NEW DELHI A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra has upheld the validity of Aadhaar but with riders. It has struck down Section 57 that allows private entities to seek Aadhaar data, but has allowed the unique number to be used for government schemes and subsidies.
The five-judge Bench, also comprised Justices A.K. Sikri, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan. Among them Justice Chandrachud dissented and declared Aadhaar was not valid.
Observing that 'Aadhaar' neither tends to create a "surveillance state" nor it infringed the Right to Privacy, the apex court in a 4-1 verdict however quashed some contentious provisions of the Aadhaar act. The court held Aadhaar would remain compulsory for filing of Income Tax(IT) returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number (PAN) and for availing facilities of welfare schemes and government subsidies.
"It is better to be unique than the best. Because, being the best makes you the number one, but being unique makes you the only one," said the top court after a long-drawn bruising legal battle against the government's ambitious project--the world's largest biometric ID database.
Ruling that seeding of Aadhaar would not be required for opening bank accounts, availing mobile services, by CBSE, NEET, JEE, UGC and for admissions in schools and free education for children, the court observed that Aadhaar had also become a household name and that its use has spread like "wildfire".
"Aadhaar gives dignity to the marginalised. Dignity to the marginalised outweighs privacy," said justice Sikri, who was in the majority, while reading out the operative part of the 1,448-page judgement in the packed courtroom of the CJI. "One can't throw the baby out with the bathwater."
It struck down as unconstitutional the portion of Section 57 of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 that permitted private entities like telecom companies or other corporates to avail of the biometric Aadhaar data..
Justice D Y Chandrachud gave a dissenting judgement in which he ruled the Aadhaar Act should not have been passed as Money Bill as it amounts to a fraud on the Constitution and is liable to be struck down. But the majority verdict by justices A K Sikri, Ashok Bhushan and A M Khanwilkar besides the CJI upheld the passage of the Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill by the Lok Sabha.
Observing that Aadhaar was meant to help the benefits reach the marginalised sections of society, it said the scheme takes into account the dignity of people not only from personal but from the community point of view as well and served the much bigger public interest.
The court also upheld the passage of the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill saying the funds for subsidies and welfare schemes are drawn from the Consolidated fund of India. The Congress had alleging that the Rajya Sabha was bypassed as the ruling combine lacked majority in the upper house.
Justice A K Sikri, writing the judgement for the CJI, himself and Justice A M Khanwilkar, set aside several provisions of the Aadhaar Act and other laws including the Prevention of Money laundering Act that had made the twelve-digit national identifier mandatory.
Justice Sikri, in his 567 page verdict, apprehensions by striking and reading down certain provisions and said "Authentication records are not to be kept beyond a period of six months, as stipulated in Regulation 27(1) of the Authentication Regulations.
"This provision which permits records to be archived for a period of five years is held to be bad in law," the bench said, adding meta data relating to transaction, as provided in one of the regulations, in the present form was "impermissible" and needed amendment.
The verdict also struck down sections 33(1) which allowed the UIDAI to release information saying it cannot be done without an opportunity of hearing.
The top court also set aside the Section 33(2) of the Act in the present form which allowed release of information of an Aadhaar holder due to the security reasons saying it can be done by involving an officer above the rank of Joint secretary and a sitting judge of the High Court can also be involved.
The bench asked the Centre to also bring about a "robust data protection regime" to ensure that the personal data of an individual are protected.
The submission that Aadhaar violated Right to privacy did not cut much ice as the bench said, "It is held that all matters pertaining to an individual do not qualify as being an inherent part of right to privacy. Only those matters over which there would be a reasonable expectation of privacy are protected by Article 21.",
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley hailed the verdict as historic while Information Technology and Law and Justice minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said it "empowered democracy".
Former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said the judgement was "balanced".
Welcoming the verdict, Congress leader Kapil Sibal told reporters his party supports the views of Justice Chandrachud.
Sibal said the Congress will certainly move court if amendments in the Aadhaar Act brought after this verdict are not brought in Rajya Sabha for discussion.
The verdict was pronounced on a bunch of 31 petitions, including one by former High Court judge K S Puttaswamy after concluding on May 10 a marathon hearing that went on for 38 days, spanning four-and-half months.
Usage of Aadhaar for targetted subsidies and government schemes approved
Section 57 that allows private entities to use Aadhaar struck down
Aadhaar-PAN linkage upheld
Majority of judges say Aadhaar doesn't violate right to privacy
Majority of judges uphold validity, Justice Chandrachud dissents
What Needs To Be Linked
* It is mandatory to link PAN with Aadhaar.
* Aadhaar is compulsory for filing Income Tax returns.
* Aadhaar must for availing facilities of welfare schemes and government subsidies.
What Doesnt Need To Be Linked
* It is not mandatory to link bank account with Aadhaar.
* Telecom service providers cannot ask for linking mobile number with Aadhaar.
* CBSE, NEET, UGC cannot make Aadhaar mandatory.
* Aadhaar not compulsory for school admissions.
* No child can be denied benefits of any schemes on not being able to bring Aadhaar.
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