Supreme Court order on Aadhaar lays good governance road map, says Ravi Shankar Prasad
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.Updated: Sep 26, 2018 23:24 IST
The government will consider whether linking Aadhaar with bank accounts and mobile numbers needs legal backing through a legislation, after the Supreme Court ruled out such linkages. In an interview, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister of electronics and IT, and the government’s key driver of the Aadhaar project, said there is a view in the government that “this must be revisited”. Prasad spoke to HT’s Kumar Uttam. Edited excerpts:
What is your first reaction to the SC order?
It is deeply satisfying. It is a watershed moment in the polity of India. And it is historic judgment which blends three issues in an extraordinary legal context — the right of the poor man to have his entitlement which empowers him and strengthens his voice; the dignity of the poor with a balance for privacy; and the two being in sync with good governance. This verdict, while upholding the validity of the Aadhaar law, lays the road map for good governance and strengthens nuances of India’s constitutional and administrative law.
Do you think in your quest to expand Aadhaar, the government over-reached and breached some redlines?
First of all, you must understand what it upholds. One, it says the voice of the poor is important and must be strengthened. Two, it says that this law is constitutionally valid. Third, it says it does not lead to any kind of snooping and surveillance. Fourth, it promotes good and accountable governance. Fifth, it strengthens public service delivery. Aadhaar, remember, has helped save us Rs 90,000 crore along with Jan Dhan. 122 crore Indians have Aadhaar. And finally, by upholding the linking of Aadhaar with PAN cards and Income Tax records, it has also given a signal for a clean, transparent economic management and administration.
I do acknowledge the point you are making that in case of mobile connectivity, banking connectivity, there is a view that it must be revisited, and whether it needs to be enforced with a legal architecture. All these are matters of examination and we will examine it thoroughly, at inter-ministerial levels also and come with a response.
There is a debate on privacy and national security. The court has also said national security cannot be invoked as a ground...
That may not be the right way to look at it. We have to read the whole judgment. It is 1,500 pages and I am also looking at it. In the nine-bench privacy judgment, the SC has said that privacy cannot be the shield of the corrupt and the terrorist. That is a nine-bench decision. Here the law was that biometric is sacrosanct, and even the police cannot take it for investigation.
But in case of national security, if a joint-secretary level officer recommends, and this is affirmed by the IT secretary, law secretary and cabinet secretary, it can be released for a limited period of three months. Now whether we have to go only by the secretary-level route or something higher is a matter of consideration. Our view is very clear. National security is equally paramount.
If the legal architecture needs some reinforcement, we need to do that. Remember in the constitution, under the Fundamental Rights chapter, 19(2), sovereignty, integrity and security of India are important considerations whereby even freedom of expression can be regulated. This is how we see it…The Honorable SC is equally aware of the security and sovereignty of the country. If a more healthy architecture is required for a blend between national security and the rights of the individual, we will surely look into it.
There are dense linkages between Aadhaar and welfare services. How are you going to deal with the issue of exclusion?
Even before the judgment, when I heard or read reports that poor people are deprived of benefits, I had said that no poor person will be deprived of ration or food because of lack of Aadhaar. You deliver by alternative means but ask them to come on Aadhaar. When I read that some private hospitals in Haryana were denying services, I took a serious view and said no service can be denied. As far as the issue of school exams, NEET exams, admissions etc., these are matters where we need to work across ministries.
So we will work with telecommunication ministry in case of mobile linkages, finance ministry in case of banking linkages. Then there are implications of Section 57, with regard to private sector. They have said that by contract, two parties cannot seek identity. We have to improve that. If a private service needs to be backed by law, it is a matter of examination.
SC has also expressed concern about data-sharing.
In the present legal architecture, if a private company holds data for any specific purpose, and uses it for any other purpose, those responsible for it can suffer imprisonment for three years and will have to pay a ?10 lakh fine. You may have heard that in the case of Airtel, they had to pay Rs 3 crore as fine.
What happens to the data already shared?
Obviously, the data will have to be removed. But that is a matter of detail. Telecom ministry will have to work with telecom companies; finance with banks. Those areas deemed to be prohibited areas in the current architecture needs elaborate consideration in the light of extensive study of the judgment and follow up steps will be taken. It will be a synchronised effort.
Will you go back to Parliament to make required changes in the Act?
Obviously. But that is again after collective consideration. We have to keep in mind the mandate of the law, the judgment of the SC, and convenience of the poor people to get their entitlement.
Will you respond to Justice Chandrachud’s comment that passing it as a money bill was a fraud on the Constitution?
It is a role of a judge to differ and say anything. But as a student of law, not as a law minister, I can say such harsh words were avoidable.
First Published: Sep 26, 2018 23:24 IST