Amidst rising complaints of invasion of right to privacy by Unique Identification Authority of India, the nodal agency which issues the controversial Aadhaar cards , the Supreme Court has given stern directions to the Narendra Modi government to ensure that personal information of card holders is not shared with any other person or authority.
The government has also been directed to ensure that the cards are not made mandatory for citizens to avail any benefit. However, in partial relief to the Centre, it allowed linking the cards with the public distribution system for distribution of food grains, cooking fuels and LPG cylinders.
"There is merit in the complaints. You are unwittingly allowing snooping, harassment and commercial exploitation. The information about an individual obtained by the UIDAI while issuing an Aadhaar card shall not be used for any other purpose, save as above, except as may be directed by a court for the purpose of criminal investigation," a three judge bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar said in an interim order.
Taking serious note of violations by central and state officials in continuing to insist on aadhar cards for distributing social benefit schemes, the court said, "Union of India shall give wide publicity in the electronic and print media, including radio and television networks that it is not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card. The production of an Aadhaar card will not be a condition for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen."
The direction comes at a time when petitioners before the Supreme Court are seeking the destruction of all personal information and details stored in the UIDAI's database, to prevent abuse. They contend that biometric identification denoted for UID, namely the iris scan, finger print identification, and the personal details collected by unknown agencies on behalf of the UIDAI, can easily be misused by a miscreant.
"There is a complete lack of awareness on the absence of data protection and potential misuse of biometrics. The data is collected from me without providing proper knowledge of risks involved. In such cases, it is necessary that I be permitted to opt out of the Aadhaar enrolment number allotted to me with a guarantee that data collected from me will be destroyed completely," Reetika Khera, an economics professor at IIT, Delhi, and one of the petitioners told the court.
Vehemently arguing in favour of Aadhaar cards, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi submitted that 100 crore out of 120 crore Indian citizens have already been enrolled spending a whopping Rs 6,000 crore and the government had to ensure that the huge amount does not go down the drain. "It has reached a point of no return," Rohatgi told the court.
In its September 2013 interim order, the apex court had said the card should not be made mandatory for people to avail government services. Strongly defending the cards, the government said it was essential for good governance and to ensure that its benefits reach only the eligible persons. The bench, however, left to a larger constitution bench the task of determining whether right to privacy was a fundamental right and the Aadhaar scheme could be scrapped merely on that ground.
(In Association with Mail Today)