Centre's claim that unique identity card is voluntary is belied by action to link several benefits and services with Aadhar, says Supreme Court
At a time when some state governments are trying to make Aadhaar Card compulsory for accessing public services, including availing subsidy on gas cylinders, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the unique identity card is optional.
“The Centre and state governments must not insist on Aadhaar cards from citizens before providing them essential services,” said a bench of Justices B S Chauhan and S A Bobde.
While passing the order making Aadhar card optional, the bench dismissed the Centre's plea that it has already spent Rs 50,000 crore on the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) project. The court also specifically directed the Centre not to issue Aadhaar cards to illegal immigrants.
Senior counsel Anil Divan who appeared for the petitioner alleged that ruling party was gaining political mileage by issuing these cards indiscriminately to residents, including illegal migrants. He said that this could create a serious threat to national security. The petitioner in the case is former judge of Karnataka High Court, K S Puttaswamy; Divan was assisted by advocate Ankit Goel.
Divan pleaded that people have to give personal information that included biometrics, iris and fingerprints to obtain Aadhaar number and that this infringes the fundamental right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution. He also questioned the constitutional validity of the cards and said that the unique identification Bill that government had introduced in 2010 was rejected by the parliamentary standing committee on finance.
Divan cited instances of linkages with the card such as salaries to teaching and non-teaching staff in Maharashtra on the basis of Aadhaar, and registration of marriages in Jharkhand only for Aadhar card holders. He also referred to the proposal to restrict LPG subsidy to Aadhaar card holders and making it mandatory for many government scholarships. He contended that Aadhaar had resulted in denial of many benefits and services to persons who are otherwise eligible.
Solicitor general Mohan Parasaran and additional solicitor general L Nageswara Rao, appearing for the Centre, stated that Aadhaar was purely voluntary and no interim directions were required.
The court did not accept this plea. “The linkage of Aadhaar number with various government benefits and services, such as food security under the newly enacted Food Security Act, LPG subsidy, Employees’ Provident Fund, and other DBT (direct benefit transfer) services makes enrolment with the Aadhar scheme mandatory, completely falsifying the government’s claim of it being voluntary,” the petition said.
In his petition, Puttaswamy also submitted that there were no safeguards or penalties and no legislative backing for obtaining personal information.
According to the Economic Survey 2012-13, the second phase of UIDAI project targets to enrol 400 million residents by 2014. Till December 2012, 249.3 million Aadhaar numbers had been generated and about 200 million Aadhaar letters dispatched.