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Govt calls Aadhaar ruling historic, Congress too claims victory

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the legality of Aadhaar restricting it to disbursement of social benefits and junking its requirement for cell phones and bank accounts.

india Updated: Sep 26, 2018 23:51 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Aadhaar verdict,Aadhaar,Supreme Court
The Supreme Court, however, held Aadhaar would remain mandatory for filing of Income Tax returns and allotment of PAN.(HT Photo)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government and the principal Opposition party, the Congress, both have claimed victory over the Supreme Court’s verdict on Aadhaar on Wednesday.

The Centre hailed the verdict as “historic” and finance minister Arun Jaitley said the Congress had cut a sorry figure in opposing a concept it pioneered when in power. “The court has only disallowed Aadhaar in some cases where it is not backed by law,” the minister said, adding that prohibitions on the usage of Aadhaar laid down by the apex court were not perpetual in nature.

Jaitley said the Congres brought in the unique identity programme without any legislative backing when it was in power and without specifying what it was meant for. “ They introduced the idea and then did not know what to do with it.”

The Congress, on the other hand, called the judgment an endorsement of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s vision for Aadhaar. “For Congress, Aadhaar was an instrument of empowerment. For the BJP, Aadhaar is a tool of oppression and surveillance,” Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said. The party, however, warned it will challenge in court any attempt by the government to bring an amendment to the Aadhaar act through the money bill route, which requires assent only by the Lok Sabha.

The government claimed it saved about ?90,000 crore by eliminating fake and duplicate beneficiaries of welfare schemes. “In no field can we be a technology laggard... You have people seriously advocating this in the country,” Jaitley said. “The version they (the Congress) had drafted was – there shall be an Aadhaar card, this is a procedure (with) which it shall be issued; what it will be used for was unclear from the beginning,” he said.

The minister questioned the Congress’s criticism of technology-based governance, saying some people were advocating against unique identification and EVMs (electronic voting machines), and in favour of paper ballots and cash. “You can see the thread running through this thought process but everyone, including critics of Aadhaar, should realise that we cannot afford to defy or ignore technology,” he said.

The minister said the government was yet to go through the 1,448-page judgment in detail, but added that the judicial review gives it the ‘dos and don’ts’ about the law. “Some may be areas where you can’t go in and some may be areas where they say it has to be backed by law,” he said.

“Therefore, the prohibited areas do not assume are perpetually prohibited. They could be procedurally prohibited or they could be prohibited as such,” he said. Jaitley said it appeared the SC has barred usage Aadhaar by private entities in absence of a legislative backing. “Section 57 (of the Aadhaar act that has been struck down by the SC) says that there can be special enabling power to allow other entities or body corporate (to use Aadhaar). I can give you my information (about the judgment). That is not permissible unless it is backed up by law. That seems to be the spirit of the judgment,” he said.

Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the court held that the purpose of issuing Aadhaar is legitimate and no surveillance is possible. He said the court has also upheld that the Aadhaar Act, which mandated assigning unique identification number for Indian citizens, was a money bill. “This judgment is a judgment of empowering democracy, good governance, service delivery and also empowering the ordinary Indian,” Prasad said. BJP chief Amit Shah, too, hailed the verdict.

But the Congress countered that there was enough in the judgment to suggest that the Speaker’s decision on what constituted a money bill could be subject to judicial review. “We will approach a seven-judge bench to consider this verdict again if brought as a money bill. One important part of the judgment is that if in future the Lok Sabha Speaker declares a bill as money bill, then court can review this and revert,” Congress leader Kapil Sibal said.

Commenting on the claims and counter-claims of both parties, Neelanjan Sircar, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said: “I don’t think either party will benefit or lose from this judgment. This is not a key electoral issue which will swing support of large groups. Both parties can see Aadhaar has a degree of popularity. They want to claim credit while blaming the other. But in terms of the electoral dynamic, this issue does not alter the status quo.”

First Published: Sep 26, 2018 23:51 IST