Calling Aadhaar a “transformational homegrown IT project”, the Centre 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.
The affidavit was the government’s response to petitions filed by several persons, including former NCPCR chairperson and Magsaysay winner Shanta Sinha, against 17 government notifications allegedly making Aadhaar mandatory to access welfare schemes and benefits after June 30, 2017.
The Centre, represented by advocate Zoheb Hossain, called the petition a “classic case” where a handful of individuals not aggrieved by the Aadhaar Act were questioning its vires and consequently, the benefits it gave to the poor.
The standard definition of ‘human rights’ as protection of individual freedom against state intrusion required a radical revision, the government argued. Human rights went beyond the right to be left alone or the right to privacy.
“Human rights are based on a far richer view of freedom, which goes beyond being left alone, and instead pays attention to individuals’ ability to exercise their rights. The petitioners’ argument fails to consider positive duties on the state, which reflects the elite nature of the petitioners, who are more concerned with rights of privacy over, say, right to food, or right to receive targeted subsidised LPG,” the government said, attacking the petitioners, represented by senior advocate Shyam Divan and advocate Vipin Nair.
The government said the petitioners did not represent the larger population of India which had embraced Aadhaar.
“This is demonstrated from the fact that more than 115.15 crore residents of India, which is equal to 95.10 % of the entire population, have already enrolled and been allocated Aadhaar number,” the government said.
The Centre contended that the number issued under the Aadhaar Act of 2016 enforced the right to identity and was instrumental in fulfilment of several fundamental rights of the poor.
The government said that though the notifications required people to enrol for Aadhaar by June 30, 2017 to avail welfare and benefits, this was not a deadline. They could enrol or register their request for Aadhaar at the nearest centre before June 30, and such persons could continue to access benefits through alternative means of identification till they obtained an Aadhaar number.
Dismissing claims that mass Aadhaar enrolment was a precursor to a ‘surveillance state’, the government said that “by design, the technology architecture of the UIDAI precludes even the possibility of profiling individuals for tracking their activities including the purpose for which they may have used Aadhaar.”
“As a matter of policy and by design, the UIDAI precludes itself from aggregating information arising from the use of Aadhaar, tracking and profiling individuals and the system by intent is blind to the purpose for which Aadhaar may be used at the front end by the resident. Aadhaar is designed on the basis of principles of minimal data, optimal ignorance, and federated database, which will prevent UIDAl, government or agency to track and profile individuals,” the government said.