Economics · Governance · Law · Politics · Public Policy

The Aadhaar Convulse

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is an attribute to the Planning commission of India, established in January 2009 the authority issues a Unique Identification number “Aadhaar” to Indians who desire to have it. Aadhaar has recently been planned to be made compulsory through indirect inducement. The Supreme Court of India though has rejected the center’s plea to modify an interim ruling that the Aadhaar or the Unique Identification Card is not mandatory for essential services in its present form, lacks legal authority, and until October 2014 both the UIDAI and the Aadhaar projects was working without a parliamentary approval. Some civil liberties experts have suggested that Aadhaar project must be put on hold until concerns about its constitutional shortcomings and illegalities have been resolved.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is an intervention of the government of India and is in authority to issue Aadhaar.  The UIDAI was formed on January 2009 under the Planning Commission by an executive order. The authority provides a unique identification number to the citizens of India without identity cards. The authority maintains database of residents which contains biometric and other data. The Central Government has been unable to secure statutory approval for the authority after the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 was rejected by the Parliamentary Standing Committee as “unethical and violative of Parliament prerogatives. Newly elected Government under prime minister Narendra Modi in union budget has allocated INR 2039.64 crore for the fiscal year 2014-15 for the functioning of UIDAI and to enroll remaining population, and has set a target of 100 crore enrollment at the ‘earliest’. INR 3,500 crore has been already spent from 2009 to 2013 for expenditures of infrastructure of land, building, and machinery.

SUPREME COURT’S ORDER AND THE CONTROVERSY

The Highest court of the land pulled out the foundations from under the United Progressive Alliance government’s flagship Aadhaar scheme, directing the Centre to immediately withdraw instructions that make the cards mandatory for availing government schemes or subsidies. The court directed the UIDAI not to share the biometrics with anyone without the permission of the cardholders.

I received a lot of letters which say Aadhaar card is mandatory despite court orders. One person in a letter said his marriage is not registered because of the lack of Aadhaar card, (others) say they can’t get their properties registered. We had already passed orders saying no one should suffer for not having Aadhaar card,” “If there are any instructions that Aadhaar is mandatory, it should be withdrawn immediately,” bench headed by Justice B.S. Chauhan said.

The center has strongly defended the card and said the card was essential for good governance, transparent implementation of government programmes and ensuring that benefits reach only eligible persons. The center pointed out to the court that it had enrolled 53 crore citizens till September 2013 and spent INR 3.494 crore, and had to ensure that the huge amount invested doesn’t go in vain.

In an interim order issued in September 2013, the apex court had said the Aadhaar card could not be mandatory for availing of government services and that nobody should be deprived of such facilities for want of the card. The UIDAI strongly backing the card’s mandatory nature claimed that PSU oil companies had identified 45,000 duplicate connections on the basis of Aadhaar numbers and blocking these would save the exchequer INR 23 crore annually. It said the court’s interim order had “very serious implication” for implementing various welfare schemes. Though it insisted that the card should be made a must for subsidies, UIDAI described the allegations of rampant denial of services as completely baseless.

Ironically, this order did not come in the hearing of PILs challenging the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar cards, but in a related case of goa bench which the UIDAI had challenged, the Bombay High Court directing the sharing of data collected for issuing Aadhaar card with CBI for solving a rape case. The bench said that the biometric or any bother personal data must not be shared unless the accused gives consent in writing. The CBI had sought the database, including biometrics of persons from Goa, so that the information could be compared with that obtained from the crime scene for investigating the rape of a minor girl at a school in Vasco. The UIDAI said that this would set a bad precedent and open the penstocks of for like requests from the investigation agencies and the police for information. Including the biometric data for the purposes of investigations.

The right to privacy is one of the basic rights of an individual and UIDAI is committed to protect this aspect, it said. Staying the high court order, the bench tagged the case with PILs filed by retired Karnataka High Court judge K. Puttaswamy and social activist Aruna Roy against making the cards mandatory for accessing government schemes and subsidies. They also argued that the manner in which information is extracted violates and transgresses individual rights of citizens, including that to privacy.

OPINION

The fundamental aspect of Aadhaar is to provide identification to citizens of India without any identity cards. Linking Aadhaar with other services though seems less of a hassle for the common people however its packs danger to personal security and liberty. Further making the Aadhaar mandatory means every citizen would have to enroll themselves, with a slow and hectic procedure it makes people with no need of Aadhaar a compulsion against their personal will. The idea of providing services through Aadhaar to citizens without any other identity card seems meaningful for them. But connecting Aadhaar cards with services like passport and LPG cylinders simply creates extra loopholes to be used by corrupt administrators. Biometrics and personal data endangers the common man and makes the object of services that is to provide public welfare working against the public.

About the Author

Derick HaokipDerick Haokip is currently pursuing his II year in B.A. LLB.(Hons.) from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law Punjab, Patiala. He has travelled across the country and changed numerous schools and hopes to travel the world after he completes his studies. He enjoys writing on legal matters and various themes of contemporary concern. He also has a creative artistic trait in him. He has interned with various NGOs and advocates and is currently interning with Model Governance Foundation.

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