NEW DELHI, May 10: The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved verdict on a clutch of 27 petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar law on the ground that it violated human rights and right to privacy in every possible way and subjected the citizens to continued surveillance.
A five-judge Constitution Bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan reserved verdict at the conclusion of marathon arguments for 38 days spread over nearly four months from January 17 and three days a week.
Supreme Court judge Justice D Y Chandrachud, while hearing the petitions challenging the Aadhaar scheme's constitutional validity, on Wednesday recalled a personal experience of how his mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, had faced difficulty in authentication to get her pension.
The court was examining the contention that the 12-digit Unique Identification number given out to 1.2 billion Indians, violates the Right to Privacy, which was named a fundamental right by the top court last year.
The government had made Aadhaar compulsory for a host of services and welfare measures, including bank accounts, PAN cards, cellphone services, passport and even driving licenses. It was made the overarching proof of identity and residence, over-riding all other prior identity proofs.
The petitioners argued that Aadhaar -- built on a mammoth biometric database comprising fingerprints and iris scans -- cannot be made mandatory. They also contended that this huge database was open to compromise, citing a number of instances of data breach that had triggered a huge debate.
Arguing that the Aadhaar law impacts human life, the petitioners demanded that it be scrapped.
A battery of lawyers including Attorney General K K Venugopal, who represented the Centre and senior advocates like Kapil Sibal, P Chidambaram, Rakesh Dwivedi, Shyam Divan, Arvind Datar, Rakesh Dwivedi had appeared for various parties.
Former Karnataka High Court judge Justice K S Puttaswamy and other petitioners had challenged the constitutional validity of Aadhaar.
The court had also not agreed with the government's contention that the Aadhaar law was correctly termed as a Money Bill by the Lok Sabha Speaker as it dealt with "targeted delivery of subsidies" for which funds came from the Consolidated Fund of India.
On May 3, the Centre had strongly defended its decision to seed Aadhaar numbers with mobile phones, telling the top court that it could have been hauled up for contempt if the verification of mobile users was not undertaken by it. However, the court had said that the government had misinterpreted its order and used it as a "tool" to make Aadhaar mandatory for mobile users.
The petitioners had referred to the technical experts' views on the technical aspect of the Aadhaar architecture and said that real-time surveillance of citizens was possible. Earlier, the court also did not agree with the government's contention that the Aadhaar law was correctly termed as a Money Bill by the Lok Sabha Speaker as it dealt with "targeted delivery of subsidies" for which funds come from the Consolidated Fund of India.
Aadhaar authentication failures could create problems for those in need and some solution had to be found to address the issue, said the Bench. Recalling his experience, Justice Chandrachud said "my mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease was entitled to family pension being the wife of a former Chief Justice of India (late Justice Y V Chandrachud)"."She had to give a thumb impression for authentication."
"I recall, every month the bank manager or his representative would come home and affix her thumb print on certain documents and only then could she get the pension," Justice Chandrachud said. "So it (authentication) is a serious issue. It's not largesse. It is not charity... we have to find answers for these problems," he said, adding that there was a class of needy people who may not get the benefits due to authentication failures.
The apex court judge was responding to the arguments of senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for former High Court judge Justice (Retd) K S Puttaswamy, who said a 90-year-old woman suffering from various ailments is being threatened that her bank account could be closed for non-authentication by Aadhaar. Divan said that through that bank account, she was getting her pension and she uses that money for her treatment as she has no one else to look after her."There are numerous cases where the Aadhaar authentication failures of the elderly, people suffering from any disease or physical disability, leads to denial of benefits to those otherwise entitled to it," Diwan said.He said in many villages, young people have now migrated to cities or nearby towns and only the elderly residing there were dependent on their pension or other grants. But due to Aadhaar authentication failure, they were not getting the benefits.
Divan sought to assail a World Bank report which had praised the Aadhaar project and which was relied upon by the government to bolster its case for the 12-digit unique identification number. He said the World Bank had partnered with a private entity for preparing the report titled 'Identification for Development'.Divan claimed that the same private entity was also the company with which UIDAI had partnered to facilitate Aadhaar.
Divan told the apex court that there were 144 notifications issued by various ministries and departments of the government which covered 252 schemes. The senior lawyer concluded his rejoinder arguments saying that essential government schemes that apply to children or relate to citizen's rehabilitation, food, health, and nutrition should be excluded from the requirement of Aadhaar authentication.
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