In a much-awaited judgement, the Supreme Court on Wednesday declared the Centre’s flagship Aadhaar scheme as constitutionally valid.
The apex court, however, struck down some of its provisions including its linking with bank accounts, mobile phones and school admissions.
The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra ruled that while Aadhaar would remain mandatory for filing of IT returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number (PAN), it would not be mandatory to link Aadhaar to bank accounts and the telecom service providers cannot seek its linking for mobile connections.
The five-judge constitution bench held that It would not be mandatory for school admissions, as also for the examinations conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Examination, National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medical entrance and the University Grants Commission.
The bench also struck down the national security exception under the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.
Observing that Aadhaar was meant to help the benefits reach the marginalised sections of society, it said the scheme takes into account the dignity of people not only from personal but from the community point of view as well and served the much bigger public interest. Aadhaar means unique and it is better to be unique than being best, it said.
Three sets of judgements were pronounced in the matter. The first one was pronounced by Justice A K Sikri who wrote the judgement for himself, the CJI and Justice A M Khanwilkar.
Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan, who were also part of the bench, wrote their individual opinions.
While Justice Chandrachud said he was expressing certain views different from that of the judgement of the three judges, Justice Bhushan said he concurred with the views of the majority.
Justice Sikri struck down Section 57 of Act permitting private entities like telecom companies or other corporates to avail Aadhaar data.
Ruling that Aadhaar authentication data cannot be stored for more than six months,it directed the government not to give Aadhaar to illegal immigrants.
The court upheld the passage of the Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill by the Lok Sabha. The Congress party and its leader Jairam Ramesh had challenged the passage of the bill in the House.
The bench also said there was nothing in the Aadhaar Act that violates right to privacy of an individual.
Justice Sikri said robust data protection regime has to be brought in place as early as possible, noting that the attack on Aadhaar by the petitioners was based on violation of rights under the Constitution, which they felt led to a surveillance state.
Observing that there has been minimal demographic and biometric data collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for Aadhaar enrolment, Justice Sikri said unique identification proof empowered and gave identity to the marginalised sections of society and there was no possibility of obtaining a duplicate as there existed a sufficient defence mechanism.
Justice Bhushan agreed with the view that there was no need to link Aadhaar with mobile numbers and rejected the argument that revealing demographic information for Aadhaar amounted to violation of Right to Privacy, saying an individual revealed such data for other ID proofs.
Justice Chandrachud said the Aadhaar Act could not have been passed as Money Bill as it amounted to a fraud on the Constitution.
Bypassing the Rajya Sabha to pass the Act amounted to subterfuge and is liable to be struck down as violative of Article 110 of the Constitution, he held.
Article 110 has specific grounds for Money Bill and the Aadhaar law went beyond this, Justice Chandrachud said, adding that in the current form, the Act cannot be held to be constitutional.
Noting that mobile has become an important feature of life and its seeding with Aadhaar posed a grave threat to privacy, liberty, autonomy, he favoured deletion of consumers’ Aadhaar data by the mobile service providers.
Maintaining that the Prevention of Money Laundering Act Rules proceeded on the assumption that every bank account holder is a money launderer, he said the assumption that every individual who opens a bank account is a potential terrorist or a launderer was “draconian”.
Justice Chandrachud said the collection of data could lead to individual profiling of citizens and the Aadhaar scheme violated informational privacy, self-determination and data protection which has been admitted by UIDAI.
He said the data was vulnerable to be misused by third party and private vendors, and that too, without the consent of an individual. He said the Aadhaar project has failed to remedy the flaws in its design, leading to exclusion.
Allowing private players to use Aadhaar will lead to profiling which could be used to ascertain the political views of citizens, he said, adding that the denial of social welfare measures was violation of fundamental rights.
There is no institutional responsibility of the UIDAI to protect the data of citizens, he said, adding that there was absence of a regulatory mechanism to provide robust data protection.
However, he said it was now impossible to live in India without Aadhaar but it was violative of Article 14 and if it got seeded with every database, there was a chance of infringement of right to privacy.
Justice Chandrachud said while Parliament possesses the right to make a law, the absence of protection leads to violation of various rights.
(With PTI inputs)