In a historic verdict, the Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the constitutional validity of ‘Aadhaar’ but limited its scope by striking down certain provisions which made it mandatory for bank accounts, mobile connections, school admissions etc.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra pronounced a 4 to 1 verdict, holding that there was nothing in the Aadhaar Act that violates the right to privacy of an individual.
It also cleared the use of Aadhaar for welfare schemes after a long-drawn legal battle against the government’s ambitious project and notably the world’s largest biometric ID database.
While the court held that Aadhaar would remain mandatory for the filing of Income Tax (IT) returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number (PAN), it struck down 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.
Ruling that Aadhaar authentication data cannot be stored for more than six months, the court also directed the government not to give Aadhaar to illegal immigrants.
While Justice D Y Chandrachud gave a dissenting judgement in which he ruled the Aadhaar Act should not have been passed as Money Bill as it amounts to a fraud on the Constitution, 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.
The court held it would not be mandatory to link Aadhaar to bank accounts and the telecom service providers cannot seek its linking for mobile connections.
It would also not be mandatory for school admissions or examinations conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Examination, National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medical entrance and the University Grants Commission, the court said.
Dealing with other issues, the court quashed section 33(2)of the Aadhaar act in the present form that allowed collection of data of an individual under the scheme on grounds of national security, saying an officer higher than the rank of a Joint Secretary should be given such a power.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley hailed the verdict as historic while Information Technology and Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said it “empowered democracy”.
“There are now 122 crore people in India who have Aadhaar cards and our estimation is that by identifying beneficiaries of government schemes and ensuring that there are no fake or duplicate or non-existent beneficiaries, we are already saving Rs 90,000 crore every year,” Jaitley said.
Former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said the judgement was “balanced”, whereas Congress leader Kapil Sibal, while welcoming the verdict, said that he will move court if amendments in the Aadhaar Act brought after this verdict are not brought in Rajya Sabha for discussion.
His opposition was based Justice Chandrachud’s judgement, which said that 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.
The verdict was pronounced on a bunch 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.
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 a violation of Right to Privacy, saying an individual revealed such data for other ID proofs.
Here’s a list of services for which biometric ID Aadhaar needs to be mandatorily linked, and the ones for which it is not required.
Services that require linking:
* It is mandatory to link PAN with Aadhaar.
* Aadhaar is compulsory for filing Income Tax returns.
* Aadhaar must for availing facilities of welfare schemes and government subsidies.
Services that don’t require linking:
* It is not mandatory to link bank account with Aadhaar.
* Telecom service providers cannot ask for linking mobile number with Aadhaar.
* CBSE, NEET, UGC cannot make Aadhaar mandatory.
* Aadhaar not compulsory for school admissions.
* No child can be denied benefits of any schemes on not being able to bring Aadhaar.
With agency inputsBack to latest news