NATIONAL

SC flags exclusions under Aadhaar

The government insists that the law does not exclude anyone from accessing their entitlements because of authentication failures on fingerprint and iris scanners.File Photo

The government insists that the law does not exclude anyone from accessing their entitlements because of authentication failures on fingerprint and iris scanners.File Photo  

The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the government and UIDAI whether it was not their obligation to ensure that ordinary people, especially pensioners and the marginalised sections, were able to access their entitlements till an “adequate mechanism” for authentication of identity under the Aadhaar Act is put in place.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, one of the judges on the Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra hearing the challenge to the Aadhaar law, was responding to Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who read out a communication by the Cabinet Secretary in December last year, informing that possession of Aadhaar is enough to access entitlements if online authentication is not feasible.

Nationwide problems

“This shows that the Cabinet Secretary, as late as this, perceived a countrywide problem,” Justice Chandrachud reacted.

But the government insisted that the law does not exclude anyone from accessing their entitlements merely because of authentication failures by fingerprint and iris scanners.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, on the five-judge Constitution Bench, termed exclusion of people from their rightful entitlements because of biological reasons like old age was of a “permanent nature” unlike exclusion due to infrastructural failure like lack of electricity, Wi-Fi or biometric scanners in certain regions of the country. The latter can be remedied, while the former cannot, the judge pointed out to the government.

The court was hearing submissions by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, on behalf of petitioners, that Aadhaar was a scheme which “works against people like the poor, the marginalised and the old who already have entitlements.”

He submitted that the elderly were unable to get their pension because the scanners were unable to read or scan their fingerprints or irises.

“Nobody is being excluded. It is enough to furnish proof of Aadhaar number wherever infrastructure is not functioning. That is what the government wants,” senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, for UIDAI, countered by reading out provisions from the Aadhaar Act.

Lack of awareness

“But many people are illiterate and may not know about these provisions. You (government) have to take care of them,” Justice A.K. Sikri, on the Bench, reacted.

Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal intervened to say that there was no need for an interim order as the government had extended the deadline for Aadhaar linkage to subsidies, benefits and services to March 31, 2018. Chief Justice Misra said there was no need to pass any interim orders for now and the hearing should proceed. “We are not taking any note of that,” Chief Justice Misra said.

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