Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. vs Union Of India And Ors.

This article was written by Raj Krishna, a student of CNLU.

Court: Supreme Court of India

Citation: Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012.

Bench: CJI Khehar, J. Chelameswar, J. S A Bobde, J. Rohinton Fali Nariman, J. Dr. D Y Chandrachud, J. Abhay Manohar Sapre, J. Sanjay Kishan Kaul, J. R K Agrawal, J. S Abdul Nazeer.

INTRODUCTION:

‘Every man’s home is his castle’.[1] This famous proverb is self- sufficient to define the importance of privacy in an individual’s life. In India the importance of this very right has been recognized by the apex court in the case of K.S Puttaswamy vs Union of India.[2]  The Supreme Court in this case unanimously held that right to privacy is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. Thus now Indians too enjoy right to privacy in the same manner as their counter-parts do in the western countries.

Many ancient philosophers like Aristotle and Plato too considered Privacy important.  In modern times importance of privacy in an individual’s life, has been firstly defined by an American scholar in the late 19th century.[3] Privacy has been recognized as a basic human right by many developed and developing countries. However, in India this right was not been given much importance, neither by the Constituent assembly nor by the Supreme Court of India.

BACKGROUND OF THE CASE:

Government of India initiated Aadhaar project, with an objective to build a database of personal identity and biometric information covering every Indian. More than a billion Indians have so far been registered in the Aadhaar programme, which sees citizens issued with a 12-digit number that aligns to specific biometric data such as eye scans and fingerprints.  Registration has now been made mandatory for filing tax returns, opening bank accounts, securing loans, buying and selling property etc…

In 2012, former judge Justice K.S. Puttaswamy filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Aadhaar Project on the grounds that it violates the right to privacy.  The Government argued that there was no such constitutional right of privacy in view of the decision given by eight judges in M.P. Sharma v. Satish Chandra[4] and a decision by a four judges in Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh.[5]

The case came before a three judge Bench of the Court which, on 11 August 2015, referred the matter to a larger Bench of the Court.  On 18 July 2017, a five judge Constitution Bench ordered the matter to be heard by a nine judge Bench.  In the meantime however the bench hearing the constitutional validity to Aadhaar passed an interim order restricting compulsory linking of Aadhaar for benefits delivery.[6]

 ISSUES BEFORE THE COURT:

The apex court decided the case upon following issues:

  1. Whether the judgment pronounced by the constitutional bench, in the case of M.P Sharma and Kharak Singh that there is no right of privacy in the constitution, is correct.

During the hearing of the present case, the court also dealt on various aspect of privacy-

(i) Whether there is a constitutionally protected right to privacy;

(ii) If there is a constitutionally protected right, whether this has the character of an independent fundamental right or whether it arises from the existing guarantees of protected rights such as life and personal liberty;

(iii) The doctrinal foundations of the claim to privacy;

(iv) The content of privacy;

(v) The nature of the regulatory power of the state. [7

JUDGMENT:

The court in this case unanimously held that privacy is a constitutionally protected right which emerges, primarily, from Article 21 of the Constitution. However, this is not an absolute right but interference must meet the three fold requirement of (i) Legality; (ii) the need for a legitimate aim and (iii) proportionality. The court also noted that, as informational privacy is a facet of the right to privacy, the Government will need to put in place a robust regime for data protection.

The judgment can be summarized as follows:

  1. Decision in MP Sharma has been overruled.
  2. Decision in Kharak Singh, to the extent it says Right to Privacy is not part of Right to Life, is also over ruled.
  3. Right to Privacy is an intrinsic part of life and personal liberty under Article 21.
  4. Decisions subsequent to Kharak Singh which held privacy as part of right to life are correct.[8]

 AN APPRAISAL:

The decision given by the apex court in the case of K.S Putaswamy vs Union of India has opened new doors for the people of India.  This very judgment will highly affect the Indian policy making. The change can be called a positive change as now more importance will be given to the individuality and personal liberty of an individual. The interest of individual will now be given equal importance as to the interest of state, and now the individuals can decide, whether they want to share their personal data to the state or not. They have a right of making choice.

This judgment will also affect the court’s decision with respect to section 377 of I.P.C, as now homosexuality comes under the ambit of private matter. Thus the state should not interfere in this very matter. However, the judges have made it clear that the ruling does not deal with the matter of decriminalizing homosexuality directly as a separate bench is dealing that very particular case.

Hence Puttaswamy judgment can be considered as one of the most landmark judgments of independent India. It not only learns from the past, but also sets the wheel of liberty and freedom for future. The Supreme Court of India has once again emerged as the sole guardian of the Indian constitution.[9]

[1] Gregory Y. Titelman, Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, at 229 (1st edition 1996).

[2] K.S Puttaswamy vs Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012.

[3] Daniel J. Solove, Understanding Privacy  (1st edition, Harvard University Press 2008).

[4] M.P. Sharma v. Satish Chandra [1954] SCR 1077.

[5] Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh [1964] 1 SCR 332.

[6] Hugh Tomlinson, ‘Puttaswamy v Union of India: Supreme Court recognises a constitutional right to privacy in a landmark judgment’, (Inform’s Blog, September 4, 2017)  <https://inforrm.org/2017/09/04/case-law-india-puttaswamy-v-union-of-india-supreme-court-recognises-a-constitutional-right-to-privacy-in-a-landmark-judgment-hugh-tomlinson-qc/ > accessed on 1st January, 2018.

[7] K.S Puttaswamy vs Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012.

[8] K.S Puttaswamy vs Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012.

[9] Anurag Bhaskar, ‘Key Highlights of Justice Chandrachud’s Judgment in the Right to Privacy Case,’ (The Wire, 27 August, 2017) < https://thewire.in/171325/justice-chandrachud-judgment-right-to-privacy/ > accessed 4th January, 2018.

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