NEW DELHI — Disregarding the Supreme Court order, which limited linking the Aadhaar card to six government schemes, the University Grants Commission has made it “mandatory” for students to provide biometric data before they can avail of “government subsidies, scholarships and fellowships.”
On June 29, 2016, UGC secretary Jaspal S. Sandhu sent a letter to Vice-Chancellors of all universities and institutes, which said that Aadhaar has been made “mandatory for disbursement of all government subsidies, scholarships and fellowships” for the financial year 2016-2017.
The letter, which HuffPost India has seen, requests all universities to “seek the details of the beneficiaries and put all information on universities/institutions’ websites,” and email a copy to the UGC, a statutory body of the Government of India. “The HRD Ministry, vide its letter dated June 10, 2016, has instructed the commission that from financial year 2016-17 Aadhaar has been mandatory for disbursement of all government subsidies, scholarships and fellowships, which are to be disbursed directly into the beneficiaries’ account,” Sandhu wrote.
On October 15, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that Aadhaar could only be linked to six government schemes (Public Distribution Scheme, L.P.G Distribution Scheme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employement Guarantee Scheme, the National Social Assistance Programme, Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana and Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation) on a “voluntary” basis.
The Aadhaar Bill, which allows the government to ask any citizen for Aadhaar to avail of government subsides or schemes, was recently passed by Parliament, but the The Aadhaar Act, 2016, is yet to come into force. And until that happens, the Supreme Court order reigns supreme, according to lawyers and activists.
Furthermore, in view of the several petitions challenging the Aadhaar card scheme, and the Supreme Court still mulling over whether the Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right in India, the Aadhaar Act is still not home free.
“This is a clear and unequivocal violation of the Supreme Court order,” said Prasanna S., a Delhi-based lawyer, who is handling litigation challenging the Aadhaar scheme in the Supreme Court, referring to the UGC order.
“This is contempt of court,” he said.
For the Act to come into force, the Centre will issue a notification which states that the Act and its regulations have come into force, and this could still take several months, according to Prasanna. In the meantime, the Centre cannot connect Aadhaar in either a “mandatory” or “voluntary” capacity to any scheme other than the six mentioned in the Supreme Court order.
UGC’s Sandhu has not responded to HuffPost India’s request for comment.
The Modi government orchestrated the passage of the Aadhaar Bill by treating it as a money bill, which allowed for it clearing the Lok Sabha, where the Bharaitya Janata Party forms the majority, while ignoring the amendments suggested by the Rajya Sabha.
“Both this and the previous government, have brazenly violated the Supreme Court’s orders, making a mockery of the Court and causing hardship to people in getting their legal entitlements–be it scholarships, rations or work,” said Reetika Khera, an economist in the humanities and social sciences department at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.
The issue of Aadhaar cards, which links government schemes and services to biometric data and unique identity numbers, has been controversial. Both the Congress Party led-United Progressive Alliance government, and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government have argued that Aadhaar will allow subsidies to reach beneficiaries directly, and prevent middlemen from siphoning off subsidies worth thousands of crores of rupees.
On the other hand, there are many activists, academics and politicians who believe that such a bank of biometric data can be used by the government for “mass surveillance”” in the name of “national security.” Speaking in the Rajya Sabha during the Budget Session in March, Biju Janata Dal’s Tathagata Satpathy said that he feared that the Modi government would use the data for “mass surveillance” and “ethnic cleansing.”
Following the Lok Sabha’s rejection of the amendments proposed by the Rajya Sabha in the Budget Session, senior Congress Party leader Jairam Ramesh challenged the passage of the Aadhaar Bill as a money bill, which will come up for hearing in the Supreme Court, later this month.
Ramesh’s challenge, combined with the pending decision by the Supreme Court on whether the Right to Privacy is a fundamental right in India, would also impact the future of the Aadhar Act. “The implication of both these is that the provisions of the Aadhaar Act will be subject to review imminently,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Policy Director at Access Now.