By Sushil Kutty
As is ‘five’ is an odd number and one of the five justices stood up and asserted his uniqueness, he dissented! Four justices ruled Aadhaar is constitutionally fair, Justice DY Chandrachud raised his hand in class and proclaimed, “No it’s unconstitutional!” But people who went to bed Tuesday night thinking come Wednesday morning “I’ll flush the card down the toilet” found they might still have to hold on to it because there is no guarantee about fortunes. Vagaries plague man like it does the Monsoon, and he could be among the “marginalized” in no time flat.
And the PAN number remains slave to Aadhaar. Justice DY Chandrachud took objection to the way Aadhaar was rolled out – as a money bill. The majority view didn’t find anything wrong. Chandrachud called the unique ID card a “fraud” played on the citizen/nation. So, like Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh in the United States, even if he gets to sit on the US Supreme Court, his reputation has been tarnished for life and the sexual predator slur on him will follow him to the grave.
Ditto Aadhaar, it has got a black mark with the dissenting opinion. Justice Chandrachud wants all the biometrics Aadhaar took destroyed. But black marks are also seen as a sign that wards off trouble, at least in the Indian context. Ask the mothers of India! The four who differed ruled that Aadhaar is constitutionally fair and gives “dignity to the marginalized.” At the same time, the order to link all mobile phone connections to Aadhaar was ruled ‘unconstitutional’. Also, no need to link bank accounts with the unique identification number.
“There is a legitimate goal and requirement to have the Aadhaar law,” said the five-judge bench which heard over 30 petitions against the Aadhaar Act and the Centre’s defence of the controversial law. “It’s better to be unique than be best – it’s the central message of Aadhaar,” Justice Arjan Kumar Sikri observed. The thrust of the petitioners was that Aadhaar encroached on the privacy of citizens by insisting on biometrics.
So, Aadhaar is needed for filing IT returns and for PAN but not for school admissions. The government had in its zeal linked Aadhaar to bank accounts, mobile phone numbers, filing income tax returns, saying it thwarted misuse of social welfare benefits and countered black money and money laundering. The government also said Aadhaar was safe and cannot be “breached”. But the Supreme Court in August 2017 ruled individual privacy a “guaranteed fundamental right”, giving hope to critics who were adamant that the government was spying on people by “tethering every resident of India to an electronic leash.”
Later, in March 2018, the top court expressed concern over the potential misuse of Aadhaar authentication data. A month later, the court questioned the Department of Telecommunications for using an ostensible court directive as an excuse to order linking mobile phone numbers to Aadhaar unique identity numbers. But welfare schemes remained linked to Aadhaar.
So, okay no private entity can ask for the 12-digit number anymore and get hold of biometrics. Those who held firm and refused to succumb to pressure and get an Aadhaar will celebrate but those who yielded to blackmail and extended the hand to be fingerprinted must be ruing weakness. The Congress party believes the apex court ruling is a ‘judicial slap’ on Sambit Patra’s face.
“We enacted the Act,” said Abhishek Manu Singhvi. “The BJP made it ugly by adding all sorts of gibberish.” Sambit Patra, looking for consolation and cover, felt the Modi government stood validated because Aadhaar stood validated! Nice extension and ‘by that token’. But the government can yet demand biometrics of the citizen. The majority view did not give an inkling as to what should be done with the biometrics the government has, the fingerprints and iris-scans.
As has been happening whenever the executive and judiciary work at cross purposes, do not see eye to eye, there’s an iota of confusion left in the minds and lives of the hoi polloi. Somehow, it seems the babu in the sarkari daftar gets to keep his upper-hand, harass the aam aadmi with that confusion still intact. The paradox is that only a pure state of anarchy, where the individual is all-powerful, can take the government out of our lives.
For now Airtel and Idea and Jio have lots of biometrics of citizens with them and what they and the umpteen banks do with the data is what galls, the freedom they have to keep it or junk it. A slice of every life is in the hands of people who cannot be trusted, more so after the Supreme Court verdict.
Aadhaar is no longer mandatory, but it is mandatory! For this and that. Like they say too many cooks spoil the broth. It’s like in Yogi’s Uttar Pradesh you can eat beef but where do you get the red/pink stuff when slaughterhouses have disappeared out of fear of the Yogi. Bottom-line: Confusion reigns in Average Joe despite all the clarifications on television.
Illegal immigrants will not get Aadhaar, the court ruled, but what about his iris and that of the legal citizen? (IPA Service)