The Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court the “core effort” of the Aadhaar Act was to protect the money spent on bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. Attorney General KK Venugopal began his arguments for the Centre on Wednesday after the Supreme Court concluded hearing the petitions against the Aadhaar scheme a day earlier.
Addressing the petitioners’ concerns of data security, Venugopal said the government has taken every effort to ensure it and that the Aadhaar was not a “fly-by-night scheme, but a serious effort to insulate deserving beneficiaries from the effects of corruption”. The Centre asked the court if the Unique Identification Authority of India chief could make a powerpoint presentation on the steps taken to ensure better security.
The five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, however, asked the attorney general to “first make legal contentions”. Misra said the petitioners had concerns about privacy, dignity, surveillance and unconstitutional conditions among other things, and asked Venugopal to respond to those.
Venugopal told the court that the Aadhaar scheme could be a way to check corruption. “The object of the Act is targeted delivery for genuine beneficiaries,” he said. “It furthers the Article 21 right of the poor people of India, and advances the Directive Principles.”
Justice AK Sikri then observed that both the Centre and the petitioners were talking about the right to dignity.
On the question of privacy, Venugopal told the court that the Act was framed in such way as to ensure the invasion of privacy “is at the lowest possible level”. He pointed out that before the Act came into place, the Supreme Court had made Aadhaar voluntary. “So there should be no question of fundamental rights violations. If it was voluntary, how could there be violation?” he asked.
Justice DY Chandrachud, however, responded saying, “When people agreed to obtain Aadhaar, they did not accept a surrender of their data.”
The Chief Justice then asked Venugopal if his argument is that the “individual right to privacy must give way to the right to distributive justice”. Venugopal responded saying, “In this country, if you are poor, you become invisible.”
He also pointed out that many NGOs had brought up the problem of exclusion, but the court was yet to hear from such affected people. He added that the main question in this case was “one of balancing”. Venugopal said Aadhaar is an “enabler for millions of residents”, and added that it enabled their right to food, livelihood and pensions. “A handful of petitioners want it to be struck down on grounds of privacy.”
With the court still hearing the case challenging the constitutional validity of the scheme, it decided on March 13 to indefinitely extend the March 31 deadline to link Aadhaar with bank accounts and mobile numbers.
The top court had said the government cannot insist on the provision of Aadhaar even to issue Tatkal passports. The bench, however, had added the deadline for subsidies and benefits will remain March 31.