Aadhaar shall remain optional: Supreme Court

Bench agrees with Centre that freezing Aadhaar registration at this point will do no good

Updated - November 17, 2021 02:03 am IST

Published - August 11, 2015 02:56 pm IST - New Delhi

The Supreme Court referred to a Constitution Bench a batch of petitions seeking to declare the Aadhaar scheme as an intrusion into privacy.

The Supreme Court referred to a Constitution Bench a batch of petitions seeking to declare the Aadhaar scheme as an intrusion into privacy.

Leaving the decision to sign up for Aadhaar entirely to citizens, the Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered that “balance of interest” was better served if obtaining the unique identity number was made optional and not mandatory.

Hearing criticism that even newborn babies were made to register for Aadhaar, a three-judge Bench led by Justice J. Chelameswar, in an interim order, said Aadhaar was neither mandatory nor a condition for accessing benefits one was already entitled to.

In a series of directions, the Bench ordered the government to give wide publicity in the media that it was not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card. Secondly, it ordered that production of an Aadhaar card would not be a condition for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen.

Thirdly, it directed the government that an Aadhaar card would not be used for any purpose other than the PDS Scheme, particularly for distribution of foodgrains and cooking fuel such as kerosene. It should also be used for the LPG distribution scheme.

>Don't insist on Aadhar, warns SC

"No person should be denied any benefits or "suffer" for not having the Aadhaar cards issued by Unique Identification Authority of India."

>Live Chat: Aadhaar — an identity crisis?

The chat saw Sunil Abraham, executive director of CIS, Bengaluru; K. Gopinath, professor at IISc and The Hindu’s K. Venkatraman discuss the issue.

>An Indianness that needs no Aadhar

India’s minorities have been self-confident cultures. They do not need certificates, especially from the majority, writes Shiv Visvanathan.

Personal data should be kept secret

Fourthly, the court directed that information about an individual obtained by the Unique Identification Authority of India while issuing an Aadhaar card should not be used for any other purpose, except as might be directed by a court for the purpose of criminal investigation.

The order would be in vogue until a five-judge Bench decided on the larger constitutional issue whether the Aadhaar scheme, and its biometric mode of registration, amounted to an intrusion into the privacy of a citizen.

For this, the Constitution Bench would look into whether right to privacy was a guaranteed right under the Constitution and if so, what were the contours of such a right.

“Privacy is at stake ... we are talking about the privacy of millions,” Justice S.A. Bobde, on the Bench with Justice C. Nagappan, observed.

“The idea of collecting biometrics is not to snoop and harass,” Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi responded.

“But you are unwittingly allowing others to snoop and harass,” Justice Bobde reacted.

But the court agreed with Mr. Rohatgi that freezing Aadhaar registration at this point would do no good as the scheme had already penetrated 90 per cent of the population and the government had spent enormous sums of money for the project.

The court accepted the AG’s statement that Aadhaar registration should continue on a “consensual basis” on the condition that no personal information, including biometrics collected at the time of registration, of the Aadhaar card holder, would be shared with any other person or authority.

“This statement [of the AG] allays the apprehension for now that there is a widespread breach of privacy of those to whom an Aadhaar card has been issued,” the order read out by Justice Bobde said.

The court acknowledged Mr. Rohatgi’s submissions that the “Aadhaar card is of great benefit since it ensures an effective implementation of several social benefit schemes of the government like MGNREGS, the distribution of food, ration and kerosene through PDS system and grant of subsidies in the distribution of LPG.”

He submitted that the public should not be restrained from voluntarily signing up for Aadhaar scheme to fully utilise the government’s social benefit schemes.

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