By Arun Srivastava
It may sound bizarre but the day is not far when a married couple would have to produce the Aadhaar card for seeking permission to live together. This fear is strengthened by the manner in which the Aadhaar card is being made compulsory for survival in India. Already Aadhaar has become mandatory for admission, burial, hospital, marriage; name anything in the life of common people. The latest, but the most dangerous, proposition is to link the mobile phone with Aadhaar.
A closer look at the linking of Aadhaar card with various personal requirements makes it explicit that it has attained the status of a National Identity Card. We can expect that soon Aadhaar would determine the existence of the individual. An individual’s nationality would not be decided by birth, but by the Aadhaar card. The identity clause on the applications would become extraneous.
The basic character of Aadhaar is under the scanner. It’ quite natural that the people associated with the scheme will come forward with thousands of justifications for linking Aadhaar, as their future security and ascendance depend on the successful implementation of the scheme. One question is still awaiting a plausible reply: why has there been an erratic push for linking Aadhaar with various schemes and programmes?
A subject of this sensitive nature should have been decided at the time when the matter raised its head. But even after more than 30 months, the matter is still pending before the Supreme Court for a decision. The court is yet to pronounce its verdict on the issue of right to privacy. There is a general apprehension that linking Aadhaar with the mobile number would endanger privacy. This perception is not unfounded. From the manner in which cybercrime is on the increase and mobiles are used for criminal and pornographic activities, it is clear that this trepidation cannot be rejected outright. The government and service providers are apparently in a rush and have issued instructions to their outlets. In this backdrop it is of dire importance that the court must look at the relevance of the Aadhaar card itself.
Making Aadhaar as a compulsory instrument has been the brain game of some bureaucrats, who want to be seen on the right side of the government and the rulers. A closer look at its implementation will make it apparent that the whole scheme lacks a proper approach and design. The reality is that a section of the bureaucrats, in order to secure their position and get access to more power, has been impressing upon the bosses with whimsical suggestions; sometimes to link it with bank account, sometimes with the PAN, marriage, death and what not.
All these issues would have been conceived at the initial stage and sorted out before introducing it. If Aadhaar was such an important document why were these issues not finalised at the beginning? Though linking of Aadhaar with mobile is being questioned, the protagonists of the scheme are going ahead ignoring the pleas of the common people. Their clarifications, which of course are not adequate, create more confusion. They are hell-bent to implement it even after being aware that crimes relating to the use of mobile and cyber space have increased manifold. Already hundreds of cases have surfaced where the mobile information was used to defraud and assassinate the character of girls and women by morphing their images. Will the bureaucrats and service providers give a pledge before the Supreme Court that no leak of information, identity or any nasty action will take place?
It was keeping in view the vulnerability of the card that the bench of Justices J. Chelameswar, S.A. Bobde and C. Nagappa clarified in petitions challenging the Aadhaar scheme as a violation of privacy that demands made by officials for Aadhaar card is in clear violation of the Supreme Court’s interim order of September 23, 2013 that Aadhaar is voluntary. It is really shocking that the political executives have been reiterating systematically that there is no violation of fundamental right (to privacy). Their compulsion to appease their masters and market forces could be understood from their assertion that the right to privacy is not absolute. This is a step closer to turning India into an autocratic country.
A three-judge Bench has reserved its order on petitions challenging the Aadhaar card scheme, with its bio-metric registration process and linkage to basic and essential subsidies, as a violation of the citizens’ right to privacy. The Centre seeks a larger bench to answer questions of law, primarily whether privacy is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution. Interestingly, on October 15, 2015 the apex court under then Chief Justice of India H.L.Dattu decided that the purely voluntary nature of the use of Aadhaar card to access public service will continue till the court takes a final decision on whether Aadhaar scheme is an invasion of the right to privacy of the citizen.
UIDAI launched the scheme with the objective of issuing an Aadhaar number to every resident in India so as to enable people with a portable identity which can be authenticated anytime anywhere. It is really intriguing why the UIDAI used the word resident instead of citizen. Does it imply that anyone can get an Aadhaar number? The Aadhaar platform helps service providers authenticate the identity of residents. This is different from linking Aadhaar with the schemes. One will certainly not object to using Aadhaar for the purpose of identification. But how would they explain making it necessary and linking it with various programmes?
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is quite ebullient of the Aadhaar law passing the “test of constitutionality” and that it is important to build “iron walls” to protect people’s data. But the fact is Aadhaar cannot have an iron wall. It is vulnerable. Little doubt the Supreme Court has added to more confusion. The court should have heard the matter on a priority basis as it involves issues relating to the Constitution. Everything is being done in the name of Constitution. The apex court taking time has motivated the government to broad base the use of Aadhaar. The court on an urgent basis must define the character and content of the right to privacy which the government is out to trample. This delay has simply encouraged the bureaucrats to do whatever they like without bothering about the rights of the people.
Jaitley claimed that the government brought out legislation, but the fact is that it came in the form of a money bill that nullified every principle of parliamentary accountability. What is most surprising is that the government failed to come up with a plausible reply to the Supreme Court’s query as to what was the logic behind making Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns; whether this would indeed be a remedy to end the creation of fake PANs?. Is this the remedy?
As the promoters of the interests of the market forces, these babus and politicians are determined to trample upon the basic character of Indian society. They are out to change and twist the facts on the ground. It is a matter of concern that these people are subverting the authority and orders of the Supreme Court by issuing their own notifications to suit the needs of the market forces. In the absence of a firm articulation of constitutional morality, the bureaucrats are coming out with all kinds of baseless arguments.
One of the unique experiments the government carried out was splitting the Aadhaar card into poor and rich, the proletariat and the rulers. But what these officials and babus have not spelt out in clear terms is how they would differentiate the rich Aadhaar card and a poor Aadhaar card. In future these bureaucrats will direct Aadhaar into a new class war, making privacy lose its moral and ethical relevance.
One development is quite visible: private companies and the corporate sector have been quite proactive in implementing the government orders and forcing the people to respond to them. Ironically Tata Institute of Social Sciences has made Aadhaar card obligatory for getting financial aid to students from the backward classes. It is intriguing indeed that while the matter is before the Supreme Court, the Department of Telecom (DoT) has an order following the interim Supreme Court order of 6 February, directing its offices and agencies to verify all new phone numbers through the Aadhaar eKYC process. Who will fight the forces that are out to change the basic character of the India’s Republic and democracy? (IPA Service)