Supreme Court reserves judgement on pleas challenging validity of Aadhaar
The judgement was reserved after a marathon hearing which went on for 38 days spanning four months.Updated: May 10, 2018 22:32 IST
Marathon hearings in the Aadhaar case, which went on for 38 days spread across four months, ended on Thursday with the Supreme Court reserving its verdict on petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the unique identification project.
A five-judge Constitution bench, comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, justice AK Sikri, justice AM Khanwilkar, justice DY Chandrachud, and justice Ashok Bhushan heard over 30 petitions against the Aadhaar Act and the Centre’s defence of the controversial law.
Besides the law itself, the petitions challenged government orders that made it compulsory for linking of bank accounts, mobile phone numbers, permanent account numbers and filing of income taxes to the Aadhaar unique ID number.
The main thrust of the case brought by petitioners was that Aadhaar encroached on the privacy of citizens because it enta-iled collection of fingerprints, iris scans and other details of citizens with/without their consent.
At the end of the hearings on Thursday, Attorney General KK Venugopal remarked it was the longest case in the SC’s history, behind only the Kesavanand Bharti case dating back to the 1970s, which was heard by a bench of 13 judges and dealt with powers of the executive to amend the Constitution.
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 personal details of citizens with/without their consent.
Shyam Diwan, appearing for petitioner Kalyani Menon, termed Aadhaar “an electronic leash” and argued the government could completely destroy an individual by “switching off” the 12-digit unique identification number. Kapil Sibal, appearing for the West Bengal government, called it the most important case to be decided by the SC since independence; the key issue is whether citizens can be deprived of their fundamentals rights including the right to make their own choices, he said.
Gopal Subramanium, appearing for SG Vombatkere, said that in the absence of a comprehensive data protection regime, data retention covering the entire population was a risky proposition and it must be undertaken with substantive and procedural reasonableness
Arvind Datar, appearing for Shanta Sinha, said the Act should not have been passed as a money bill; even if the Act is upheld, the unique ID can’t be used for purposes other than distribution of subsidies, he said. Aadhaar must be revisited in light of the Supreme Court judgment that the right to privacy is a fundamental right, Datar argued. A money bill can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha; the Rajya Sabha cannot make amendments to a money bill passed by the Lok Sabha and can only make recommendations that the lower house can choose to accept or reject. The ruling National Democratic Alliance has a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha, but is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, and presenting it as a money bill helped the government skirt resistance in the upper house
P Chidambaram, appearing for Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, said the Lok Sabha speaker’s decision to declare the Aadhaar bill a money bill attained finality only as far as parliamentarians were concerned; it does not prevent the Supreme Court from judicially reviewing the speaker’s wisdom, he argued.
Attorney general KK Venugopal made the case that the Aadhaar law complied with the tests laid down in the right to privacy judgment. It’s fair, just and a reasonable law with s adequate safeguards, is in pursuance of a larger public interest, including preventing dissipation of social welfare benefits, and for prevention of black money and money laundering. And these are all legitimate state interests, Venugopal said.
He stressed the need to balance two competing rights: the right to live a life of dignity which includes the right to food, employment and medical care and the right to privacy.
Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey made a power point presentation to the Aadhaar bench, claiming that data collected under Aadhaar was encrypted and even “the faster computer on earth will take more than the age of the universe” to break the encryption key.