Aadhaar hearing: Centre objects to argument that ‘India is becoming a concentration camp’

Sparks fly in the SC after senior advocates submit that Aadhaar is reminiscent of '1984', a book by George Orwell about a totalitarian state

Updated - December 03, 2021 04:53 pm IST

Published - July 07, 2017 06:43 pm IST - New Delhi

Supreme Court on Friday said that all the issues arising out of Aadhaar should be finally decided by its constitution bench.

Supreme Court on Friday said that all the issues arising out of Aadhaar should be finally decided by its constitution bench.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal on Friday took strong objection to arguments made by petitioners that Aadhaar is driving India into becoming a “concentration camp” even as the Supreme Court said the constitutionality of Aadhaar has to be decided “once and for all” and probably by a nine-judge Bench.

Sparks flew during the hearing before a three-judge Bench led by Justice J. Chelameswar after senior advocates Shyam Divan, for petitioners, submitted that Aadhaar is reminiscent of 1984 , a book by George Orwell about the totalitarian state where everybody and everything is watched by the “Big Brother State”.

“Children are told to take their thumbprints for enrolling for Aadhaar card. We are becoming vassals of the State. India is becoming a concentration camp. This is invasive and wrong. It will stigmatise. The new notifications even intends to withhold welfare benefits for those without Aadhaar. A state of total surveillance is creeping up on us,” Mr. Divan submitted.

Mr. Venugopal objected, saying Aadhaar has helped over 350 million poor.

“Tragedy of it is all that money intended for public welfare schemes were swallowed up enroute. After Aadhaar, people are getting their money and benefits,” Mr. Venugopal submitted.

He called Mr. Divan’s statement of concentration camp as hyperbolic and “rather unparliamentary”.

Mr. Venugopal who had earlier agreed to join hands with Mr. Divan to approach the Chief Justice of India for setting up an appropriate Bench to hear on the question of the constitutionality of Aadhaar, threatened to withdraw, saying “if he (Divan) continues to call India a concentration camp, I will not join hands”.

“I reiterate my statement. It is not hyperbolic. In fact, it was an understatement. Shall I use the word ‘totalitarian’?” Mr. Divan retorted, but later told the court that he would make mention before the Chief Justice next week for an Aadhaar Bench.

A Constitution Bench

The hearing started with Justice Chelameswar enquiring why the court had not heard the main plea on the constitutionality of Aadhaar despite a Bench led by him, way back in 2015, having referred for hearing by a Constitution Bench.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice Chelameswar had, on October 7 2015, referred to a Constitution Bench the question whether a person can voluntarily shed his right to privacy by enrolling for Aadhaar to easily access government welfare services.

However, the court on Friday also took note of the fact of the enactment of the Aadhaar Act giving the scheme statutory status.

Justice Chelameswar said the issue whether Aadhaar should be heard by a nine-judge Bench need to be discussed.

The Supreme Court’s referral order in 2015 had highlighted two judgments of the court — M.P. Sharma and Kharak Singh of 1954 and 1963 — respectively, both which had held that Article 21of the Constitution, including the right to privacy, is subject to reasonable restrictions.

M.P. Sharma case was decided by an eight-judge Bench of the Supreme Court while Kharak Singh was decided by a six-judge Bench. Hence, the question whether Aadhaar is a violayion of citizens’ privacy should be heard by a Bench of nine judges.

Recently, the Centre, which had termed Aadhaar a “transformational homegrown IT project”, said on Friday that the fundamental right of identity and various e-governance initiatives of the government to provide food security, livelihood, jobs and health to the “teeming masses” cannot be sacrificed at the altar of right to privacy of an “elite” few who have neither applied for nor want Aadhaar.

One of the petitions being heard is filed by former NCPCR chairperson and Magsaysay winner Shanta Sinha, against 17 government notifications allegedly making Aadhaar mandatory to access welfare schemes and benefits.

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