The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld most of the provisions of the Aadhaar Act by a 4:1 majority. Justice DY Chandrachud was the sole dissenter. The court said mobile phones and bank accounts do no need to be linked with Aadhaar though it has to be linked with PAN cards for filing income tax-returns.
On May 10, a five-judge Constitution Bench of the top court had reserved its judgement in the case after a hearing that lasted 38 sessions. The petitioners had raised concerns about privacy and questioned why the identity number was made mandatory for people to avail of welfare schemes, file income tax returns, hold mobile numbers, and bank accounts.
A major point of contention was whether Aadhaar violates the fundamental right to privacy, which the Supreme Court upheld in 2017. The government backed the Aadhaar initiative, and extended it to cover several social security schemes.
Here is what happened through the day:
7.12 pm: The five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra says they were not influenced by views expressed either in favour or against Aadhaar, reports PTI.
“The issue has generated heated public debate as well,” the judges say. “Even outside the court, there are groups advocating in favour of the Aadhaar scheme and those who are stoutly opposing the same.”
6.52 pm: Retired Justice KS Puttaswamy, one of the first to question the legality of Aadhaar, welcomes the judgement, reports IANS. “After holistic consideration, my opinion is that the majority judgement on the validity of Aadhaar Act is correct though I have not read the whole judgement yet,” he says.
6.48 pm: “Congress, being the fountainhead of middlemen and corruption, tried every trick to fight and defeat Aadhaar, politically and legally,” says Shah. “Today they stand exposed and defeated.”
6.46 pm: Shah says Aadhaar under the United Progressive Alliance government was “niradhar [without support] and had no purpose”.
6.41 pm: BJP chief Amit Shah says the Supreme Court judgement is “a strong validation of Aadhaar as an instrument of service delivery”. “It gives further impetus to empowering the poor by ensuring that they get their rights,” he tweets.
6.26 pm: Nilekani says Aadhaar includes and doesn’t exclude. “Aadhaar has undergone the ultimate scrutiny in the highest court, and a lot of recommendations have been incorporated,” he says. “Through the democratic process of discussion and debate, we have created a better and stronger Aadhaar together.”
6.23 pm: Nandan Nilekani, the architect of Aadhaar, says it is a “landmark judgement”. “More than just opining on the constitutionality of the act, the SC [Supreme Court] has unequivocally validated the founding principles for Aadhaar,” he tweets.
5.47 pm: “The Aadhaar verdict is a victory for UIDAI and the Government of India and has also set the pace of India’s digital destiny,” says CEO of Unique Identification Authority of India Ajay Bhushan Pandey.
5.39 pm: The Unique Identification Authority of India welcomes the “historical and landmark majority judgement of the Supreme Court on Aadhaar”, reports ANI. It says the Supreme Court has accepted there is a legitimate state aim in Aadhaar.
5.30 pm: “Nobody is defining technology,” says former Union minister P Chidambaram. He says it was the United Progressive Alliance that appointed Nandan Nilekani and his team to design the technology, reports ANI. “Who took it to things like school admissions, bank account etc?”
5.13 pm: Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad says it is a historic judgement. “The Supreme Court has clearly said Aadhaar doesn’t lead to any kind of surveillance,” he says, according to ANI.
5.07 pm: Chief Executive Officer of Unique Identification Authority of India Ajay Bhushan Pandey says Aadhaar empowers poor and marginalised section, reports PTI. “Aadhaar can be used for subsidies and government schemes so that there is no leakage of government funds,” he says. “It can be used for income tax so that tax evasion and black money can be curbed.”
4.45 pm: Here is a more in-depth look into the differences between the majority judgement and Justice DY Chandrachud’s lone dissenting opinion.
4.15 pm: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has praised the part of the judgement that strikes down linking Aadhaar with phone numbers and bank accounts.
3.55 pm: Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram says Aadhaar is still a work in progress, and praises Justice Chandrachud’s dissenting judgement. “For now, we can be satisfied that a rampaging government has been restrained and the reach of Aadhaar has been contained to benefits, subsidies and services paid out of the Consolidated Fund of India,” he tweets.
3.50 pm: Congress President Rahul Gandhi has tweeted.
3.20 pm: Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad calls the verdict a victory of good governance.
3.10 pm: NITI Aayog chief Amitabh Kant also welcomes the verdict. “This is a good and a progressive judgement. It will bring efficiency in the country.”
3 pm: Union minister Arun Jaitley praises the court’s verdict, calling it historic. “Everyone who has been criticising Aadhaar should understand that they cannot defy technology. Mainstream should accept changes, one can understand the fringe being against,” ANI reports him as saying.
2.20 pm: Reports say the Congress will challenge the judgement validating passing the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill, and will ask for a seven-judge Constitution bench to decide on it.
