The Supreme Court of India, in its final verdict on Aadhaar Act 2016, upheld the constitutional validity of it, but put some restrictions on its use. In a nutshell, it can be said that the people have managed to gain some relief from the indiscriminate linking of Aadhaar to here and there, but, at the cost of sacrificing their right to choose to be a part of this Aadhaar-based authentication system. The relieving aspect of the verdict is – the Aaadhaar linking to the bank accounts, SIM cards, school admissions, NEET, UGS, CBSE etc. is no more mandatory. The private companies cannot force their consumers to link their Aadhaar numbers, and cannot disable a service if it is not linked. However, the verdict mandated to link this with PAN card. Also, for IT returns and to avail government welfare schemes one must link his/her 12- digit Aadhaar number. Therefore, the fundamental questions raised by the petitioners are still there, unanswered and strangely evaded by this verdict.
In this 4:1 verdict given by the five judge bench, justice Chandrachud was the dissenter, who re-iterated the concerns regarding the negative aspects of Aadhaar, such as potential chance of surveillance, privacy of the citizens, erroneous exclusion of the people, and above all passing Aadhaar as Money Bill, which, according to him, is nothing but a fraud on the Constitution. The court has struck down some provisions of the Aadhaar Act to ensure that Aadhaar will not turn into a surveillance tool. However, that does not limit the chances of doing so. Events like leakage in the verification log, and especially in a scenario where Aadhaar is linked into various databases, are potentially dangerous, as unauthorized use of this information can be used to re-construct individual profiles of the citizen, which is undoubtedly against the right to privacy and poses potential surveillance threats. Right now, there is no strong measure to check unauthorized accesses. During the last couple of years we have seen several incidents that go against the UIDAI claim of biometric data being safe. A French security researcher pointed the security lapses in the mAadhaar app that can potentially allow attackers to access the demographic data of the citizens from Aadhaar database. An IIT graduate was arrested for illegally accessing the Aadhaar database in August 2017. Even, against an RTI query, it was reported by the UIDAI that about 210 government websites made the Aadhaar details public on the Internet. Three Gujarat-based websites were also found disclosing Aadhaar numbers. A website run by Jharkhand Directorate of Social Security leaked Aadhaar details of about 1.6 million people living in Jharkhand. The most recent and the most horrible case was the report telling that one can get access to the Aadhaar data by paying just Rs. 500., and to get someone’s Aadhaar card printed he/she has to spend Rs. 300 more. In spite of looking into this severe issue, UIDAI lodged a police complaint against the journalist. Even, last year, when a gang in Kanpur was detected to run a racket of generating fake Aadhaar cards, UIDAI refused to disclose the number of fake or duplicate Aadhaar cards in circulation. Given the state of security loopholes such as these and the lack of transparency from UIDAI and from the government, one may naturally ask – on what basis the apex court is becoming so optimistic in ensuring peoples’ right of privacy against the threat of surveillance and profiling of individuals?
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is trying to evade this question by insisting that the Aadhaar will be used to provide welfare services. By doing this, at one hand it is admitting that even after the 70 years of so-called independence the welfare services of the state have not reached to the marginalized people. On the other hand, by forcing the people to believe that Aadhaar is the only way of providing welfare services, the apex court is trying its best to veil the massive failures of the present government to devise a less intrusive measure other than biometric authentication. The people has already lost all the fundamental rights such as right to education, right to health, and now even the right to dissent in this current fascist regime. In spite of seizing the remaining rights such as right to privacy, right to choose while receiving the welfare services, the apex court should enforce a true democratic system. The people are still waiting for the ‘achhe din’ when they will see the promises, which were made five years back by the present Prime Minister, are fulfilled. Even, the present regime had consistently violated the previous Aadhaar verdicts, such as the verdict of August 2015, which instructed the Modi-government to restrain from expanding Aadhaar beyond the public distribution system for food grains and cooking fuel. In 2013, the apex court had said – “No person should suffer for not getting an Aadhar card”. However, the reality is different. According to a survey conducted in Jharkhand’s Ranchi district in 2017, around 20% local people, who do not have Aadhaar cards, are suffering starvation after the biometric authentication was made compulsory in ration shops. In April 2017, due to this Aadhaar dispute, the government had deleted 90 lakhs job cards, by tagging them fake. However, an RTI response revealed that only 4% of the deletions were fake card holders. Even, the failure rate of Aadhaar-based authentication is 0.232%, which amount to 27.6 lakh beneficiaries who can be excluded anytime because of authentication errors.
Therefore, who is going to take the responsibility of such mass exclusion from the government’s welfare benefits? Or, is it an attempt to elude responsibilities in the name of authentication failures? Is this recent verdict not contradicting the 2013-statement of the apex court? Who will ensure and how it will be ensured that the biometric data will not be used for surveillance to target dissenters, which has become a regular practice in this present regime? Here, justice Chandrachud has rightly concluded the whole event that – “Democracy survives when constitutional institutions are vibrant”. However, it seems from the recent developments in constitutional institutions, followed by this verdict, that mere survival of democracy has become difficult in this regime.