In a major setback for the UPA Government’s Unique Identification (UID) Project, the Supreme Court recently held that UID will not be ‘mandatory’ for availing services or benefits under Government schemes. With Aadhaar cards or Unique Identification number becoming mandatory for obtaining a gas connection to a marriage registration certificate, the action of the Government in pushing the project forward came under serious legal challenge in apex court with a set of PILs questioning how the Government, without sanction from Parliament or any statutory backing, pursued with this scheme on such a large scale. The PIL filed by a former Karnataka judge KS Puttaswamy among others challenged the legal sanction of the UID Authority of India to dole out Unique Identification numbers to citizens and illegal immigrants alike, posing a serious risk to the security of the country. The bench noted with concern that cards were being issued even to illegal immigrants. “No Aadhaar card should be issued to illegal immigrants,” it said.
For the Government, this came as a huge blow as several of its welfare projects such as Direct Cash Transfer scheme, etc were sought to be disbursed upon production of the Aadhaar card. Faced with such an order in an election year, the Centre’s worry was evident. Frantic efforts were made by Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran and Additional Solicitor General LN Rao who resisted the petition by clarifying there was no ‘mandatory’ requirement for an Aadhaar card to avail of its services. “It is issued on voluntary basis,” the Centre argued. On the question of issuing cards to illegal immigrants, Parasaran said, “The enforcement machinery is tightened. Just because some aberrations are reported by the media it does not mean the Aadhaar cards are issued to all and sundry.”
Refuting Centre’s stand, petitioner’s lawyers — senior advocates Anil Divan and Shyam Divan — cited an instance from Maharashtra where Government employees and even judges were told to procure an Aadhaar Card to receive salary. Anil Divan even held a constitutional bar to the UID project. It was by an executive order of January 28, 2009 that the UIDAI was created. “An executive action could not circumvent Parliament,” the petition said as the Bill in this regard – National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 was yet to receive approval of Parliament before being declared a law.
Further, since the Aadhaar Card required persons to give all personal details, including finger prints, right to privacy of citizens was at jeopardy. In the event, the Bill failed to get support in Parliament, the information stored with the UIDAI could be used by the Government for any other purpose, besides the danger of getting leaked. Already, the Standing Committee on Finance had rejected the Bill in its present form. After this, the Government had stopped issuing of Aadhaar numbers around February 2012. But on August 15, 2012, the second phase of enrolment was started, the petition said. The Government has so far incurred a colossal expense under the Aadhaar project. As per the budget for the first three phases of the project, Rs. 8,814 crore has been set apart.
A day after the Supreme Court ruled that Aadhaar card issued under the Unique Identification (UID) project has no legal base and it cannot be mandatory for a host of services, the Government said it will push for passage of a long-pending Bill to provide statutory status to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) in the Winter Session of Parliament.
The UIDAI, constituted in January 2009, functions as an executive body under the Planning Commission. The authority has been mandated to enroll and collect biometric data of 60 crore residents across 18 States, while data of the remaining 61 crore population would be collected under the National Population Register programme.
– Pioneer and agency inputs