Sunday, September 25th, 2016

‘Aadhaar’ question: basic or fundamental?

R Venkataraman | September 25, 2016 10:47 am Print
Earlier this month, the new law relating to Aadhaar card christened as Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsides, Benefits and Services Act, 2016 was notified by the government. This mandates the use of Aadhaar authentication for benefits.
aadhaar card : For representational purposes only

The question around the continuity of Aadhaar card for various schemes continue to haunt the central government as the supreme court has held that it is not compulsory in many schemes. The card’s constitutional validity continues to hang in the judicial balance as a Constitution Bench is yet to be formed to decide the question: whether Aadhaar infringes upon the privacy of a citizen and whether privacy is a fundamental right under the Constitution of India?

However, the Apex Court has been issuing orders from time to time and in a recent order, a bench of Justices Gopala Gowda and Adarsh Kumar Goel stayed the mandatory use of Aadhaar card for scholarship schemes of the Centre.
The order has come on a petition filed by the All Bengal Minority Students Council in which the Apex Bench directed the Ministry of Electronics and Information to remove Aadhaar number as a mandatory condition for student Registration form at the National Scholarship Portal on the government’s website. However, two more similar petitions challenging the mandatory use of Aadhaar card for various schemes including the LPG cylinder, PDS, and others are pending.

“We will make it clear that Aadhaar card scheme is purely voluntary and cannot be made mandatory till the matter is decided by the court one way or the other,” the court had earlier in October last year said. This bench was headed by the then chief justice, H.L Dattu, and justices M.Y Eqbal, C. Nagappan, Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy. In the same order, the court allowed Aadhaar to be used for a few more government schemes such as LPG subsidy transfer, PDS ration, MGNREGA, pension schemes and Jan Dhan Yojana.

Earlier this month, the new law relating to Aadhaar card christened as Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsides, Benefits and Services Act, 2016 was notified by the government. This mandates the use of Aadhaar authentication for benefits. Section 7 of the Act stipulates that for obtaining any benefit, service, subsidy that comes from the Consolidated Fund of India, one would need authentication through Aadhaar. If one does not have Aadhaar, then other identification cards will be accepted, it says.

But adherence to this law and its implementation is yet unclear as the Apex Court has not yet formed the Constitution Bench to decide the fate of the Aadhaar card. The larger issue of privacy, whether Aadhaar is an intrusion into the privacy of a citizen and whether privacy is a fundamental right under the Constitution, still remains unanswered. The Apex Court in August last year said that a Constitution bench should rule on whether right to privacy is a fundamental right under the constitution or not.

Till a promised Constitution Bench is set up and it decides the issue, the Aadhaar card issue will remain a conundrum. Whether an ordinary citizen should still use it for say LPG subsidy? Even banks now demand Aadhaar card from their account holders to continue the normal SB accounts. It is understandable that a pan card is compulsory for bank accounts but in a country where even if a washer-man wants to open an account how he can be compelled to produce an Aadhaar card?

A similar fate still surround the voter i-card. In many cases those who possess a valid voter-i-card, their names may not be found on the electoral rolls; and those who do not may still find their names on the rolls. They are allowed to vote on the basis of even a driving licence. But not those who possess a voter i-card but whose names are not on the rolls. In yester years, having a ration card was a big deal. For it enabled you to not only buy subsidized foodstuff (wheat, sugar, rice, etc) but also enabled you to vote. It also enabled you to apply for a passport. Then came this voter i-card courtesy former CEC T.N. Seshan. Then came the pan card and now the Aadhaar card. Perhaps Indians would end up wearing more card tags rather than their own identity and names.

R Venkataraman
R Venkataraman
(The writer is ex-accredited correspondent of Supreme Court of India, Parliament of India, Central Government (PIB) and ex-member Press Council of India.)
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