Govt seeks review of Supreme Court’s Aadhaar order

UIDAI petition seeks court’s permission to use Aadhaar for social benefit schemes till it decides on the case


New Delhi: The government has moved the Supreme Court seeking modification of its 11 August interim order restricting the use of Aadhaar, the unique identity number, to paying subsidies for the public distribution system and cooking gas.

The restriction is threatening to undermine the government’s digital India initiatives such as biometric attendance, Jan Dhan Yojana, digital certificates and pension payments. It could also hurt the prospects of payments banks.

The petition filed by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on Wednesday—a copy has been reviewed by Mint—has sought court’s permission to use Aadhaar for all government social benefit schemes till it decides on the case.

UIDAI is seeking clearance to include use of the unique identity number for schemes such as biometric attendance system, Jan Dhan Yojana, digital certificates and pension payments, based on prior consent from the Aadhaar holders.

Separately, the central bank is also planning to move the apex court to seek approval on whether banks can use customers’ Aadhaar numbers as an acceptable form of identity proof, Mint reported (mintne.ws/1OOV0Io) on Wednesday. A concerned government is making a determined effort to undo the damage to its Digital India initiatives.

“All government agencies have been asked to come up with how they intend to use Aadhaar so that a fool-proof defence can be put up in the Supreme Court,” a lawyer close to the development said, asking not to be identified.

Representatives of various government department’s met the Attorney General late on Tuesday to discuss the necessary steps that should be taken before approaching the court. “The government’s stand is clear and it is that Aadhaar is here to stay.

We have begun a round of consultation on how to back the scheme,” said the lawyer. However, the petitioners challenging the Aadhaar scheme say they will continue to oppose any use of Aadhaar number for welfare schemes.

“When the issue comes up for hearing, we will argue against use of Aadhaar for any purpose, including the PDS and LPG subsidies.

What will start out as voluntary consent will soon transform to it being made mandatory,” said Anish Gupta, additional advocate general of Haryana and an advocate for the petitioners.

The three-judge bench of the apex court comprising justices J. Chelameswar, S.A. Bobde and C. Nagappan had said that “UIDAI/Aadhaar will not be used for any other purposes except PDS, kerosene and LPG distribution system.

Even for the public distribution system (PDS), kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) distribution system, the card will not be mandatory”. The bench was hearing several pleas challenging the validity of Aadhaar.

Some relate to Aadhaar numbers being made mandatory to avail of certain government benefits and services. Others deal with the number itself being a violation of an individual’s privacy, especially in the absence of any backing regulation or oversight, and some deal with possible misuse of the information.

The case has been referred to a larger constitutional bench to determine whether the right to privacy of a citizen is a fundamental right or not. However, Nandan Nilekani, who had headed the Aadhaar project, has challenged the notion that individual privacy is being compromised.

In a column published in the Indian Express on 15 September, Nilekani claimed that no banking information is shared with UIDAI.

“The UIDAI system is completely ignorant of the usage of Aadhaar for seeding and for the Aadhaar Payments Bridge (maintained by the National Payments Corporation of India, an RBI-regulated entity). When a customer does an Aadhaar authentication at, say, a microATM, the Aadhaar system knows that an authentication was done, but not the purpose for which it was done,” he added.