The Supreme Court, in a majority opinion on Wednesday, upheld Aadhaar as a reasonable restriction on individual privacy that fulfils the government’s “legitimate aim” to provide dignity to a large, marginalised population living in abject poverty.
“The Constitution does not exist for a few or minority of the people of India, but ‘We the People’,” the Supreme Court observed.
The majority view by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A.K. Sikri and A.M. Khanwilkar declared Aadhaar a “document of empowerment.” An “unparalleled” identity proof. A document that cannot be duplicated unlike PAN, ration card, and passport.
“It is better to be unique than the best. The best makes you number one, but unique makes you the only one,” Justice Sikri, who authored the majority opinion, wrote.
Justice D.Y. Chandrachud wrote a sharp dissent, declaring Aadhaar unconstitutional. Justice Ashok Bhushan, in a separate opinion, concurred with the majority view, saying Aadhaar has been widely accepted. The three opinions of the Constitution Bench span 1,448 pages.
Justice Sikri said technology had become a vital tool for ensuring good governance in a social welfare state. Schemes like PDS, scholarships, mid-day meals, LPG subsidies, involve a huge amount of money and “fool-proof” Aadhaar helped welfare reach the poor.
Upholding the passage of the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill, the Supreme Court said neither were individuals profiled nor their movements traced when Aadhaar was used to avail government benefits under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act of 2016. The statute only sought “minimal” biometric information, and this did not amount to invasion of privacy.
Bar on bank-mobile link
The majority opinion upheld the PAN-Aadhaar linkage, but declared linking Aadhaar with bank accounts and mobile SIM cards unconstitutional.
The court insulated children from the Aadhaar regime. The card was not necessary for children aged between six and 14 under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan as right to education was a fundamental right. Statutory bodies like CBSE and UGC cannot ask students to produce their Aadhaar cards for examinations like NEET and JEE. Permission of parents and guardians was a must before enrolling children into Aadhaar, the Supreme Court declared. Children once they attained the age of majority could opt out of Aadhaar, the Supreme Court said.
It said it was not trivialising the problem of exclusion faced by the elderly, the very young, the disabled and several others during the authentication process.
Authentication was found to be only having a .232% failure, Justice Sikri pointed out. It was accurate 99.76% times, Justice Sikri said.
He reasoned that dismantling the scheme would only disturb this 99.76%.