Constitutionality of Aadhaar Act

Background

In the year of 2011, the Central Government introduced a new identity document known as the Adhaar Card and established a new agency for its functioning , Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), to issue the card. Adhaar can be termed as an unique twelve digit unique identity number. The government introduced the Adhaar to be the unique primary identity number for all Indian residents. It endeavoured to make available Aadhaar to every resident free of cost. In order to obtain the card, one must submit their respective biometric data, which includes fingerprints scans and retinas. The UIDAI is bestowed with the task of storing the data in a centralized database. As the time passed by the Government made the Aadhaar Card mandatory for various citizen welfare schemes, which included subsidised food, Mid-Day Meal Scheme and guaranteed wage labour under the MGNREGA Scheme. The Act was however criticized on the grounds that it can lead to a surveillance state by profiling personal data of citizens, if not curtailed, was in violation of an individual’s fundamental right to privacy. The issue of Constitutionality of Aadhaar Act was a consideration of elaborate discussion in the case of K.S. Puttaswamy Vs. Union of India[1]. The Aadhaar scheme was challenged before the Hon’ble Supreme Court by Justice K.S. Puttaswamy, a retired Judge, contending Aadhaar Act impinges upon fundamental rights enshrined by the Constitution.

 What Information is collected to apply for Aadhaar?

In order to apply for an Aadhaar number, a person is required to submit their: (i) biometric information (photograph, 10 fingerprints, scans of both irises), and (ii) demographic information (name, date of birth, gender, residential address) to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).[2]

Overview of the Judgement

The Petitioner objections included-

Firstly the government has failed to place privacy safeguards, therefore any private entity may request for authentication by Aadhaar for any reason subjected to regulations laid down by UIDAI.  Secondly there are no checks on the powers of the government & power is unbounded in regard to the use of biometric data collected. The data was vulnerable to be misused by third party and private vendors, and that too, without the consent of an individual. [3] Thirdly entitlements arising out of State’s social sector schemes are non-negotiable fundamental rights. The scope of the same can’t be limited for any reason, including the inability to produce an Aadhaar Card when applying for benefits.

 The Court delivered its judgment on 26th September 2018. It upheld the constitutionality of Aadhaar Act. The Court held that the Act was rightfully passed by the Parliament, though was passed as a Money Bill but still valid. The Court held that the Aadhaar Act isn’t infringing the fundamental rights enshrined under Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21. By the majority of 4:1 majority the court upheld the constitutionality of Aadhaar Act, 2016, [4]although it held that the Act is constitutional, it struck down a few sections of the Act as unconstitutional.

We have come to the conclusion that Aadhaar Act is a beneficial legislation, which is aimed at empowering millions of people in this country.[5] The ruling was lauded and appreciated across the country for eradicating ambiguity over several provisions of Aadhaar and realizing its potential for effective distribution of social welfare services & good governance. The K.S. Puttaswamy judgement places Aadhaar in consonant with security & standards by the centre. The court disallowed linking Aadhaar with bank accounts and mobile numbers but permitted linking of Aadhaar with permanent account number (PAN). The court struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act[6], which stated that private companies can no longer insist on Aadhaar for their services. Aadhaar’s scope in admissions & education was also narrowed, Aadhaar can no longer be made compulsory in the process of admissions in organizations such as the University Grants Commission & Central Board of Secondary Education, though Aadhaar was made mandatory for filing of IT returns and allotment of PAN. The court also held that an Individual’s Aadhaar holder data can’t be disclosed even on the grounds of national security. The court has struck a fine balance between the citizen’s fundamental right to privacy & social welfare imperative. The concept of human dignity has been enlarged in the judgement.[7] It was also observed that there is no institutional responsibility of the UIDAI to protect the data of citizens & there was absence of a regulatory mechanism to provide robust data protection. The court further held that the Aadhaar can’t be made mandatory and was voluntary. People can be enrolled for the scheme with their consent only. Those who gave consent in absence of a law authorising Aadhaar, the court said, can withdraw consent and exit the scheme. “This consent is required to be free, informed, specific, clear and, in addition, capable of being withdrawn,”[8] Stated the 5 judge’s bench of the Apex Court.

Dissenting opinion Justice Supreme Court Justice D.Y. Chandrachud is stated below-

However in the dissenting opinion expressed by Justice Supreme Court Justice D Y Chandrachud said By passing the Rajya Sabha to pass the Aadhaar Act amounted to subterfuge and the law was liable to be struck down as being violative of Article 110 of the Constitution.[9] [10]

This dissenting opinion differed from the verdict given by Justice Bhushan who said the decision of terming Aadhaar Act as Money Bill was not open to any judicial review. Article 110 has specific grounds for Money Bill and the Aadhaar law went beyond this, further adding that in the current form, the Act cannot be held to be constitutional. He observed that the enactment of the Act does not save the Centre’s Aadhaar scheme and termed it as a fraud on the constitution, said Justice Chandrachud.

Judgement in a Succinct

1.) The Supreme Court adjourned the Central Government to bring a data protection robust law at the earliest.

2.) The Supreme Court said Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for getting mobile connections & openings of a bank account.

3.) The Supreme Court made linking of PAN and Aadhaar mandatory. The apex court further made Aadhaar compulsory for filing of Income Tax Returns.

4.) The Supreme Court said that Aadhaar shouldn’t be made compulsory for school admission & colleges and the administrations cannot make it mandatory upon the individual.

5.) Private organizations can no longer insist on Aadhaar for their services.

6.) The Supreme Court struck down provision in Aadhaar Act permitting sharing on the grounds of national security.
7.) The Apex court adjourned the government to make sure that Aadhaar are not being issued to illegal migrants so that those who are the rightful beneficiary are not deprived of the scheme.

Conclusion

The Apex Court of our country has once again stood to the occasion as it has always stood firm in protecting the much cherished fundamental rights of the citizens. A conclusion can be drawn that Aadhaar Act is a social beneficial legislation which is aimed at empowering lives of millions of people across the country. It has become axiomatic from the above that collection of individual’s data without adequate safeguards infringes the fundamental right to privacy enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution.  The court additionally adjourned the government to bring out a robust data protection regime in line with the Justice BN Srikrishna Committee at the earliest to sustain the vigour of the judgement, which has already submitted the draft Personal Data Protection Bill to the government.

The judgement of the Supreme Court has really struck a delicate balance between the fundamental right of the citizens & the compelling state interest and the same has been reflected in the level of the appreciation showered by the citizens of this country. The present judgement will go a long way in protecting the privacy of the citizens. However not to forget that the Act has its flaws which the court took note of & rectified the blemish. The need of the hour at present is a robust data protection, against which the court has already passed orders & it is upon the government to take the initiative further & not to abnegate its responsibilities.  The posterity will remain forever grateful to the present judgement.

Questions covered by the Article

1. What is the background that led to the filling of the K.S. Puttaswamy Case?

2. What Information is collected to apply for Aadhaar?

3. What is the majority opinion in the case?

4. What was the dissenting opinion given by Justice Supreme Court Justice D Y Chandrachud?

5. What are the major highlights of the judgement?


[1] K.S. Puttaswamy vs. Union of India, (2017) 10 SCC 1.

[2] Regulations 3 and 4, Aadhaar (Enrolment and Update) Regulations, 2016.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Aadhaar Act, 2016.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Section 57 of Aadhaar Act, 2016.

[7]Supra.

[8] Supra.

[9] Supra.

[10] Article 110 of the Constitution.

One Reply to “Constitutionality of Aadhaar Act”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *