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HindustanTimes Sat,30 Aug 2014

SC says govt can't ask for data without legal backing

Satya Prakash, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, October 10, 2013
First Published: 00:07 IST(10/10/2013) | Last Updated: 09:51 IST(10/10/2013)

Hit hard by the Supreme Court and confusion, the plan to turn you into a number on government computers has come a cropper — at least for now.

It began with much fanfare. On September 29, 2010, after giving an Aadhaar number to Rajana Sonawane of Tembhli village in Nandurbar in Maharashtra, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said it was “a beginning of a big effort for the welfare of the common man”.

Why? “The poor did not have any identity proof ... they could not open bank accounts or get ration cards. They could not avail the benefits of government welfare programmes... and many times, these benefits were pocketed by others.”

But three years later, the UPA’s supposedly “game-changer” scheme to deliver benefits directly to the poor — ahead of the 2014 elections — has been stopped in its tracks by the Supreme Court.

On a petition filed by a former Karnataka high court judge, the top court said on September 23 that no one could be denied welfare scheme benefits for not having an Aadhaar number.

Its argument: If Aadhaar is voluntary, why make its possession mandatory for availing benefits? Plus, the government needs to arm itself with a law to ask for intrusive data from the applicants. Meanwhile, some states went ahead and made Aadhaar numbers mandatory.

Some made it a must to get even marriages registered. In Delhi, several welfare entitlements are linked to it. In Maharashtra and Jharkhand, Aadhaar numbers are necessary for availing of pension, scholarships and property registration. Maharashtra even went to the extent of making salary payments to the teaching and non-teaching staff Aadhaar-linked.

As the order came as a blow to the government’s plan to capitalise on Aadhaar-linked welfare schemes and direct benefit transfer in an election year, it rushed to the top court with a plea for the permission to roll out DBT on subsidised LPG cylinders. But the court refused to oblige.

What’s more, former National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy questioned the scheme before the Supreme Court, saying private contractors and NGOs — hired by Unique Identification Authority of India — collected biometric details, but there was no safeguard against their misuse.

The Cabinet on Tuesday cleared the National Identification Authority of India Bill, which will give legal backing to the UIDAI and can potentially answer the questions posed by the top court.

But even if the bill is passed, the legal battle cannot be said to be over. For, those opposed to Aadhaar will, in all probability, challenge the new law on the grounds of violation of privacy, claiming the data collected by UIDAI is intrusive in nature.

The battle looks to be a long one.

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