By Elton Gomes
The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, but it also set some conditions for its use. Announcing its verdict, the apex court said for the exclusion of a “minimal” three per cent, 97% of the population cannot be denied the benefits of Aadhaar.
A five-judge constitutional bench ruled that Aadhaar does not violate the right to privacy. The bench cleared the use of Aadhaar for access to welfare schemes, but struck down attempts to make Aadhaar linking mandatory for bank accounts and mobile phone connections.
What did the Supreme Court say?
The bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra held that Aadhaar will be voluntary, and it will now have an exit option. “Minimal demographic and biometric data of citizens are collected by UIDAI for Aadhaar enrolment. We are of the view that there are sufficient safeguard to protect data collected under Aadhaar scheme,” the bench said, NDTV reported.
The court also said that Aadhaar is not compulsory for gaining admission in any school. “No child shall be denied benefits for the want of Aadhaar,” the judges said. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and University Grants Commission (UGC) cannot make Aadhaar mandatory, as per the NDTV report.
The verdict held that no person will be denied government benefits due to the failure of authentication through Aadhaar cards. The court directed the government to not give Aadhaar to illegal immigrants.
“As of today, we do not find anything in Aadhaar Act which violates right to privacy of individual citizen,” the court said in its verdict on 27 petitions that had challenged the merits of Aadhaar. The top court added that the Aadhaar system is serving a much bigger public interest, NDTV reported.
Section 57 struck down
While reading the judgment, Justice A.K. Sikri struck down Section 57. Section 57 allowed the State as well as any “body corporate or person” or private entity to demand Aadhaar details of citizens. This provision allows statutory support to mobile companies, private service providers, banks, and payments services to seek an individual’s Aadhaar card for identification.
As Section 57 has been struck down, these entities cannot ask for citizens’ biometric data. This also means that citizens will no longer need to link Aadhaar cards with bank accounts or mobile numbers. Additionally, the Supreme Court asserted that no mobile company can demand Aadhaar card, Business Today reported.
Dissenting Justice Chandrachud rules Aadhaar completely unconstitutional
Aadhaar’s constitutional validity was upheld in a 4:1 verdict, with Justice D.Y. Chandrachud providing opposing views. Aadhaar Act could not have been passed as a Money Bill as doing so constitutes a fraud on the Indian constitution and is liable to be struck down, Justice Chandrachud said, PTI reported.
Justice Chandrachud, who was part of the five-judge SC bench, wrote a separate judgement stating that his views of the verdict differed from those pronounced by Justice A.K. Sikri.
Justice Chandrachud ruled that bypassing the Rajya Sabha to pass the Aadhaar Act as a money bill amounted to subterfuge, and the Act was liable to be struck down for violating Article 110 of the constitution. Article 110 has specific grounds for a Money Bill, and the Aadhaar law surpassed this, Justice Chandrachud said, adding that in the current form, the Aadhaar Act cannot be held constitutional.
How does the verdict impact you?
The verdict comes after the Supreme Court heard 27 petitions challenging Aadhaar’s validity. Here’s what the verdict means for citizens. As per the verdict, Aadhaar is not compulsory for the opening of bank accounts. It is not mandatory for obtaining new mobile connections either – this means that mobile phone connections do not need to be linked to users’ Aadhaar.
The verdict allows linking of Aadhaar with PAN. This means that linking your Aadhaar card to your PAN card will be compulsory in order to file income tax returns.
Citizens will have to produce an Aadhaar card to avail most of the Modi government’s welfare and subsidy schemes.
What does the verdict mean?
The Supreme Court’s verdict has made it clear that Aadhaar is here to stay. While announcing the verdict, Justice Sikri said that the Aadhaar number, which is given to a particular individual, is treated as unique and it cannot be assigned to any other person.
Justice Sikri added that the petitioners’ challenge is based on the argument that Aadhaar is a great risk to the liberties of Indians citizens and has the potential to enable surveillance from the state machinery. However, the top court allayed such concerns, saying that data collection by Aadhaar is minimal and that such an act serves a much larger public interest.
Justice Sikri said that Aadhaar is about giving dignity to marginalised sections of the society – which is why the interests are considered more significant than the concerns.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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