The government has assured the Supreme Court that Aadhaar is not a “fly-by-night effort to score some brownie points” and personal data collected from millions of people is safe from breach in storage facilities barricaded behind five-feet thick walls.
Appearing before a Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal urged the court to spare some time for the UIDAI CEO to conduct a power-point presentation in open court to quell apprehensions. The court remained non-committal.
Instead, Chief Justice Misra asked the government to quell apprehensions raised by petitioners as to why persons, who prefer anonymity and consider their identity as a treasure, should also be compelled to part with their personal data to access services.
Corruption robs poor
Mr. Venugopal explained that Aadhaar provides “a right to physically exist without lying on the pavement without food.” Mr. Venugopal quoted former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi saying how only ₹17 of ₹100 spent on anti-poverty projects actually reaches the poor. The rest is eaten up by middlemen and public servants. Mr. Venugopal said the right to a dignified and meaningful life for the poor far outweighed the right to privacy.
To this, Justice Chandrachud asked whether the government considers privacy not a fundamental right for the poor. Justice Ashok Bhushan said both the right to privacy and right to life inhere in the same person. One need not necessarily be sacrificed to gain the other.
At one point, Justice Chandrachud said the government should admit that Aadhaar authentication has a problem of “financial exclusion.” “The government should come upfront and tell us ‘look, there is a problem of financial exclusion’. A pensioner, let us say, who is 89 years of age, may have dementia or Alzheimer’s... you have to ensure that such people are not deprived of their entitlements. Their cases cannot be treated as aberrations. Besides, pension is not a subsidy under the Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act. It is a rightful entitlement,” Justice Chandrachud addressed Mr. Venugopal.
Justice Chandrachud said the government cannot deny there is financial exclusion merely because nobody excluded has yet complained to the court