Controversy is raging across the country over the issue of Aadhar card, particularly when the government has included it in the Money Bill, which has now been passed by the Lok Sabha. Aadhar card is a unique identification that collects the biometric data of the citizens of the country. It has been designed to replace the gigantic task of the National Population Register, later or sooner. Every nation revolves around a centralised database that keeps the nation in check. The need for unique identification that can regard the citizens under the binding of national demographic has been felt since long and, therefore, it is unique in the sense that it cannot be duplicated and can be linked with the identification of the voters, passport holders or bank account customers
The objective of the Aadhar card, among others, has been to remove the multiplicity of various cards used for different purposes. Needless to say, that it is to the credit of the Aadhar card that millions of fake recipients of subsidies in ration and LPG cylinders have been weeded out. This has saved billions of rupees of the government and, in a way, the tax payers money. It is a well-known fact that in connivance with the corrupt officials and minions of the government, the contractors and middlemen have been siphoning out the subsidies meant for the welfare of the poverty ridden people. Now it has already come to the fore that millions of fake ration cards and BPL cards were made with the help of corrupt persons to plunder thousands of crores of rupees every year. Despite knowing about this daylight loot, nothing could be done by the successive governments. The Aadhar card has thus identified crores of ghost persons in very a brief time. The lobby of these strong and well-entrenched persons have now got very heavy blow because of the Aadhar. Surprise of all surprises, that it was the same set of people who always made hue and cry for raising the limit of subsidies given to the needy persons, so that they can pocket more money through the corrupt tactics.
Dozens of writ petitions were filed in the Supreme Court in 2013 alleging that Aadhar card would not only intrude upon the privacy of individuals but it would also deprive millions of poor people in getting the subsidised ration. The main contention of the petitioners was that through Aadhar card the government was collecting all information about the citizens of the country with the help of biometric system to keep surveillance, which would tantamount to invasion into the privacy of the individual. The Supreme Court then passed an interim order that Aadhar cards would not be mandatory for the welfare schemes but also ruled that a constitutional bench would be set up to look into the details of the objections, its veracity and the larger utility of the Aadhar cards. In yet another interim order, the Supreme Court added some more schemes like; Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, National Social Assistance Programme, which includes old age pensions, widow pensions, disability pensions etc., Prime minister’s Jan Dhan Yojna and Employees Provident Fund Organisation etc., where Aadhar card would not be required. The Supreme Court further said that ‘Aadhar card scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided one way or the other.’
The right to privacy is, no doubt, sacrosanct. A government that cannot protect the privacy rights of its citizens cannot credibly maintain a democratic regime of equal treatment. Freedom of opinion and association; freedom of religion or irreligion; the ability to make choices and decisions autonomously in the society, including the right to vote depends on the preservation of private sphere of individuals. This is a very highfalutin idea but the preservation of the unity and integrity of the country and proper delivery of benefits to right persons is more important. Hence, for the welfare of the millions of poor people and of the nation some of the aspects of privacy ought to be surrendered.
After the inclusion of Aadhar card in the money bill, the interested parties again approached the Supreme Court but it did not budge from its earlier stand of not making it mandatory. The Court again deferred to set up the constitutional bench to decide on the pros and cons of the Aadhar card. However, it gave a leeway to the government by saying that ‘the government is free to press for Aadhar card for non-welfare transactions or activities. These include filing of income tax returns, opening of bank accounts or getting a mobile phone connection. This has come as a big relief to the government which has made Aadhar card mandatory for all applications for Permanent Account Number(PAN) cards and also for filing the income tax returns. Following the surge in bank deposits after the demonetisation of high value currency notes, the income tax department had already asked banks to ensure that all saving bank accounts must be seeded with PAN details.
The only exemption to this norm are the no frills savings accounts such as; those opened under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna. Effectively, it means that all other new savings banks accounts will require an Aadhar number. Similarly, the Department of Telecommunications has directed all telecom service providers to verify the credentials of nearly hundred crore subscribers through an Aadhar based electronically authenticated KYC (know your customer). Thus, in a way the observations of the Supreme Court have paved the way for undertaking the rigorous drive for the Aadhar cards.
The finance minister Arun Jaitley has already said that it will be difficult for any individual to evade tax dues because nobody can hold more than one PAN card, which will be essentially linked with the Aadhar card. Privacy of a citizen is very important but in an age where data are stored in electronic form it is possible to collate vast information from various databases ranging from applications for passports, driving licences and ration cards etc. Not giving any urgency to settling the Aadhar related objections clearly shows that the Supreme Court is not interested in stalling the drive of the government to make it compulsory for all. Security experts say that through Aadhar cards, the identification of the illegal migrants will also become very easy. Therefore, the privacy issue bedevilling Aadhar cards are being gingerly discussed only by those who are against it but the Supreme Court appears to be not obliging them. The latest observations make it abundantly clear that the for welfare schemes it will not be mandatory but for all other purposes its utility will hold good.
While the advantages of the Aadhar card, are numerous there are certain negative aspects of it and they cannot be overlooked by the Supreme Court. They are like; the drive for the Aadhar card has been outsourced to private companies and therefore, there is possibility of data being shared with foreign bodies, which will compromise the privacy of the individuals. There is another fear which is being expressed is that unique identification scheme will lead to centralisation of power and weakening of the other autonomous bodies. Apart from it, there is strong apprehension that Aadhar card can be misused to forge the banking transactions. However, the government has emphatically allayed these fears. Now it is expected that the campaign for Aadhar card will be taken to the logical conclusion. Nevertheless, legal luminaries are of the view that the Supreme Court of India should not treat the issue of Aadhar card with nonchalance and casualness because it concerns to 130 crore people of India and for which the government has already spent billions of rupees to make every Indian Aadhar enabled.