The Supreme Court order restraining the linking of services and benefits to the 12-digit Aadhaar number has placed in doubt ambitious plans by the Centre and several State governments to make the ‘voluntary’ Aadhaar scheme mandatory for access to services and subsidies. The order was passed on a writ petition by retired justice of the Karnataka High Court K.S. Puttaswamy , along with two other petitions referred from the Bombay and Madras High Courts. In an interview with The Hindu in Bangalore a day after the Supreme Court verdict, the 88-year-old judge-turned-litigant said this was the first time in his legal career, spanning five decades, that he felt the need to petition the courts. Excerpts:
Why did you choose to move the courts on this issue?
The way the government has gone about implementing this project is odd and illegal. In 2011 [over a year after Aadhaar enrolments commenced in the country] the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance rejected the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, on several grounds. Yet, the government did not attempt to modify the Bill and bring it back for parliamentary approval. It is not constitutional to simply proceed using an executive order to implement a scheme that has been rejected in this fashion.
What is your fundamental opposition to this project?
Apart from the fact that it does not have Parliament’s approval, the project infringes upon our right to privacy, which flows from Article 21 that deals with the fundamental right to life. We are required to part with biometric information, iris and fingerprints, and there is no system to ensure that all this data will be safe and not misused.
My other concern, and I believe this is critical, is that it is easy for anyone to get an Aadhaar number. The enrolment centres are run by private operators so anyone can walk in and get one. This means that [undocumented] immigrants can get one too and that’s a clear security threat. Part of the political will for this project stems from this motivation because obviously they [undocumented] immigrants are also a vote bank for some
Many critics of Aadhaar (even those whose petitions are being heard with yours) have focussed on other aspects such as the dangers of making this ‘voluntary’ scheme a mandatory one for access to crucial services and welfare.
Yes, that is also a point. Why must I get an Aadhaar when I already have a ration card? Even at the recent hearing it has been reported that the government submitted in court that the scheme is voluntary. But everyone knows that today you cannot get your LPG subsidy in Tumkur, and other districts, without this number. So, the right hand says it is voluntary and the left says it is mandatory — then it is a plain lie. They’re still taking inconsistent stands and look who is suffering — citizens
The government submits that over Rs.50,000 crore has been spent on the project. It is seeking a review of the SC order. Is it too late to turn back now on this scheme?
No. It is not. That so much has been squandered without analysing the benefits or dangers of this scheme shows a disregard for public money. I think they didn’t think this through. In fact, there were voices even within the government that were opposed to it. My understanding is that the Supreme Court is unlikely to allow their review petition.
We’ll have to wait and see.