How Supreme Court issued notices to state governments over Aadhaar
Moneylife Digital Team 27 November 2013

What happened in the Supreme Court  on Tuesday as the judges heard a public interest litigation that challenged the constitutional validity of Aadhaar?

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued notices to state governments to explain their stance on making the unique identity (UID) number, Aadhaar compulsory.


Hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) that challenged the constitutional validity of Aadhaar number being issued by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the apex court opined that it would not want to be in a situation where a state government would later plead that they were not given an opportunity to be heard.


Shyam Divan, the counsel for Maj Gen (retd) SG Vombatkere, cited example of several States which made Aadhaar mandatory for availing of host of services. For instance, he said in Kerala and Himachal Pradesh, admissions to school required students to have Aadhaar. Maharashtra recently made Aadhaar compulsory for government employees to draw their salary and pay slips. Madhya Pradesh followed the Centre’s diktat to make Aadhaar mandatory for receiving pension and provident fund benefits in three districts while Himachal Pradesh linked the Aadhaar scheme to offer scholarships in universities.


The bench of Justices BS Chauhan and SA Bobde was initially of the view that the petitioners are only bothered by the government making UID compulsory. So, the Bench asked Divan, “If we order that it cannot make it mandatory, would you have a case?”


Divan replied that the issues are deeper and he needs time to explain the whole scheme. The Aadhaar project, the senior advocate said, was ultra vires as it did not have a statutory backing. Moreover, no statutory guidance exists on crucial questions such as—who can collect biometric information, how it is to be collected and stored, protection of collected data, who can use the data and when it must be used.


The Supreme Court then asked, “Would you have a case if Parliament passes a law giving UID legal status?” Divan replied that even if the Constitution is amended, UID would be illegal.


Divan then took the court through the flow chart of how UID enrolments are done, the kind of private companies are involved and the dangers of the scheme. He pointed out how UIDAI signed memorandum of understanding with States which had no legal sanctity. He said, State appoints registrars, who could even be a private person, who engaged private companies to collect biometric data. There is also the fear that the private party which collects the data then stores it in a personal laptop, which does not belong to the government.


The counsel for Maj Gen (retd) Vombatkere, then briefly mentioned some abuses which could be carried out using UID.


He brought out how if a password of an ATM card was compromised, the cardholder could change the password, but if one's fingerprints or iris (biometrics) are the passwords, then the person whose password is compromised has no remedy. The court wanted to know the definition of biometrics in UID and spent some time studying it.


He also told the apex court about how UID changes the relationship between the state and the citizen. Convicted criminals relinquish some privacy rights. They have their fingerprints taken for record. Here the government is treating all people as criminals. One of the judges on the bench was very interested in this line of argument and asked many probing questions.


Interestingly, neither the UIDAI nor union government have filed any counter to the PIL. They have not denied any of the allegations made in the petition by Maj Gen (retd) Vombatkere and Col (retd) Matthew Thomas.

Yerram Raju Behara
9 years ago
The vocal protagonist of AADHAR can defend in the Court with these arguments if he can prove all his highly preposterous defense. If this is so powerful, can he say why the instrument has not been experimented for payments to all contractors; why the MPs and MLAs salaries and all other allowances and bonanza not linked to AADHAR? Why the experiment has been done with the poor, the pensioners, the workers under MNREGA and the like whose grievances on AADHAR can never reach the authorities as they do not have systems to access for putting in their complaints?
I have no issues in so far as a smart card like this if properly created, secured and made citizen friendly, it can reduce corruption and favouritism. The question is that the instrument has faulty platform to deliver and deaf ears to listen to the problems of access and self-centered protagonists.
Yerram Raju Behara
9 years ago
It is good to see the Judges evincing interest in getting at the root of the issues with probing questions on the Aadhar linkage. This instrument has more scope to generate frauds and leakages.In one village in Anantapur District, Andhra Pradesh where the PM launched Aadhar, with the film producer Rajmouli’s photograph embedded on another person with wrong address was issued. In the same district another card was issued with a fake name and fake address in the name a fruit vendor and bazaar address were issued with a photograph too!! There are galore of spelling mistakes either in surname or the name itself. Corrections to these would not get initiated by the authorities concerned. A complaint to customer care of Aadhar gets a stereotyped reply that it would be attended in 48hours. After 48hours you get a reply that does not address the issue at all for the central complaints department either does not have the operating agency details or even if it has, does not care to refer the complaint for redress. When the educated themselves do not get proper response to their complaints to expect that the poor would get attention on such complaints is asking for the moon.

Adding to this the Banks are intermediaries in the whole effort. Several banks have everyday new issues with Banking Correspondents and there are leakages that they are grappling with to resolve.
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