SC upholds constitutional validity of Aadhaar, strikes down certain provisions.

A constitution bench affirms Aadhaar’s constitutionality, saying it involved “parting with minimal information” to fulfill the “larger public interest” of the marginalised and poor who can use it to obtain benefits and subsidies.


The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar; albeit with riders. In a majority judgment of 4:1, a constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra affirmed its constitutionality, saying it involved “parting with minimal information” to fulfill the “larger public interest” of the marginalised and poor who can use it to obtain benefits and subsidies under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act. Its passage as a money bill was also affirmed under the majority view. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, the sole dissenting judge, however, disagreed as he said, “Passing it as a money bill is a fraud on the Constitution and it violates its basic structure.”

The court also laid down norms under privacy, proportionality, data security against which Aadhaar was tested and qualified.

Clarifying the mandate of its linking with various services, the court upheld linking with permanent account number (PAN) but ruled out on its linking with bank accounts and mobile numbers. Until now, banks and telephone companies had been pushing customers to link their Aadhaar.

By striking down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, the court also ensured that private companies can no longer use the Aadhaar database or insist on it for their services.

Aadhaar’s role in eduction and admissions was also restricted as it was held that it could not be made compulsory for school admissions and authorities like Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and University Grants Commission (UGC) could not insist on it.

The petitioners’ argument of Aadhaar leading to the problem of exclusion was also rejected. “The entire aim of launching the programme was inclusion of those who deserve to get benefits. If we consider the 0.232 per cent of failures, then 99.7 per cent for whom it is meant, inclusion gets disturbed”, said Justice A.K. Sikri.

Aadhaar, the 12-digit biometric identity number, has been issued to more than 1.22 billion residents of India. It is instrumental in availing a host of services, including central and state government schemes (such as PDS, LPG, MNREGA), banking services, telecommunication connections, filing of income tax returns and for also making Aadhaar-based digital payments.

The apex court was ruling on a batch of over 30 petitions, heard over four months, each of which challenged several aspects of Aadhaar, including its constitutional basis, the process of collecting personal and biometric information under it, and privacy and security concerns.

Another set of challenges were making it mandatory for social welfare benefits, making it mandatory for filing income-tax returns (ITRs) as well as for obtaining and retaining PAN. The petitioners include non-government organizations, privacy campaigners, retired army officers and the government of West Bengal.

As part of the petitioners’ arguments against Aadhaar, its architecture was criticized on the grounds of it leading to a surveillance state by tracking people or profiling their personal data. This, if not curtailed, was destructive of a limited Constitution and violated an individual’s fundamental right to privacy, it was claimed. Issues with the UIDAI’s enrolment procedure that raised concerns about data breaches were also put forth.

Shyam Divan, lawyer for the petitioners, elaborated on the possibility of India turning into a surveillance state, claiming that the provisions in the Aadhaar Act enabled the UIDAI to collect data beyond an individual’s fingerprint and iris scan to issue the Aadhaar number. He also criticized the excessive power handed to the UIDAI to outsource the security of the database.

This was met by the Centre’s main argument that Aadhaar was rolled out to help the poor, and keeping in mind “legitimate state interests” such as curbing terrorism, poverty, money laundering, black money and delivery of subsidies and benefits.

During one of the hearing, Attorney General, K.K. Venugopal said, “The state is using Aadhaar as an ‘enabler of the citizens’ right to life. including their right to food, livelihood, pension and other social assistance benefits’.” He further stated that Aadhaar’s main objective was entrenched in Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.

Adopting a similar stand, the UIDAI maintained that Aadhaar was backed by a robust system of security and that there had not been a single breach of biometric data from its end. The issuing body also claimed that Aadhaar had a 2048-bit encryption key, which worked like a number lock, making it extremely secure.

In the time that the court heard the case, it passed several interim directions clarifying the extent of Aadhaar’s mandatory nature and extending the deadline for its linking with various services.

In March, the apex court extended the deadline for linking Aadhaar with mobile services, opening new bank accounts and other services until it passes its verdict on the pending constitutional challenge before it.

It was however, clarified that the extension would not be applicable for availing of services, subsidies and benefits under Section 7 of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.

In a path-breaking ruling on 24 August, 2017, the apex court held privacy to be a fundamental right, setting stage for Aadhaar to be tested against it. (Source: Livemint)

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