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SC asks for Aadhaar clarification

New Delhi, Feb. 4: The Supreme Court today directed the Centre to explain if it had obtained presidential assent before launching Aadhaar but wondered if it could rule on the validity of the scheme so long as it was voluntary.

“If anybody says that he wants to voluntarily give details, can the court say, ‘no you should not give’?” a three-judge bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan, J. Chelameshwar and M.Y. Eqbal asked.

The court raised the question as it took up a PIL filed by a former Karnataka High Court judge, Justice Puttaswamy, challenging the legal sanctity of the scheme.

After daylong arguments, in which searching questions were posed to the petitioner, the matter was adjourned to next Tuesday to allow the government to justify the scheme.

“You can say, ‘make the scheme voluntary’. Those who do not want to give details let them not. Whether we follow the scheme or not it is for me (citizen) to decide. It should be voluntary,” the bench said.

Shyam Divan, the petitioner’s counsel, had argued that the scheme was illegal because it was not backed by any statute. Since the task of collecting intimate personal details of every individual was outsourced to private organisations, it made every individual’s life vulnerable to exploitation.

Justice Chauhan, heading the bench, responded: “If you go to a sub-registrar’s office for entering into any sale or rental deed, you have to give your fingerprints. Can you stop it? You have to tell us to what extent we can do it.”

On September 23 last year, the apex court had in an interim order directed that Aadhaar cards cannot be made mandatory for accessing welfare schemes.

Today, Justice Chauhan asked the petitioner to identify the fundamental rights breached by Aadhaar.

Divan said the rights to equality and liberty were violated. “But if it is done in the interest of security of a nation, is it unconstitutional? Even otherwise no fundamental right is absolute,” the bench said.

But Divan argued that there was no informed consent for obtaining the personal details of the citizen.

At this point, the court asked solicitor-general Mohan Parasaran to explain how the scheme was launched.

“What is this Unique Identification Authority,” the court asked, to which Parasaran responded that it was “ attached to the Planning Commission.”

The court then said: “In which case the contract must be executed by the President of India under Article 299. Get ready to answer this. If it is a contract, 299 (Article) contemplates a certain mode. If there is no contract, no point in doing it (carrying out the scheme).”

Contacted later by The Telegraph, Parasaran said there was no need for any presidential nod and that a detailed response would be given at the next hearing.

In court, Parasaran admitted some cards were issued to non-entities but said the loopholes had been plugged. Divan had told the court an Aadhaar card was issued to “Coriander s/ Pulao, resident of Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh”.

“It is a good combination,” the court joked.