India’s Aadhar Card Stays But With Strings Attached

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India’s Aadhar card ,World’s largest biometric database, was declared constitutional by Supreme Court of India, in a 4-1 verdict on 27 petitions that challenged the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar card. Although the court cleared the use of Aadhaar for access to welfare schemes, struck down attempts to make it mandatory for bank accounts, mobile phone connections and school admissions. Justice DY Chandrachud’s dissenting judgement held that Aadhaar is not constitutional and passing the Aadhaar law as money bill, thus bypassing the Rajya Sabha, was a “fraud on the Constitution”.

Private companies cannot demand Aadhaar data linked to an individual’s face, fingerprints and iris scans for access to their services, the court said in a 1,448-page verdict. But the 12-digit Aadhaar number has to be linked to citizens’ PAN (Permanent Account Number) information for the filing of tax returns, the court ruled.

The court also said Aadhaar is not compulsory for school admissions, for the Central Board of Secondary Education, the University Grants Commission and medical entrance test NEET. “No child shall be denied benefits for the want of Aadhaar,” the judges said.

The bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra held that Aadhaar would be voluntary, with an option to exit.

The verdict clarified that no person will be denied benefits under the social welfare scheme because their Aadhaar card cannot be authenticated.

The scheme was rolled out under the previous Congress-led government in 2010. It began as a system to provide access to welfare schemes efficiently, but soon evolved into a mandatory ID for access to services like bank accounts, PAN cards, cellphone services, passport and even driving licenses.

Last year, in a case linked to the biometric database, the government went to the Supreme Court to argue that Indians did not have a fundamental right to privacy. It lost the case. The court ruled that the right to privacy was an “intrinsic part of life and personal liberty”, which is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.

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