Aadhaar verdict decoded: How Supreme Court judgement will impact common man

The apex court declared the Centre’s biometric identity project constitutionally valid but limited its scope, ruling that it is not mandatory for bank accounts, mobile connections or school admissions.

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Aadhaar would still be needed for Mid-Day meals. (Source: IE)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday gave ‘Aadhaar’ a clean chit, observing that it neither tends to create a “surveillance state” nor infringe upon the citizen’s Right to Privacy. The apex court declared the Centre’s biometric identity project constitutionally valid but limited its scope, ruling that it is not mandatory for bank accounts, mobile connections or school admissions. The five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra gave a 4-1 verdict in favour of Aadhaar saying that during the enrolment process, “minimal biometric data in the form of iris and fingerprints is collected”, and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) – which oversees the Aadhaar enrolment exercise – “does not collect purpose, location or details of the transaction”.

The verdict has been welcomed by both political parties (BJP and Congress who claimed victory) and is expected to have a far-reaching impact on the common man as Aadhaar would remain compulsory for filing of Income Tax(IT) returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number (PAN) and for availing facilities of welfare schemes and government subsidies.

Services where Aadhaar is still needed

Justice Sikri while reading out his judgement said the aim behind the launch of Aadhaar was “inclusion” of the marginalised section of society and the project cannot be crucified on the possibility of failure in authentication. “Aadhaar gives dignity to the marginalised. Dignity to the marginalised outweighs privacy,” said justice Sikri, who was in the majority, while reading out the operative part of the 1,448-page judgement in the packed courtroom of the CJI.

“One can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

It will still be needed for PAN card, National Child Labour Project (NCLP), Scholarships for students, Mid-Day meal for children, Assitance/Scholarship given by Department of Empowerment of Persons of Disabilities, Supplementary Nutrition Programme under ICDS Scheme, Payment of honoranium to AWWs and AWHs under ICDS Scheme, ICDS Training Programme, Supplementary Nutrition for Children offered at creche centres, honoranium for creche workers and helpers, maternity benefit programme, scheme for adolescent girls, Ujjwala scheme, Swadhar scheme, STEP Programme, Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vanana Yojana, Painting and essay competitions under IEC.

Services Aadhaar no longer needed for

Even though the court observed that Aadhaar has become a household name and its use has spread like “wildfire”, it ruled that the service won’t be needed for opening bank accounts, availing mobile services, by CBSE, NEET, JEE, UGC and for admissions in schools and free education for children.

Apart from this, Aadhaar won’t be needed for employee pensions, mutual fund investments, isurance policies, credit cards, post office schemes, NSC accounts, PPF accounts and Kisan Vikas Patra accounts.

However, the bench asked the Centre to also bring about a “robust data protection regime” to ensure that the personal data of an individual are protected.

Provisions struck down

The apex court struck down several provisions and said, “Authentication records are not to be kept beyond a period of six months, as stipulated in Regulation 27(1) of the Authentication Regulations.” The bench said the provision which allows records to be archived for a period of five years is held to be bad in law.

The verdict struck down sections 33(1) which allowed the UIDAI to release information saying it cannot be done without an opportunity of hearing. “Section 33(1) of the Act prohibits disclosure of information, including identity information or authentication records, except when it is by an order of a court not inferior to that of a District Judge. We have held that this provision is to be read down with the clarification that an individual, whose information is sought to be released, shall be afforded an opportunity of hearing…,” it said.

It also set aside the Section 33(2) of the Act in the present form which allowed the release of information of an Aadhaar holder due to the security reasons saying it can be done by involving an officer above the rank of Joint secretary and a sitting judge of the High Court can also be involved.

Section 57 which empowered the private entities to seek and use Aadhaar authentication for business purposes, was also struck down by the court. “We read down this provision to mean that such a purpose has to be backed by law. Further, whenever any such ‘law’ is made, it would be subject to judicial scrutiny. Such purpose is not limited pursuant to any law alone but can be done pursuant to ‘any contract to this effect’ as well,” it said.

What will happen to those who have already shared the data?

This remains to be a grey area as the judgement doesn’t mention that banks or mobile companies will have to delete the collected information. It also upheld the validity of Section 59 that also validates all Aadhaar enrolment done prior to the enactment of the Aadhaar Act, 2016. The court said that data collected between 2009 and 2016 was not forced but those who specifically refuse to give consent would be allowed to exit the Aadhaar scheme.

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