Must ex­am­ine if Aad­haar data can be mis­used: SC

Bench ob­serves scheme has re­ceived global praise; pe­ti­tioner’s lawyer ar­gues it has fea­tures of to­tal­i­tar­ian state

Hindustan Times (Gurgaon) - - Front Page - Bhadra Sinha let­ters@hin­dus­tan­

NEWDELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday com­mented on the ap­pre­ci­a­tion Aad­haar has re­ceived from in­ter­na­tional jour­nals and agen­cies for fa­cil­i­tat­ing a “ci­ti­zen-cen­tric de­liv­ery of ser­vices”, even as it agreed that there is a need to ex­am­ine the scope for mis­use of the data col­lected un­der the scheme.

Jus­tice DY Chan­drachud, a mem­ber of the five-judge bench led by Chief Jus­tice of India Di­pak Misra, told the pe­ti­tioner’s coun­sel that busi­ness jour­nals had praised Aad­haar as a tool for “en­sur­ing that so­cial wel­fare ben­e­fits reached the de­serv­ing”.

“This pro­gramme is not just the envy of North Korea but also the World Bank,” the judge said when ad­vo­cate Shyam Di­van crit­i­cised the Aad­haar pro­gram for en­abling sur­veil­lance, say­ing it would be the envy of coun­tries such as North Korea.

Tuesday marked the fourth day of ar­gu­ments in the Aad­haar case; 30 pe­ti­tions are pend­ing be­fore the Con­sti­tu­tion bench chal­leng­ing the scheme that en­tails the col­lec­tion of bio­met­ric

data of ci­ti­zens and is­su­ing a 12-digit unique iden­tity num­ber. The govern­ment has pushed Aad­haar as a fa­cil­i­ta­tor for the de­liv­ery of its wel­fare and fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits to those who need it. Some of the pe­ti­tions also deal with the le­gal­ity of man­dat­ing the link­ing of this num­ber to bank ac­counts, driv­ing li­censes, and in­come-tax re­turns.

“The pos­i­tive as­pect of Aad­haar is that for the first time there is a ci­ti­zen-cen­tric de­liv­ery of ser­vices. This is ex­actly the part of Aad­haar that has been ap­pre­ci­ated by econ­o­mists,” Jus­tice Chan­drachud said, to which Di­van replied that jour­nals should not be re­lied on.

Di­van added that lo­cal jour­nals have un­cov­ered de­tails of star­va­tion deaths that have taken place due to the pro­gramme ex­clud­ing them.

“Let’s not stretch it too far. Ul­ti­mately we are all part of a highly net­worked world,” Jus­tice Chan­drachud told Di­van when the ad­vo­cate ar­gued that col­lec­tion of bio­met­ric in­for­ma­tion could lead to “real-time” sur­veil­lance of ci­ti­zens.

Still, Jus­tice Chan­drachud did agree with Di­van on sec­tion 57 of the Aad­haar Act that al­lows pri­vate par­ties to seek bio­met­ric de­tails and said this needs look­ing into.

Di­van drew a com­par­i­son with Eu­rope where, he said, no such pro­grams were pro­moted. Jus­tice Chan­drachud re­sponded that the in­volve­ment of the In­dian govern­ment in devel­op­men­tal pro­grammes is higher. “The NHS (in UK) may be an ex­cep­tion, but there is noth­ing like an MGNREGA there”, he pointed out, re­fer­ring to the govern­ment’s flag­ship job guar­an­tee scheme that uses Aad­haar.

The pro­fil­ing of peo­ple and their pri­vate af­fairs can­not be al­lowed, though, the judge warned. “What is the scope for mis­use in the fu­ture? That is im­por­tant. But we can­not dis­count that the govern­ment can’t use it to en­sure the iden­ti­ties of ben­e­fi­cia­ries. If the ag­gre­ga­tion is only for pur­pose of so­cial wel­fare ben­e­fits, will that not pass muster?” he asked, voic­ing the ques­tion that will likely in­flu­ence the court’s rul­ing.


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