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Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

Law should back future directives on Aadhaar linking, says UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey

UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey said the Supreme Court has accepted that there is a legitimate state aim in Aadhaar and it ensures dignity and empowers marginalised sections of the society.

india Updated: Sep 26, 2018 23:00 IST
Moushumi Das Gupta
Moushumi Das Gupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandeysaid that till March 2018, Aadhaar has helped save the government Rs 90,000 crore.
UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandeysaid that till March 2018, Aadhaar has helped save the government Rs 90,000 crore. (HT Photo)

Six years after a clutch of petitions challenged the use of Aadhaar, the 12-digit biometric based unique identity number, the Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld its constitutional validity. In an interview to Hindustan Times, Ajay Bhushan Pandey, CEO, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), talks about the road ahead for Aadhaar. Excerpts from the interview.

Has your stand been vindicated today?

The majority verdict of the Supreme Court is a historic judgement. It will set the pace of digital destiny of our country. The court has accepted that there is a legitimate state aim in Aadhaar. It ensures dignity and empowers marginalized sections of the society. It has also held that the Aadhaar Act needs the concept of limited government, good governance and constitutional trust.

The mandatory linkage of Aadhaar with PAN card and Income Tax returns will ensure proper tax compliance, curb black money, tax evasions, and money laundering. It will also go a long way in plugging the leakage which was happening in welfare schemes through which marginalized sections were being deprived of their rights. Till March 2018, Aadhaar has helped save the government Rs 90,000 crore by weeding out ghost beneficiaries.

While upholding the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, the Supreme Court has expressed concern over issues related to data security and privacy. Is the concern justified?

The judgement clearly says that the Aadhar Act does not lead to a surveillance state. It has further said that the Act leads to constitutional trust. Having said that the court has also mandated certain safeguards such as restriction on the time period for which the authentication log has to be maintained — up to six months only, which was earlier five years. This will be done. The court has restricted the mandatory usage of Aadhaar by private companies. These conditions and restrictions will go a long way in strengthening Aadhaar and instil more confidence in the people of India.

The Supreme Court has also said that the Centre should bring a strong data protection law at the earliest. How long will it take for the data protection law to kick in?

The Justice BN Srikrishna committee, in which I was a member, had in the draft personal data protection bill suggested certain amendments to the Aadhaar Act. The Supreme Court has also suggested that these recommendations should be taken forward. So, the government will definitely consider it... I have been given to understand that a public consultation process by the IT ministry is underway.

The SC today struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, which deals with sharing of data with private companies. But what happens to data that has already been shared?

That is a question we will have to look into after going into the details of the judgement... But whatever has been mandated by the Supreme Court will be implemented in the true spirit.

The sharing of data on the grounds of national security has also been struck down by the Supreme Court. What will be its implication?

Ever since the Aadhaar Act has been implemented, there has not been a single incident where this provision has been resorted to. The Supreme Court has suggested certain safeguards on this and those safeguards will be considered by the government and then the legislature at an appropriate stage.

The Supreme Court has called for a suitable amendment to Section 47 to allow an individual / victim to lodge complaint if his right has been violated under the Aadhaar Act. Presently, the Act provides for the cognizance of offence only on a complaint made by the UIDAI or any person authorized by it. How will this be addressed?

Even this part also has been addressed in detail by Justice Srikrishna committee, which had recommended that data fiduciary (which means any person, including the State, a company, any juristic entity or any individual who alone or in conjunction with others determines the purpose and means of processing of personal data) shall notify the Authority of any personal data breach relating to any personal data processed by the data fiduciary where such breach is likely to cause harm to any data principal.

Aadhaar link has been made mandatory for all welfare schemes and PAN card as of now. But after the Supreme Court order, can the government make Aadhaar mandatory for some other services that it wants?

The fundamental principle which is being followed is that the mandatory use of Aadhaar has to be backed by the law, subject to the test of proportionality. So, in future if for any service or activity the government thinks that it will require Aadhaar then there has to be a law sanctioning such mandatory use. The purpose of Aadhaar Act is to provide the identity and the use of identity for the delivery of services. There are certain acts like the Income Tax Act which require use of Aadhaar .

Civil society campaigners have been protesting against mandatory use of Aadhaar for availing welfare services. What happens to those who don’t have or got left out?

Answer is in Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, which says that the central or state government may require Aadhaar for confirming the identity of the person who is supposed to get the services from the Consolidated Fund of India. But it also says that in case somebody does not have an Aadhaar he will be asked to enrol and till the time he gets the number the benefits will be given to him through alternative means of identification.