The Supreme Court Wednesday ruled in favour of Aadhaar, putting to rest a hotly-contested debate on its constitutional validity and issues of privacy. However, it amended several sections of the Aadhaar Act.
ThePrint asks: Were Indian activist-elites using poor to oppose Aadhaar or were their concerns genuine?
Judgment pours cold water on any hope privacy wallahs had of removing scrutiny on taxes
The Left-liberal elite has a perverse understanding of privacy. Data, including biometrics, which they do not want to share with the government of India, they are happy to share with foreign governments, some of whom run totalitarian regimes. It makes little sense in this day and age to talk about privacy when every app on your smartphone is constantly mining your private data. But then, neither the case challenging the validity of Aadhaar nor Wednesday’s judgment by the Supreme Court deals with the future and the enormous challenges posed by ever-changing technology. It is a telling comment on our judges when their judgment quotes a WhatsApp forward, not in the least because this app has virtually destroyed all privacy barriers.
The case was never about genuine concerns about privacy, which frankly are meaningless in a country which has an intrusive society and a culture of not believing in the privacy of either an individual or a family. The scaremongering that happened about Aadhaar data protection being fragile and how UIDAI would facilitate the creation of an intrusive, totalitarian state in India was merely a cover for the twin intentions behind seeking judicial intervention. Unfortunately for our #LeLi privacy-wallahs, the judges have upheld the mandatory linking of Aadhaar with PAN and all tax-funded government services. This pours cold water on any hope the privacy-wallahs had of removing greater scrutiny on taxes that they pay and it also frustrates their political patrons’ hopes about looting taxes spent on subsidies by creating ghost beneficiaries.
The 1,448-page verdict on Aadhaar’s validity contains inherent contradictions
Advocate, Supreme Court
The rising trend of complex Supreme Court verdicts is causing confusion rather than bringing clarity. The 1,448-page verdict on Aadhaar’s validity is no different and contains inherent contradictions. The Supreme Court held that the Lok Sabha Speaker’s decision regarding a money bill is subject to judicial review. However, its endorsing of Aadhaar as a money bill looks erroneous. The judgment traces Aadhaar to be a data protection and privacy issue, then how can it be treated as a money bill? The Aadhaar litigation has spanned over six years, and has been heard by 26 judges. During the course of the hearing, the Centre had informed the Supreme Court that they are coming up with a data protection law. For all this talk about Digital India, it’s disappointing that the government hasn’t been able to come up with a law to date. It is the reason because of which the Supreme Court has negated some provisions like the handling of Aadhaar data by private entities.
The one commendable move by the Supreme Court is that they have upheld the rights of children, giving them the option to exit on attaining majority. Hence, it can be understood that getting an Aadhaar is optional for others. The Srikrishna Committee has recommended the right to be forgotten, and it will be interesting to see how data already obtained by private companies will be deleted. The Supreme Court judgment is the law of land, and now Aadhaar is a must for getting subsidies by the poor and is also to be mandatorily linked with PAN for the rich to file income tax returns. Despite its one judge dissent, and various complications, it looks like Aadhaar is here to stay and give an identity to all.
Ironical that Congress who took pride in conceiving Aadhaar was using proxy warriors to stall it
Marketing executive and commentator
The Left liberals rejoicing the Supreme Court verdict against the mandatory linking of Aadhaar to bank accounts and mobile phones sound like Rahul Gandhi claiming “moral victory” after every election he loses. One has to bow to the wisdom of the court that they separated the wheat from the chaff to allow unique identification where it mattered, while securing privacy concerns if any.
It is ironical that the Congress who took pride in conceiving Aadhaar was using proxy warriors to stall it. The angst was probably a late realisation of its implications on the transparency of transactions – especially those in social welfare schemes. At risk was the Congress’ (and its loyal band of Left-leaning activists) original invention of the machinery of political funding at the cost of the state – the MGNREGA. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand the vehement opposition for linking Aadhaar for direct benefit transfers. Therefore, whatever it might have been, concern for the poor was not at the heart of the anti-Aadhaar warriors.
The other unstated factor was the fear of the BJP using Aadhaar for voter profiling. For this, reams of disingenuous arguments and evidence were manufactured. This defied the otherwise patent Leftist argument of allowing a little wrong for a larger good of the masses. A privileged class, who are only too happy to flaunt their identity in real life, developed cold feet at the prospects of losing privacy. That they were firing from the shoulders of the poor was evidently not lost on the judges.
