Government to ask Supreme Court to widen Aadhaar ambit

On heels of Aadhaar crossing the one billion coverage mark, telecom minister Ravi Shankar said government will approach the Supreme Court


Aadhaar has crossed the one billion coverage milestone almost six years after the first unique identification number was issued in September 2010. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Aadhaar has crossed the one billion coverage milestone almost six years after the first unique identification number was issued in September 2010. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

New Delhi: Armed with legislative backing and widespread coverage of Aadhaar, the government will soon approach the Supreme Court with a request to allow the usage of the unique identity number for more government services and social security programmes.

Aadhaar crossed the one billion coverage mark on Monday.

“One of the core issues of concern articulated in the court is that there is no legal basis backing Aadhaar. Now there is a proper law duly framed that will go a long way in assuaging the concerns. We will persuade the Supreme Court to release more avenues for use of Aadhaar,” telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told a press conference, adding that the government will have to get the court’s nod before allowing more services.

“We are quite open to as many public services being brought on the Aadhaar platform for flawless delivery. But the Supreme Court has put some restriction. For new services, we have to take the permission of the Supreme Court,” he said.

At present, the court allows the government to use the Aadhaar number for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, pensions by central and state governments and the Employees’ Provident Fund Scheme, in addition to its use in the public distribution system and the distribution of cooking gas and kerosene—till a constitution bench decides a clutch of cases around Aadhaar and violation of privacy.

Aadhaar is a unique identity number issued to Indian residents after collection of biometric information such as fingerprints and iris scans.

“The Supreme Court’s approval for expanding Aadhaar is only procedural. The real test of Aadhaar will be last-mile inclusion,” said former civil servant N.C. Saxena, a member of the erstwhile Planning Commission.

The government wants to make Aadhaar the mainstay of its ambitious plan for the direct transfer of social security benefits to the bank accounts of beneficiaries. To this effect, it enacted the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, last month that will make Aadhaar mandatory for anyone wanting to avail government services.

Aadhaar enrolment has managed to successfully navigate the transition between two regimes—the United Progressive Alliance during whose tenure this was envisaged and implemented and the National Democratic Alliance, which gave it much-needed statutory backing through the passage of the Aadhaar bill in Parliament.

It also managed to rapidly expand its coverage despite concerns expressed by some critics over privacy and data security.

“What the government has done today is akin to writing an open letter to hackers and governments of other countries saying that we have details of our entire population in a central database for you to hack,” said Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Centre for Internet and Society, a non-profit organization involved with research on freedom of expression, privacy and open access to literature. According to data available on the website of the Unique Identification Authority of India, 1,000,856,739 Aadhaar numbers have been issued till date. This achievement comes almost six years after the first Aadhaar number was issued in September 2010.

The highest number of Aadhaar numbers have been issued in Uttar Pradesh (144.9 million) followed by Maharashtra (105.1 million), West Bengal (73.1 million) and Bihar (66.6 million).

“One billion Aadhaar card holders will not mean anything if we don’t have half as many bank account holders,” said Saxena.