Aadhar controversy

What will it take for the government to accept court rulings that Aadhaar is not mandatory?

The Supreme Court has reiterated three times that is not mandatory for Indians to enrol for the programme and cannot be denied services if they lack an identity number.

Three times – on September 23, 2013; March 24, 2014; and on March 16, 2015 – the Supreme Court has ordered that it is not mandatory for Indians to enrol for an Aadhar unique identity number. These rulings should not have been necessary, since participation in the Unique Identification project was being promoted as being purely voluntary in the first place. Yet, after the 2013 order, the Finance Ministry, the Unique Identification Authority of India that administers the Aadhar programme and other organisations pleaded with the court to change its order. The court was not moved.


The government, the UIDAI, the states and the agencies carried on regardless, threatening people that they would be excluded from services if they did not enrol. That is why there are three orders, one for each year since 2013, directing time after time that no one should be compelled to enrol for an Aadhaar card and that no one should be denied any services simply because they are not on the UID database. But the coercion has not stopped. The agencies demanding Aadhaar numbers from people seeking services would simply say that while it was true that the court had said the UID card should not be mandatory, they had not received instructions to the contrary from their superiors. They would insist that their computer systems could not accept applications unless a UID number had been filled in.

Once again, on August 11, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Adhaar number is not mandatory. This time, the context was different. The court was aware that its earlier orders had frequently been violated. It also had affidavits from those who had been denied what was due to them because they had not enrolled on the database, or they had enrolled after they were threatened with exclusion.

Right to privacy

More significantly, the Attorney General told the court that the government did not believe that Indians had a fundamental right to privacy, even though this concerns have been raised by several parties, including the Supreme Court, about who would have access to the data collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India. The Attorney General quoted two decisions in support of his proposition – from 1954 and 1963. Those opposing his argument contended that these decisions had been overtaken by the constitutional jurisprudence that had since evolved. But doubts having been raised by the Attorney General, the court was inclined to let the matter be resolved by a Constitution bench.

The judges were aware that it is difficult to anticipate when a Constitution bench would be formed. The cases before them had introduced them to the seriousness of the challenges to the UID project, including the fact that a parliamentary standing committee had rejected a bill that would govern the programme and asked for the legislation to be sent back to the drawing board; that the project had defied this parliamentary rejection and carried on without a law; the unrestrained outsourcing of the project and its consequences for personal security; the national security implications of databasing a whole population, as also of the involvement of companies that are reputed to being close to the Central Intelligence Agency and to foreign governments. This order of the court was expressly to serve the "balance of interest", and to protect citizens from having their rights irremediably lost.

The interim order is, therefore, categorical: One, “it is not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card”. Two, “the production of an Aadhaar card will not be a condition for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen”. Three, “the UID number or the Aadhaar card will not be used by the respondents (which includes the UIDAI and the various departments of the government including the Census Commissioner and the Election Commission, as also state governments) for any purpose other than the public distribution scheme and in particular for the purpose of distributing foodgrains and cooking fuel, such as kerosene”. Finally, the “Aadhaar card may also be used for the purpose of the LPG distribution scheme”.

Two exceptions

This exception for the public distribution system and cooking fuel was made at the behest of the Attorney General.  He said 91% of the population had already been enrolled on the UID database and that it was useful in reducing leakages in service delivery.

Both are contestable claims. The government’s affidavit to the court says that as of March 31, UID numbers have been issued to 80.46 crore residents. The population of India is in the vicinity of 128 crore. In fact, the numbers on the database have grown because people were threatened with denial of service if they did not participate in the programme.

In relation to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, the affidavit asserts that asking people seeking work under the scheme to show their Aadhaar cards had ensured the deletion of a large number of "bogus and ghost workers" from the MGNREGA database. It cites the instance of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana. These figures are revealing, but do not bear out the government's claims. The table says that the total number of bogus workers is 12,78, 724  ‒ or 4% of the total workers. Of these, 273,933 workers were bogus because they were dead, while 809,275 had migrated to other places.

The Attorney General argued that Aadhaar was a beneficent project because it gave an identity to many among the poor who did not have any proof of identity. Yet, the government’s affidavit says that so far only 213,800 of the 80.46 crore people on the database had been enrolled under the introducer system, which was meant for those who could not produce any supporting documents.

Though the judges agreed to allow the government to use Aadhar for the distribution of fuel and foodgrains, they had expressed their anxiety about how the rights of the people who are on the PDS system will be protected till the Constitution bench makes its decision on the programme. When the Attorney General began to list out further areas in which Aadhar may be used – NREGA, scholarships – the court refused to expand the number of categories.

Some protections

The fourth clause in the court’s interim order unequivocally prohibits “the information about an individual obtained by the UIDAI while issuing an Aadhaar card” being “used for any other purpose” except foodgrain and fuel distribution. There is one other exception: the court has said that the information with the UIDAI may be used “as directed by a court for the purpose of criminal investigation”. This is contrary to an order its order of March 24, 2014, where the bench had restrained the UIDAI from sharing its biometric data base with any agency. It is not clear why the court changed its mind.

