‘Symbol of digital economy’: Supreme Court rules Aadhaar is valid, with riders
Aadhaar is constitutionally fair and gives “dignity to the marginalised”, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in its verdict, allowing the government to mandate the unique identity number to access subsidies and welfare schemes.
But the court ordered that the government could not make the Aadhaar number a condition for operating bank accounts, mobile phones and school or college admissions. The provision, which allowed private companies to use Aadhaar to establish the identity of residents, has also been scrapped by the top court. It also cancelled the clause that permitted a joint secretary-rank official to authorise security agencies to get Aadhaar-related information.
Also, the Unique Identification Authority of India, or UIDAI that runs the identity programme, has been ordered to give children enrolled under scheme would be entitled to opt out provision when they turn 18.
Watch: How the SC’s Aadhaar verdict impact the common man
“There is a legitimate goal and requirement to have the Aadhaar law”, the five judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said in its verdict that okayed the Aadhaar law by a 4:1 majority. Justice DY Chandrachud, who delivered a dissenting judgment, called the Aadhaar law, passed as a money bill in parliament, “a fraud on the Constitution”.
The government and the opposition welcomed the Supreme Court verdict.
“It is a historic order’... Aadhaar’s concept has been accepted after judicial review,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
The Congress called it a slap on the government’s face. Party spokesperson Kapil Sibal said the top court appreciated its “brilliant idea in origin” and protected its core and “eliminated its flotsam & jetsam”.
The top court’s bench comprising the court’s senior-most judges, had in marathon hearings spread across four months, dealt with the nearly a dozen petitions, the Aadhaar Act and the Centre’s defence of the controversial law.
“It’s better to be unique than be best--it’s the central message of Aadhaar,” said Justice Arjan Kumar Sikri of the bench which observed the identity project had strict regulations to collect citizens’ biometric data and has a sufficient defence mechanism, said the court.
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.
The government has rejected criticism of Aadhaar, the 12-digit number, saying it ensures misuses of social welfare benefits and counters black money and money laundering.
The Supreme Court in August 2017 ruled individual privacy is a “guaranteed fundamental right” in the Constitution, giving hope to critics who contend that Aadhaar helps government spy on people by “tethering every resident of India to an electronic leash.”
The Supreme Court in March 2018 expressed concern over the potential misuse of Aadhaar authentication data, commenting after a four-hour PowerPoint presentation by the UIDAI chairman.