who work with their hands in our country will still have difficulties. I am 86, so I have some sense of that. This is a big issue for the lower strata of our society. No attention has been paid to that. Manual labourers will be in trouble. What about their due?
I have yet to read Justice Chandrachud’s opinion. The majority judgment says identity will not be compromised, but what about those who do not have an identity?
Nikhil Dey, activist (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan)
The court upholding mandatory requirement of Aadhaar for benefits is deeply disappointing. We have been bringing to the (notice of the court) and other authorities repeatedly the very high levels of exclusion due to Aadhaar. This is leading to a violation of fundamental Right to Life under Article 21 of people who want (PDS) ration, pension, MGNREGA and many other basic entitlements.
The majority of the court strangely feels that only 0.27% people were excluded, whereas exclusion figures for Aadhaar, where the biometric is used mandatorily – in Rajasthan, for example – is almost 20%. So people are entitled to food under the National Food Security Act but are unable to draw their entitlements.
We welcome the court striking down Section 57 of the Act, which allowed private companies to hold data, but are worried about private sector providers who have access to data via PPPs or contracts with government.
Our fight for inclusion and accountability will continue. The court has said that no one will be excluded but all past experience with safeguards has shown that safeguards have failed miserably. We plan to make this a political issue — a law must be brought by Parliament.”
Col Mathew Thomas (retd), Bengaluru, (on his own behalf)
The good thing is that Sections 47 and 57 of the Act are gone. But with striking down of Section 47, thousands of FIRs will be filed. We are glad the Aadhaar ruling has come, as it allows us to expose the nonsense that is going on, as the government is trying to do something untenable. You cannot have bio-metrics for such a large population, and this is not my view but from the point of view of science. I will expose it.
We need to bring out several facts glossed over in this judgment, which we will do via a review petition. The majority judgment totally ignores the contraction that UIDAI has with service providers. These are all contractors to US intelligence agencies, and our entire data is being handed over to them for use in whichever way they want.
Justice Chandrachud mentions the contract but even he does not fully comprehend it. The government is lying to its people on this and this is a full breakdown of the law.