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Why the spat between govt and SC on Aadhaar is not a big issue

Shishir Asthana
Chillicious Research

The Supreme Court and government seem to be at loggerheads once again, this time on the usage of Aadhaar cards. The apex court has maintained its stand that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory by the government for extending the benefits of its welfare schemes.

The government is making Aadhaar compulsory as an authentication tool for identification. Recently, it made Aadhaar compulsory for filing income tax returns, for students appearing for national level entrance exams and booking of rail tickets as well.

Citizens are not sure whom to believe. On one side, the government is pushing Aadhaar down our throats, and on the other the Supreme Court is giving the impression that its use is not compulsory.

Though the Supreme Court is saying that use of Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for using government benefits through its welfare scheme, the general inference is that if it is not mandatory for availing scheme benefits, then why it should be made compulsory in other transactions?

The court has clarified that it is not against the use of Aadhaar for other schemes but only against mandatory use of Aadhaar for benefit schemes. With Aadhaar identification not reaching every citizen, especially in the rural areas, the Supreme Court cannot be faulted for delaying the government’s move to make it compulsory.

The court, however, is not against Aadhaar and it is clear from its recent judgment where it asked the government to make it mandatory for telecom subscribers to be re-verified via Aadhaar cards.

The general grouse amongst those complaining is that the data is not safe with the government. Further, they accuse the government of invasion of privacy in collection of biometrics.

The Supreme Court has yet to decide if Right to Privacy is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the constitution.

To reply to the question, one needs to go back to the origin of Aadhaar. The Kargil Review Committee, which was formed to assess national security in India felt the need to issue identity cards. But it took the government nearly a decade to establish Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) under the Planning Commission.

By then it was felt that plain identity cards are easy to replicate and there was a need for using more secure identification cards. Given the incidence of homegrown terrorists, the need for identifying and tracking them was felt.

Then there was the case of tax evasion, which was proving to be an equally bigger menace. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in a recent debate on Aadhaar said that the reason to make Aadhaar number mandatory was to get rid of those who possess multiple PAN cards for tax evasion.

“With Aadhaar, we can stop a person from creating extra PAN cards as it is backed by biometrics like finger prints and iris scans,” Jaitley had said. “We have seen some examples where people own at least five PAN cards for tax fraud purposes and because of that the government has proposed to provide Aadhaar number while filing returns.”

Revamping PAN cards, as recommended by critics of Aadhaar, would be a meaningless exercise as the data to create a PAN card is not as secure as that of Aadhaar.

The widely reported numbers suggest that around 98 percent of adults in the country have Aadhaar numbers and more than 1.12 billion Aadhaar cards have been issued. Aadhaar cards have authenticated against other IDs some 5 billion times, and a billion e-KYCs have been done on the platform.

If an individual can submit his ration card or PAN card or passport for various authentications, there is little reason for him or her not to produce their Aadhaar card if it helps secure the country better and prevent black money generation.

The only complaint that could have some validity pertains to the security of data collected through biometrics. Government will not only have to ensure that it is not leaked or hacked but also affix blame and take action if an untoward incident occurs.