Aadhaar Card in Contemporary India

Picture Courtesy: https://www.iaspaper.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/How-to-make-Aadhaar-Card-of-kids-and-Children.jpg

This article was written by Tejaswini Sinha, a student of K.L.E Society’s law college.

Aadhar card also known as unique ID, is a mandatory Identity card from Government of India which was initially launched on 28th January 2008. It is a 12 digit identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data. Biometric means the measurement and statistical analysis of people’s physical and behavioral characteristics. The basic purpose for this biometric data is everyone is unique and can be identified by his/her physical or behavior traits like fingerprint, retina scan, facial information, etc. The data is collected and governed by the UNIQUE IDENTIFICATION AUTHORITY OF INDIA (UIDAI), a statutory authority established on 12th July 2016 by the government of India. The 12 digit Identity number acts as an evidence of address and identity of people across all parts of India. Any individual can enroll for the Aadhar card irrespective of their age, gender, religion, etc. The basic criterion which needs to be fulfilled under the UIDAI is that the person must be an Indian citizen. It is offered as free of cost and it is considered active as long as the person is alive.

The Government of India has proposed and required the use of the Aadhar card in following different ways:

  1. It has become essential for getting access to basic utilities such as new connection, LPG cylinder connection or new sim cards. GOI believes that coupling these facilities with Aadhar card will prevent use of these facilities by improper channels
  2. The Aadhar card would also be coupled with one’s Voter Identity Card. This step would prevent misuse of Voter Identity Card and lead to fair elections
  3. With the use of Aadhar Card in Passport Application process the processing time of the passport application has come down drastically as now the Passport Office can gather all the required from one single place.
  4. Aadhar card has now become mandatory and sufficient proof required to open a Bank Account. This has vastly improved the banking process and simplified it for customers. The Government also hopes that this would bring down bogus accounts and a better way to properly collect IT from its citizens.
  5. Under the new PAHAL LPG Subsidy scheme from the Government of India, the amount of subsidy can be directly transferred to the end user. This is only applicable to Aadhar verified bank accounts and is called as Direct Benefit Transfer System.
  6. The government has also required pensioners to link their accounts with their Aadhar card numbers in order to get timely monthly pensions.
  7. The employee provident fund will also be given to the individuals who have registered their Aadhar Card number with employee provident fund organization.

While it was reviewed by many as a game-changer and praised by various aspects, there were concerns regarding the privacy of Indian Citizens and right to their data. The former Chief of Intelligence Officer, Ajit Doval, had talked about Aadhar Card in 2009 as a way to keep a check on illegal immigrants and terrorists. Only later were the social security benefits added to the agenda. The whole idea of Aadhar Card was first challenged in Supreme Court of India in November 2012 by Justice K S Puttaswamy. They filed a PIL saying that the whole UIDAI lacked any legislative backing as it was being run on an executive order only and it cannot collect any biometric data as it would violate the privacy of the citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution. On 23 September 2013, the Supreme Court also issued an interim order saying that “no person should suffer for not getting Aadhar Card”.

In recent developments and proposals by Government of India under the Aadhar Act of 2016, the government has indeed provided a legislative backing to it. Among its various proposals, one proposal has been to integrate the PAN card number with the Aadhar Card number which is part of the Financial Bill of 2017 (Section 139AA). The government has decided to make Aadhaar number compulsory for filing Income Tax returns and applying for a PAN card. According to the amendments applicable from 1st July, every tax payer will have to quote Aadhar number while applying for a PAN card and while filling income tax returns. Further, the existing PAN holders will have to disclose their Aadhar numbers to the Government. In case of failures to inform the Aadhar number the PAN allotted to the person shall be deemed invalid. The government also made Aadhar mandatory for availing of government subsidies.

The Supreme Court bench of justices AK Sikiri and Ashok Bhusan has been witness to an important debate in contemporary India. Centre being represented by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi informed the apex court that the UID is unique and it cannot be replicated. Rohtagi also defended Centre’s decision to make Aadhar mandatory for filing tax returns and getting PAN card. The Supreme Court had earlier asked the government views on its implementation as under a ruling in 2015 it had made Aadhar voluntary and not required. Now, the Supreme Court has reserved its verdict on the validity of section 139AA of the Income tax act which makes it mandatory for those filing income tax returns to have an Aadhar number. Supreme court upholds this government decision to link Aadhar to one’s pan card but refused to make it compulsory for those who don’t have an Aadhaar card or who have not yet applied for one, till a constitutional bench decides on the privacy questions pending before it. The Supreme Court also said that government must formulate a scheme to prevent the leakage of personal details, a concern many citizens and civil society groups have expressed.

There have been a lot of concerns regarding the privacy information stored in one’s Aadhar Card. Government has allowed third parties to use data stored in its Aadhar Card and there is a major concern on the leakage of data. The Supreme Court bench said that the government must put in place measures to ensure that there is no leakage of data. They said, “The government has to take proper and appropriate steps and the scheme in their regard has to be formulated/Implemented earliest to instill confidence among the people”. Section 29 of the Aadhar Act limits the sharing of the biometric information but also in another provision it is written that in interest of “national security” the information can be disclosed. However what the judges are worried is that national security isn’t defined in the act. Recently, the Center for Internet Society revealed that nearly 13 crore Aadhar numbers were at the risk of getting hacked and this has alarmed a lot of citizens. Many have expressed their frustration on social media using hashtags such as AadharLeaks.

Though Aadhar can be a blessing for India and make it move away from Ration Cards and older times. The government has good intentions of making the life easier for its citizens and reducing corruption and bureaucracy within it there needs to be shared responsibility. The center should instill faith in its citizens regarding Aadhar and work in a way that makes life easier for its citizens.

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