Hours after the Supreme Court held privacy to be a fundamental right, Minister of Information and Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad claimed that the Narendra Modi government was in favour of declaring privacy a fundamental right. Is this correct?

First, here is what Prasad said at a press conference in Delhi after the judgement was pronounced Thursday morning: “Government welcomes judgement. Government has been of the view, particularly with regard to Aadhaar, that the right to privacy should be fundamental right. The Supreme Court has affirmed what the government had said in Parliament while moving the Aadhaar Bill. Privacy should be a fundamental right subject to reasonable restrictions.”

Now, let’s look at the facts. Last March, the government passed the Aadhaar Bill in Lok Sabha despite loud objections over privacy concerns. Putting the Bill in motion, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said while there was no law declaring privacy as a fundamental right, the government presupposed it to be one.

He, however, added that it was not an absolute right. “Privacy is not an absolute right,” Jaitley said. “Supreme Court is considering the privacy issue. It is subject to a restriction; it can be restricted by a procedure established by law.” Jaitley claimed that the Aadhaar Bill that he had tabled tightened privacy provisions as compared to its previous drafts.

The May 3 edition of The Times of India reports the Modi government's stand on Aadhaar in the Supreme Court.
The May 3 edition of The Times of India reports the Modi government's stand on Aadhaar in the Supreme Court.

Jaitley’s view, though, was not fully endorsed by the government in the Supreme Court. Attorney General KK Venugopal submitted that:

  1. There is no general and fundamental right to privacy.
  2. No blanket right to privacy can be read as a fundamental right as some facets are already covered in different parts of the constitution.
  3. Issues of privacy covered in Part III of the constitution are subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest.
  4. Privacy doesn’t have a specific meaning or definition.
  5.   The drafters of the Constitution specifically did not include such a right in the chapter on fundamental rights.  

Additionally, the attorney general submitted to the Supreme Court that privacy was only an elitist concern; for the millions of India’s poor the right to life was more important.

He further argued that the right to privacy could at best be a common law right rather than a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution.

The attorney general’’s submissions, on behalf of the government, clearly contradict Prasad’s statement. Indeed, Twitter users were quick to point it out to the minister.