However, this means is that the UIDAI database cannot be used to clean up other databases; to "seed" the number to crosscheck existing data, as was being done by the Election Commission,  the National Population Register and banks; or to authenticate the identities of people. If this had been allowed to carry on, it would make it difficult to recover from the harms apprehended in the challenges to the project.

The UIDAI actually has a "data sharing policy" that they advertise, which provides meta data on enrolments on its website, including details about gender and mobile phone numbers. It has also been promoting the creation of apps that use the Aadhaar number in a variety of situations. These uses of personal information, and the idea of data as property, and the security risks – personal and national – involved is proscribed by the interim order and will have to wait for the decision of the Constitution bench.

The court has mandated the government to “give wide publicity in the electronic and print media including radio and television networks” that enrollment in the programme is not mandatory. There has been no sign of compliance with this order. Is this an indication that the government intends to continue flouting the orders of the court, and do as it pleases?

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Why do our clothes fade, tear and lose their sheen?

From purchase to the back of the wardrobe – the life-cycle of a piece of clothing.

It’s an oft repeated story - shiny new dresses and smart blazers are bought with much enthusiasm, only to end up at the back of the wardrobe, frayed, faded or misshapen. From the moment of purchase, clothes are subject to wear and tear caused by nature, manmade chemicals and....human mishandling.

Just the act of wearing clothes is enough for gradual erosion. Some bodily functions aren’t too kind on certain fabrics. Sweat - made of trace amounts of minerals, lactic acid and urea - may seem harmless. But when combined with bacteria, it can weaken and discolour clothes over time. And if you think this is something you can remedy with an antiperspirant, you’ll just make matters worse. The chemical cocktail in deodorants and antiperspirants leads to those stubborn yellowish stains that don’t yield to multiple wash cycles or scrubbing sessions. Linen, rayon, cotton and synthetic blends are especially vulnerable.

Add to that, sun exposure. Though a reliable dryer and disinfectant, the UV radiation from the sun causes clothes to fade. You needn’t even dry your clothes out in the sun; walking outside on a sunny day is enough for your clothes to gradually fade.

And then there’s what we do to our clothes when we’re not wearing them - ignoring labels, forgetting to segregate while washing and maintaining improper storage habits. You think you know how to hang a sweater? Not if you hang it just like all your shirts - gravity stretches out the neck and shoulders of heavier clothing. Shielding your clothes by leaving them in the dry-cleaning bag? You just trapped them in humidity and foul odour. Fabrics need to breathe, so they shouldn’t be languishing in plastic bags. Tossing workout clothes into the laundry bag first thing after returning home? It’s why the odour stays. Excessive moisture boosts fungal growth, so these clothes need to be hung out to dry first. Every day, a whole host of such actions unleash immense wear and tear on our clothes.

Clothes encounter maximum resistance in the wash; it’s the biggest factor behind premature degeneration of clothes. Wash sessions that don’t adhere to the rules of fabric care have a harsh impact on clothes. For starters, extra effort often backfires. Using more detergent than is indicated may seem reasonable for a tub full of soiled clothes, but it actually adds to their erosion. Aggressive scrubbing, too, is counterproductive as it worsens stains. And most clothes can be worn a few times before being put in the wash, unless of course they are sweat-soaked gym clothes. Daily washing of regulars exposes them to too much friction, hastening their wear and tear.

Different fabrics react differently to these abrasive agents. Natural fabrics include cotton, wool, silk and linen and each has distinct care requirements. Synthetic fabrics, on the other hand, are sensitive to heat and oil.

A little bit of conscious effort will help your clothes survive for longer. You can start by lessening the forces acting on the clothes while washing. Sort your clothes by fabric instead of colour while loading them in the washing machine. This helps save lighter fabrics from the friction of rubbing against heavier ones. It’s best to wash denim materials separately as they are quite coarse. For the same reason, clothes should be unzipped and buttoned before being tossed in the washing machine. Turning jeans, printed clothes and shirts inside out while loading will also ensure any abrasion is limited to the inner layers only. Avoid overloading the washing machine to reduce friction between the clothes.

Your choice of washing tools also makes a huge difference. Invest in a gentler detergent, devoid of excessive dyes, perfumes and other unnecessary chemicals. If you prefer a washing machine for its convenience, you needn’t worry anymore. The latest washing machines are far gentler, and even equipped to handle delicate clothing with minimal wear and tear.


Bosch’s range of top loading washing machines, for example, care for your everyday wear to ensure they look as good as new over time. The machines make use of the PowerWave Wash System to retain the quality of the fabrics. The WaveDrum movement adds a top-down motion to the regular round action for a thorough cleaning, while the dynamic water flow reduces the friction and pulling forces on the clothes.

Play

The intelligent system also creates water displacement for better movement of clothes, resulting in lesser tangles and clothes that retain their shape for longer. These wash cycles are also noiseless and more energy efficient as the motor is directly attached to the tub to reduce overall friction. Bosch’s top loading washing machines take the guesswork away from setting of controls by automatically choosing the right wash program based on the load. All that’s needed is a one-touch start for a wash cycle that’s free of human errors. Read more about the range here. You can also follow Bosch on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.