The Constitutional validity of the Aadhaar scheme is yet to be judicially determined, but without opining on that key issue the apex court has ridiculed the concerted effort of government agencies to project the Aadhaar card as a magic wand, capable of blowing away many of the myriad complications in providing effective governance.
In a series of observations on Friday, members of the five-member Constitutional bench had the courtroom chuckling when they “quizzed” the Attorney-General on the various claims being made that an Aadhaar card would end bank frauds, counter-terrorism and what have you.
Clearly impacted by the revelations of data leaks by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the court indicated it did not buy the official sales-pitch, and virtually cautioned the government against exaggerating the virtues of the new-found replacement for a ration card, passport, or official identity-document. Food for thought, provided the government concedes the need for “thinking”.
The trigger for the barrage he faced was provided by the government’s top law officer when he said Aadhaar cards would prevent bank frauds. Their Lordships countered “a bank fraud does not take place because of multiple identities. A loan is given by a banker and he knows who the borrower is.
A fraud can take place if the banker is hand in glove with the customer… Aadhaar can do little to stop it”. And one member of the Bench proceeded to assert that “to stop bank frauds the manager or officials at that level need to carry out due diligence before advancing loans.”
Dealing with the contention that the card was an anti-terrorism tool, the court said, “we are not questioning the political wisdom to suspend internet…. But do terrorists apply for a telephone? They communicate through cell phones, satellite phones but they don’t apply for phones, so is it really necessary to ask all to give Aadhaar for taking telephones?”
Their Lordships clarified that “Aadhaar does not become unconstitutional just because it cannot address all problems. Use of Aadhaar to uplift those as the bottom of the pyramid is welcome. The targeted persons must get financial benefits, and corrupt means need to be stopped.
Problem is how far can the net be cast? Aadhaar may not be objectionable, but linking it to every activity is…” When the Attorney General argued that those who received the various benefits extended under the Aadhaar umbrella had no right to complain about violation of their right to privacy, the court slammed that as a “Marxist argument”.
Those were firm indications of their Lordships’ train of thinking…. all that even before they dealt with the political argument that the Aadhaar legislation was declared a “money bill” only to deny the Rajya Sabha opportunity to debate/reject it. The Aadhaar debate, like so much else on the national table, is clearly “hotting up”.