After a marathon hearing that went on for 38 days, the Supreme Court today reserved its judgement in the Aadhaar case in which 30 petitioners are challenging the scheme, the Aadhaar Act 2016 and other aspects of the Aadhaar project.
The case was heard by a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and comprising Justice AK Sikri, Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud. At the end of the hearing, the Attorney General of India informed the apex court that this is the second longest hearing in its history.
Here are some of key arguments put forth by the petitioners, government and UIDAI.
1. Instrument Of Mass Surveillance: The architecture and design of the programme enables mass surveillance. This has been established by experts on both sides and the chief executive of the Aadhaar-issuing body UIDAI has acknowledged ‘full traceability’ of the system before the apex court.
2. ‘Conditional’ Welfare: The State is constitutionally bound to provide subsidies, benefits and services to its citizens. Aadhaar makes the delivery of these conditional on citizens parting with their biometric and demographic information. The petitioners challenged Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act on this ground.
3. Absence Of Consent: There is no concept of consent in the Aadhaar Act and it is only ‘illusory’ as without Aadhaar authentication a person will be denied benefits, services and subsidies.
4. Violation Of Right To Privacy: The Supreme Court judgement in Section 139AA of Income Tax Act, which mandates linking of Aadhaar, needs to be re-looked after the Right to Privacy judgement.
5. Aadhaar Act Is Unconsitutional: The Aadhaar Act is unconstitutional as it could not have been passed as a money bill—ones that do not require Rajya Sabha’s assent. Besides, provisions of the Act which do not fulfill the criteria of a money bill cannot be severed once the bill has been passed. Hence, the entire law needs to be struck down.
Government And UIDAI Argued
1. Right To Privacy Not Absolute: The Aadhaar programme satisfies the three conditions when right to privacy can be curtailed as laid down by the nine-judge bench on Right to Privacy. These include existence of a law, compelling state interest/larger public interest and test of proportionality.
2. Minimum Data Collected Through Aadhaar:
- The Unique Identification Authority of India gets minimum information when transactions are carried out using Aadhaar authentication. UIDAI does not get to know the purpose and details of those transactions.
- If the top court feels any data should not have been taken, the government will delete that data and stop using it in the Aadhaar programme.
3. Aadhaar Ensures Right To A Dignified Life:
- The Aadhaar programme ensures the right to dignified life for citizens by plugging leakages in distribution of subsidies.
- The Right to Life is also a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. Each of the subsidies provided under the Aadhaar Act is traceable to Article 21, ensuring a right to a dignified life and therefore it is a constitutionally valid scheme.
4. User Data Well Protected: The e-KYC data is not shared with anyone except with the Aadhaar holder who does the transaction using Aadhaar authentication. There has not been a single instance of any data leak from the UIDAI database and it has strong security features.