The Supreme Court declared the Centre’s flagship Aadhaar scheme as constitutionally valid but ruled that the biometric identity card is not mandatory for bank accounts, mobile connections or school admissions. Asserting that the Aadhaar Act does not violate an individual’s right to privacy, a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra paved way for the use of Aadhaar for welfare schemes in a 4 to 1 ruling.
Where Aadhaar is not needed?
- Children cannot be denied any benefit due to not having Aadhaar. Hence, Aadhaar is not needed for school admissions.
- Compulsory linking of mobile phone numbers to Aadhaar.
- Aadhaar is not needed for opening a bank account and banking services.
- CBSE, NEET, UGC cannot make Aadhaar mandatory to appear in entrance examinations.
- No private entity can avail Aadhaar data which includes telecom companies and mobile wallets.
Where Aadhaar is mandatory?
- Linking of PAN with Aadhaar.
- Mandatory for the filing of IT returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number.
- Aadhaar must for availing facilities of welfare schemes and government subsidies.
Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act struck down:
- Section 57 was used by the government to compel private companies to demand Aadhaar verification for services.
- The Court accepted the argument that no rationale exists for this power and declared it invalid.
- Consequently, the Court has struck downlinking of Aadhaar with mobiles and bank accounts. It has further directed that the data collected shall be deleted within six months.
What was the contention against Aadhaar before the Supreme Court?
The main questions raised during the hearing on Aadhaar were:
- Is the Aadhaar Act, 2016, constitutionally valid given that it was passed in Parliament as a Money Bill?
- Why does every citizen need one identity proof — a unique identification number — to acquire government benefits? Can’t this be done using other documents, like ration card or passport?
- Does Aadhaar take away our right to privacy — upheld as a fundamental right by a nine-judge Constitution bench of the court in August last year.
- What happens if Aadhaar data becomes a tool for mass surveillance by the state, as the movement and activities of users can be tracked by collecting metadata?
What did the government argue in favor of Aadhaar?
- During the hearing, the government argued that Aadhaar would help weed out ghost beneficiaries of welfare schemes. The government argued that is using Aadhaar as an enabler of various facets of the right to life of teeming millions of Indian residents including their right to food, the right to livelihood, the right to receive pensions and other social assistance benefits like scholarships etc. by the genuine beneficiaries.”
On August 24, 2017, a nine-judge Bench ruled that the right to privacy is a fundamental right, a shot in the arm for the petitioners. However, the court had also ruled that “besides national security, the State may have justifiable reasons for the collection and storage of data. In a social welfare state, the government embarks upon programmes which provide benefits to impoverished and marginalized sections of society. There is a vital State interest in ensuring that scarce public resources are not dissipated by the diversion of resources to persons who do not qualify as recipients.”
Justice B N Srikrishna report:
The Justice B N Srikrishna panel was appointed to recommend a data protection framework to the government. It submitted its recommendations in July this year. The Srikrishna data protection report highlighted individuals’ constitutional rights over their data and said efforts need to be made to protect data at any cost. It recommended steps for protection of personal information, defining obligations of data processors as also rights of individuals, and mooting penalties for violation.
Stating that Aadhaar empowers the marginalized sections of society and gave them an identity, the SC asked the Central government to introduce a robust data protection law as soon as possible.
Aadhaar will undoubtedly be a game changer for the poor and the country as a whole. Every technology has some risks. A mature society must take measures to mitigate risks and not abandon the technology.