If the Supreme Court could change its mind on Section 377, it will on Aadhaar too
The compulsory imposition of Aadhaar in welfare programmes has, contrary to popular belief, damaged the implementation of welfare.Updated: Sep 27, 2018 08:22 IST
Much can be said about the Aadhaar judgment delivered on September 26, 2018. The Aadhaar verdict is disappointing, but I am not dejected or defeated by it.
I am disappointed because apart from striking down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, the majority opinion provides little relief to the poor from Aadhaar (under Section 7), in terms of accessing essential entitlements. On this, it is disappointing that the judges who have signed the majority opinion have believed the government’s false assurances that nobody will be denied their entitlements due to Aadhaar. We know that the governments have been violating the Supreme Court’s orders since 2013, and in its present form, exclusion is built into the Aadhaar ecosystem.
Out of 42 hunger deaths since 2017, at least 25 have been due to Aadhaar. Today is the eve of the death anniversary of 11-year old Santoshi, whose family’s ration card was cancelled by the Jharkhand state government in a mass cancellation drive because they tried, but failed, to link their Aadhaar numbers with their ration card. It is especially sad that an opportunity to make amends of sorts for these tragic losses by striking down Section 7 has been lost for the moment.
The compulsory imposition of Aadhaar in welfare programmes has, contrary to popular belief, damaged the implementation of welfare. In the case of the Public Distribution System (PDS), for instance, without bringing any significant protection against corruption, Aadhaar-based Biometric Authentication (ABBA) has meant that people are denied their rations if the server is down or biometrics do no match.
Many people still believe that Aadhaar can help welfare either by including them, or weeding out duplicates or ghosts in the welfare system. This belief is misplaced. The possession of Aadhaar alone entitles a person to nothing, so the question of inclusion does not arise. The little data that is available suggests that duplication was a small problem – in Odisha, 0.3% duplicates were detected according to state government data; a survey in Jharkhand suggested that there were 1.3% duplicates and ghosts. Here again, justice DY Chandrachud’s dissenting opinion gives us hope that others will also be convinced of these problems. As far as welfare programmes are concerned, Aadhaar does not bring much to the table as far as earlier forms of corruption are concerned, but has given rise to news forms of corruption which did not exist before. The recent scam in the PDS in Uttar Pradesh provides a glimpse of that.
Looking ahead, there are two important lessons for the struggle against Aadhaar from the recent victory in the Supreme Court against Section 377. In 2013, the Supreme Court overruled a Delhi high court judgment which struck down section 377. In 2018, when the review petition was being heard, it was apparent from the comments of the judges that the thinking had changed and the verdict earlier in September confirmed that. Not only did the judges strike down section 377, Justice Indu Malhotra even tendered an apology to the people for the delay in delivering justice.
Another important lesson in the battle against Section 377 is that victory was won by people without any political party support. (In fact, even after the Section 377 verdict came out, most political parties continued to shy away from welcoming it.) Similarly, the battle against Aadhaar has largely been of ordinary people resisting it and the consolidation of corporate and state power that it entails. The Congress party, which brought the Aadhaar project, remains unrepentant. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the words of Justice Chandrachud, has committed “a fraud” on the Constitution by using the Money Bill route to pass the Act.
Between 2010 and 2018, however, we have already come a long way. The debate around Aadhaar today is very different from where it was in the early years where any dissenting voice were trivialised as “elitist”.
Today, many more people understand the danger that a project like Aadhaar poses to the right to privacy, and the importance of the right to privacy in a democracy. If the Supreme Court could change its mind in the case of Section 377, why not in the Aadhaar matter?