New Delhi: Nearly five months after the Supreme Court (SC) had reserved its verdict on issues related to Aadhaar, ranging from its legality to its compulsory use for availing various services, the top court will pronounce its judgment on the matter today. The judgment will determine the fate of Aadhaar- the 12-digit biometric identity number which has been issued to more than 1.22 billion residents of India. This comes at a time when Aadhaar is instrumental for availing a host of services, including central and state government schemes ( such as PDS, LPG, and MNREGA), banking services, telecom connections, filing of income tax returns and for also making Aadhaar-based digital payments.
On 10 May, a constitution bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices D.Y. Chandrachud, A.K. Sikri, A.M. Khanwilkar and Ashok Bhushan concluded hearing various challenges to the constitutional basis of the unique identification project.
Here is a look at the key points to watch out for, during the announcement of the verdict:
The court will decide whether the unique ID project is constitutionally valid or not. It is mainly aimed at asserting the constitutionality of ‘Section 7’ of the Aadhaar Act, which holds that the centre or state can ask a person to provide their Aadhaar number as a form of identification to avail benefit from a subsidy or service that the government provides.
Making Aadhaar mandatory, the petitioners have argued, violates elements of choice and self-determination under Article 21.
Whether passage of Aadhaar Act in Lok Sabha as money bill was valid?
A money bill is one that contains provisions for taxes, appropriation of funds etc. Money bills can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha, and the Rajya Sabha cannot make amendments to such bills passed by the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha can suggest amendments, but it is the Lok Sabha’s choice to accept or reject them.
The NDA government introduced the Aadhaar Act as money bill in the Lok Sabha. The lower house passed the bill as NDA enjoys a majority there. However, in Rajya Sabha, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh recommended several amendments. These recommendations were rejected by the Lok Sabha, which passed the law called Aadhaar ( Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.
Mandatory nature of Aadhaar to avail services
Aadhaar has been made mandatory for availing various central and state government schemes including PDS, MNREGA, LPG, mid-day meal scheme and pension schemes. However, other services have also been linked to Aadhaar which includes banking services, telecom connections and filing of income tax returns. The apex court will decide on linkage of Aadhaar to avail such services.
Implications on privacy concerns
In a path-breaking ruling on 24 August 2017, the top court held that privacy is a fundamental right. In the process, it set the stage for the introduction of a privacy law; the government appointed an expert group under former Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna to make recommendations. The expert panel submitted its report along with a draft bill titled The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018 to the Ministry of Information and Technology (MeitY) on 27 July. The bill which has been put up for public consultation will need parliamentary approval to become an Act.
The court’s ruling gave hope to critics who contend that Aadhaar is intrusive and helps government spy on people.
Security of Aadhaar database
During the course of hearings, which went on for 38 days over a span of four months, various legal counsels argued that Unique Identification Authority of India’s (UIDAI’s) process of data collection and storage is deeply compromised. It was during one such hearing that attorney-general K.K. Venugopal defended the Aadhaar database’s security by saying that it remained secure behind a complex that had “13-feet high and 5-feet thick walls".
The much awaited ruling on Aadhaar will be one of the key defining moments before Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra hands over the reins to his successor, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, on 3 October. With a week to go, all eyes will now be on Misra to deliver judgments on key important issues. Within this month, Misra has already ruled on three significant issues, including decriminalising Section 377 of Indian Penal Code.