2.14 pm: Sibal points out that the passage of the law violated both the fundamental right to privacy and was a gross abuse of the Money Bill route.
2.13 pm: “By striking down Section 57 of Aadhaar Act, Supreme Court has firmly put an end to the mass surveillance exercise being carried out under the guise of Aadhaar by the central government and the grotesque distortion of an idea conceived by the UPA,” says Congress leader Kapil Sibal.
2.08 pm: Security expert Samir Kelekar, who submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court showing it is possible to use Aadhaar to conduct surveillance, tells Scroll.in that he does not think the judgement is good because Aadhaar is still required to file tax returns. “People like me who have not taken Aadhaar have to go for it now,” he adds. “The other parts are good, and mainly the part that private companies cannot make it mandatory.”
1.50 pm: The entire verdict is now available online.
1.44 pm: “Mamata Banerjee had issued an open challenge on Aadhaar,” Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien tells ANI. “Our stance has been vindicated. I am glad the Supreme Court said what it said. On data privacy and data protection, that is also something we need to take a close look at, so the BJP cannot make it into a policed state.”
1.41 pm: The judgement is a big victory for the Narendra Modi government, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra tells ANI. “The court has said Aadhar gives strength to poor people,” he adds. “The Modi government’s aim has been to see to it that what is the right of the poor people goes directly to their pocket without the middlemen consuming it.” He accuses the Congress of favouring middlemen and says that is why the Opposition party wanted the law to be struck down.
1.26 pm: Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala reacts to the Aadhaar verdict. “The Congress led UPA’s vision of Aadhaar was always voluntary and never mandatory,” he tweets. “This is an endorsement of the UPA’s vision for Aadhar and a rejection of the NDA’s clumsy attempt to gather meta data on its citizens without any rationale.”
1.20 pm: “I am very happy with the judgement,” says Attorney General KK Venugopal. “It is a landmark and a remarkable judgement.”
12.59 pm: “I think on the whole it is a good judgement,” former Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee tells ANI. “Though personally, I am happy with Justice Chandrachud’s judgement striking it down on the ground that it bothers right to privacy.”
12.55 pm: The Congress welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, which allowed private entities to use Aadhaar for verification purposes.
12.27 pm: The pronouncement of judgement is over.
12.26 pm: He upholds the linking of bank accounts and income-tax returns with Aadhaar but strikes down phone linking as it is “not backed by law”.
12.24 pm: Justice Bhushan says certification of Aadhaar Act as a money bill can be reviewed by court, overrules Sidiqqi and Yogesh Jaiswal cases. He holds that Aadhaar does not violate privacy. It passes the three-fold test in nine-judge bench decision. The judgement says that for the exclusion of 3%, 97% cannot be denied the benefits of Aadhaar.
12.22 pm: “Even if authentication is probabilistic as on date, we have no doubt that authentication success rates will improve,” says Bhushan.
12.19 pm: “Implementation problems and shortcomings do not make Section 7 of Aadhaar Act unconstitutional,” says Bhushan. “No material record to say exclusion has increased post Aadhaar. Authorities will have to take steps to minimise exclusion.”
12.17 pm: “Largely concur with Sikri but have three differences,” he says.
12.14 pm: Ashok Bhushan starts reading his judgement.
12.10 pm: Aadhaar numbers shall be deleted forthwith by the telecom companies, says Chandrachud. “Entire Aadhaar from 2009 suffers from constitutional validity. Government violated the interim orders continuously,” he adds.
12.06 pm: Allowing private enterprise to use Aadhaar numbers will lead to exploitation of data, Chandrachud adds. “Section 57 violates 14 and 21 of the Constitution insofar as services are defined. One right cannot be taken away at the behest of the other.”
12 pm: The Supreme Court judge says respondents’ claims about security and safeguards were not convincing and fall short of standards required to protect privacy and data protection. “Potential surveillance is possible through Aadhaar,” he adds.
11.55 am: Chandrachud holds that the Aadhaar programme as a whole is completely violative of privacy and unconstitutional. “Constitutional guarantees cannot be subjected to probability, algorithms and technological vicissitudes,” he adds.
11.54 am: “The party in power may not hold majority in the Rajya Sabha but you cannot undermine it,” says Chandrachud. “Passage of the bill unconstitutional.”
11.49 am: “Passing of bill as money bill when it does not qualify as a money bill is a fraud on Constitution, violates basic structure,” says Chandrachud.
11.48 am: But by declaring an ordinary bill as a money bill, speaker limits the role of the Rajya Sabh, “which was developed to express country’s plurality”, says Chandrachud. “This is inconsistent with Constitution. Aadhaar cannot be treated as a money bill,” he adds.
11.43 am: “The impermanence of power is a sober reminder for those who hold it,” says Chandrachud. “Absolute authority is a colonial precept. If a Constitution has to survive political aggrandisement, notions of power and authority must give compliance to rule of law.”
