The Supreme Court’s verdict on Wednesday upholding the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, India’s 12-digit biometric identity project, puts to rest a matter that has been debated for the last nine years. A majority of justices on the five-judge constitutional bench found that Aadhaar did not violate the fundamental right to privacy, and only needed a few additional changes for it to be constitutionally valid. The dissenting opinion, from Justice DY Chandrachud, however, calls it “entirely unconstitutional.” As the impact of the full order is studied, many are asking: Is it now possible to live in India without Aadhaar?
The majority order strikes down the requirement to link Aadhaar to a number of services for which it was, at some point, mandatory.
- Bank accounts: Justice AK Sikri , who authored the majority judgment, held that the rule, under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, which required residents to link Aadhaar to their bank accounts “violates the right to privacy” and is not proportionate to the state’s interests. No need to link.
- SIM cards: The majority opinion says “for the misuse of such SIM cards by a handful of persons, the entire population cannot be subjected to intrusion into their private lives.” It declares that the require to link SIM cards to Aadhaar is “unconstitutional.” No need to link.
- Education schemes: The court concludes that CBSE, NEET, UGC and others cannot make the requirement of Aadhaar mandatory as they are outside the purview of Section 7, which allows the government to mandate Aadhaar for subsidies from the government. No need to provide Aadhaar.
- Children: As an extension of this, the majority opinion says that the Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for school admission or benefits under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. But if children are to obtain any other benefits or subsidies, an enrolment number or Aadhaar itself can be mandatory, subject to the consent of the parent or guardian.
It adds one new frill to this: “On attaining the age of majority, such children who are enrolled under Aadhaar with the consent of their parents, shall be given the option to exit from the Aadhaar project if they so choose in case they do not intend to avail the benefits of the scheme. “
- Private companies: The judgment found that section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, which had allowed for Aadhaar to be used by any company in addition to the state, is unconstitutional. It said that for the use of Aadhaar by private companies to be legal, “there has to be a valid law in existence, which should also pass the threefold test” of privacy. For now, then, private companies cannot ask for Aadhaar.
But Aadhaar is still mandatory for a number of other things.
- Welfare: The majority judgment concludes that Section 7, which allows the government to mandate Aadhaar for benefits and subsidies is “constitutional” and does not violate the fundamental right to privacy. This means, to get subsidies and welfare benefits, you do need Aadhaar.
- PAN card and Income Tax returns: The majority judgment says that the requirement of linking Aadhaar to PAN card and quoting it while filing tax returns is a legitimate state interest and does not violate the fundamental right to privacy. This means the Aadhaar linking to PAN is necessary, and it will have to be quoted while filing I-T returns.
Effectively, then, the new rules mean that practically every one in India will need Aadhaar to remain legal. Aadhaar is now mandatory for everyone who avails of any subsidies or benefits from the government. And Aadhaar is also mandatory for anyone who files income tax returns, which are required even for those who do not earn enough to get into a tax bracket. It is only that tiny slice of people who do not fall into either bucket, such as, say, college students who don’t earn any income and do not get any subsidy, that can avoid getting Aadhaar at the moment.