Though Aadhaar-critics have stepped up their opposition to its mandatory usage in provision of various subsidies/benefits as well as in PAN, the Supreme Court (SC) has done well to ignore the latter. When the matter was brought up before the SC on Monday and the court reminded of its order that prohibited the use of Aadhaar except in certain welfare schemes, the bench observed that PAN was not a benefit. Given the large number of fake PANs used to avoid paying taxes, as finance minister Arun Jaitley had argued, linkage with Aadhaar will eliminate this—once there are no fake PANs, those buying gold/cars etc or using multiple bank accounts will be forced to use their genuine PANs, as a consequence of which the taxman will have complete details of their earnings/expenses.
Given the manner in which the SC has increased the number of schemes for which Aadhaar can be used, it would appear it is just a matter of time before all welfare spending can be covered. In August 2015, the SC had allowed Aadhaar to be used for PDS (food, kerosene) and LPG and, two months later, this was expanded to allow MGNREGA, pensions, Jan Dhan Yojana and EPFO. The problem, however, is that SC orders are ambiguous and that, in fact, are causing the kind of problems being witnessed today.
While giving its order, the SC has said it will not be mandatory for citizens to obtain an Aadhaar card and having an Aadhaar number “cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this Court one way or the other”. If Aadhaar is to be purely voluntary as the SC has said, why will citizens opt for it in even the schemes the apex court has approved, especially since they know no benefits can be denied to them if they don’t have an Aadhaar? It is not clear how, in the event, either the SC or the activists are expecting the government to stop the 30-50% leakages that appear to be the norm in most government schemes.
Surely, maintaining the status quo cannot be the preferred alternative? And while the SC’s reluctance to make the scheme mandatory made sense when the coverage of Aadhaar was poor, that cannot apply when most of the country’s population has an Aadhaar number. While the apex court needs to address this issue of Aadhaar not being mandatory, it also needs to revisit its September 2013 order that said “it should not be given to any illegal immigrant”—since Aadhaar is not a citizenship paper, but is a record of identity, there is no way to stop even terrorists from getting an Aadhaar if they live in the country. As for the issue of privacy, though the Aadhaar Act seeks to prevent misuse of any biometric or other data collected, if this can be further strengthened through a privacy law, that is to be welcomed.