Finally, there is little to party on the exclusion of leaving bank accounts and phone numbers from the ambit of Aadhaar. After GST, PAN and digitisation, the government today has many more tools in its kitty to track the errant and the truant. So, this is not even a Pyrrhic victory. It is time that the rich and the powerful to reconcile with the fact that India is moving towards greater transparency and compliance. They will be better off cleaning up their act, homes and bank accounts rather than fighting more losing battles against the inevitable.
Majority opinion has proceeded on basis of UIDAI’s incorrect and false claims
Affiliated fellow, Yale Information Society Project
The concerns of activists are genuine given the various deprivations of rights and exclusions we have seen. I don’t see where the question of elites using the poor actually arises from. Even the government has acknowledged (and the Supreme Court has also noted) that there are exclusions created due to Aadhaar, and these exclusions need to be minimised. As Justice Chandrachud notes, “Exclusion is violative of human dignity”.
The court has struck down certain provisions of the Aadhaar Act but upheld the project as a whole. Justice Chandrachud, however, has argued that it violates the right to privacy and is not a money bill.
Most think that one of the mistakes the court has made is that they have taken the erroneous claims made by the UIDAI to the Supreme Court at face value. The UIDAI claimed in its submission that the Act does not permit the linking of databases using the Aadhaar number, even though the Act places no bar on such linking. Indeed, multiple state governments and central government departments have spoken about gaining a “360-degree view” using Aadhaar to link multiple databases. Unfortunately, the majority opinion has proceeded on the basis of UIDAI’s incorrect and false claims.
One of the worst things Aadhaar has done to the poor is to create further hurdles in proving one’s identity, although it was aimed at making the process easier. By posing an additional barrier to proving identity, it doesn’t actually help the poor, but leaves them at the mercy of probabilistic and failure-prone technology.
Unwarranted to constantly delegitimise people who help give poor a voice
Contributing editor, ThePrint
It is distasteful and unwarranted to constantly delegitimise people who help give the poor a voice in democracy. One may disagree with such activists on some issues, and we may even disagree with what the poor want, but it is unfair to always question the intent of activists.
It is not clear what vested interest a few activists could have in travelling into the Indian hinterland and asking them how they are doing. I know one such amazing activist, Reetika Khera, who could foresee the problems Aadhaar would bring, along with direct benefits transfer. She had been interested in preventing hunger deaths, in MGNREGA and food security law, and has arduously documented how Aadhaar has come in the way of giving food to the hungry in Jharkhand.
I see no reason to belittle such work. I did not fully trust what she had to say, because as a journalist I don’t trust anyone but my own eyes. Then, I myself saw how the poor in Bihar were hassled by this whole new system of Aadhaar and DBT that was being forced upon them. Daily wage labourers were wasting precious work hours in dealing with technology they did not understand, technology that wouldn’t always work. Sometimes there’s no electricity, sometimes there’s no internet.
There’s also the long hours wasted in the bank queues getting subsidies for an LPG cylinder. This is why many Ujjwala beneficiaries have given up on LPG cylinders and have returned to kerosene oil.
The only reason why we delegitimise and mock at activists who speak in the name of the poor is because we don’t want to hear the voices of the poor.
For the less privileged, Aadhaar is a game changer and saviour of sorts
Associate editor, ThePrint
If there was one task that was the most arduous and frustrating in India, it was to get a valid, government-backed identity proof. Getting any identity document meant one had to already possess some other valid ID, thus setting off a vicious cycle. Aadhaar, however, has changed the game, becoming the easiest authentic identification document to access.
The UIDAI accepts a long and fairly exhaustive list of as many as 18 documents as proof of identity, and 35 as proof of address, thus making it much easier for a resident of the country to obtain an ID. For the less privileged, who often struggle with identity documents, Aadhaar thus proved to be a game changer and a saviour of sorts.
Moreover, linking it to various welfare schemes meant that the beneficiaries received services in a targeted manner, and payments through Aadhaar-enabled platforms, reducing duplication and ghost beneficiaries.
Needless to say, privacy concerns are always valid and need to be addressed. But to underscore, fears over Aadhaar database security seem overblown because a lot of our other data/information can be accessed far more easily by authorities. The information collected under Aadhaar can only be used for KYC purposes and not without the consent of the person concerned. And, the information about what an Aadhaar-holder is linking it to and using it for is stored only in the form of federalised/decentralised databases.
To oppose Aadhaar on grounds of privacy, when we are open to giving far more information, including biometrics, bank account statements and salary details for visa and other purposes, is both cynical and convenient.
A handful of people opposing Aadhaar is also unfair on the large number of those who have readily accepted the 12-digit ID, and to assume 122.5 crore people who are freely using Aadhaar do not comprehend the concept of privacy, is, to put it mildly, condescending and presumptive.
By Fatima Khan and Achyut Mishra.