11.41 am: The decision to treat a bill as a money bill is amenable to judicial review, says Chandrachud. He concurs with Sikri on that regard.
11.38 am: “Quest for digital India should take into account the digital divide,” says Chandrachud. “While data is the new oil, it still eludes the common citizen.”
11.36 am: Justice DY Chandrachud starts reading his judgement. “Large areas I have dissented, some I agree with,” he says.
11.33 am: The mandatory bank account and Aadhaar linking is struck down as unconstitutional. “Does not satisfy the test of proportionality,” says Sikri.
11.32 am: Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act has been upheld. The provision makes linkage of income tax returns with Aadhaar mandatory.
11.30 am: The Sikri judgement upholds Aadhaar Act being passed as Money Bill.
11.28 am: School admissions cannot be carried out on the basis of Aadhaar, he adds. “No child can be denied any schemes if they are not able to bring their Aadhaar number.” It is not mandatory for UGC, NEET and CBSE examinations.
11.27 am: Justice Sikri, in his judgement, has also provided guidelines to prevent and minimise exclusion.
11.26 am: Sikri says the court is not trivialising exclusion but points out that “inclusion is the purpose of the Act, and if we have to throw out the full Act on that ground it would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. The court has taken on record the statement of the attorney general that no one will be deprived.
11.21 am: The purpose of the Aadhaar Act is legitimate, says Sikri. Its rational connection to purpose is satisfied and the Act’s balancing test is satisfied insofar as only minimal data is collected, he adds.
11.20 am: Court reads down Section 2(d) of the Aadhaar Act to exclude meta data of transactions.
11.18 am: Section 33(1), which permits disclosure of Aadhaar information on orders of a district judge, also read down to give the owner of data an opportunity to be heard.
11.15 am: National security exception for disclosure of Aaadhar information, as mandated by Seciton 33(2), struck down.
11.13 am: Section 57 of Aadhaar Act, which enables corporate bodies to seek authentication, is unconstitutional, says Supreme Court.
11.12 am: “Profiling not possible using Aadhaar,” he says. “Sufficient safeguards to disallow it. However some provisions are struck down.”
11.11 am: “We follow the ‘larger public interest’ as against the ‘compelling public state interest’ test,” the judge says. “We framed 10 issues,” he adds. The first question it considered is whether Aadhaar creates a surveillance state and is therefore unconstitutional?
11.06 am: Respect grounded in human dignity is exposited in the judgement, the judge says. “Also discussed is dignity not only in reference to individual but also dignity within the community.”
11.04 am: He discusses the arguments of the parties in the case, says petitioners heavily relied on privacy judgement of 2017.
11.01 am: Aadhaar empowers marginalised section of societies as it gives identity to such persons, says the judge.
11 am: Minimal data is collected for establishing identity under Aaadhar, says Sikri.
10.59 am: “There is no possibility of obtaining duplicate Aadhaar card,” the Supreme Court judge says. Enrolment was foolproof, he adds.
10.58 am: “Attack on Aadhaar by petitioners is based on violation of rights under Part 3 of the Constitution, will lead us to become a surveillance state,” Bar and Bench quotes Sikri as saying.
10.54 am: “It is better to be unique than the best,” he adds. “Best is number one, but unique means the only one.”
10.52 am: Sikri starts speaking. “Aadhaar has become the most discussed subject in recent past,” he says.
10.51 am: Justice AK Sikri’s judgement concurred by chief justice and Justice Khanwilkar, reports LiveLaw. The summary of Sikri’s judgement is 40-pages long.
10.49 am: The judges have assembled, verdict to be announced soon.
10.45 am: Bench consisting of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justices DY Chandrachud, AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar and Ashok Bhushan to sit shortly to deliver Aadhaar judgement, reports LiveLaw.
10.34 am: A huge crowd present in chief justice’s court, reports LiveLaw.
10.31 am: “The judgement will have a far reaching effect because Aadhaar is relevant for a large number of subsidies,” former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi tells ANI. “It is also relevant to plug loot & waste that has happened. I hope the judgement is in favour of Aadhaar.”
10.24 am: The judgement on the right to privacy is likely to impact the verdict. A citizen’s right to privacy came under the scanner in 2017 during hearings, after which the top court ruled that the right is an “intrinsic part of life and personal liberty”, guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.
10.19 am: There will be three separate opinions by Justices AK Sikri, DY Chandrachud, and Ashok Bhushan.
10.15 am: The verdict is expected around 10.45 am.
10.08 am: At 38 sessions, this was the second-longest hearing in the top court’s history. Here is a summary of the proceedings from LiveLaw. The longest Supreme Court hearing was in 1973 – Kesavananda Bharati vs the state of Kerala questioned if the Parliament has unlimited power to amend the Constitution, and the extent to which fundamental rights can be taken away.