Constitution bench begins hearing on Aadhaar validity

Supreme Court of India. File

Supreme Court of India. File

The bench, chaired by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra will resume hearing in several petitions lodged to challenge the constitutional validity of the identification number. "Where basic facility is linked to Aadhaar and one can not live in society without an Aadhaar number, the switching off of Aadhaar completely destroys the individual", he told the bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan.

The landmark hearing comes five months after a nine-judge bench of the SC ruled that Indians enjoy a fundamental right to privacy, which it is intrinsic to life and liberty and thus comes under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Challenges to AadhaarThe bench is hearing 28 petitions challenging Aadhaar's legal validity.

In response, advocate Shyam Divan, who represents the petitioners, said the problem was that there was no contract with the entity with which citizens were asked to share data.

He submitted that the Constitution must repudiate Aadhaar in order to "preserve itself, its abiding values, its foundational morality and to protect citizens from the advent of an all-seeing, intrusive State that recognises not the individual, but a number".

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Divan argued the government has rolled out a programme that seeks to "tether every resident of India to an electronic leash" and enable the State to profile citizens, which will ultimately help it stifle dissent.

The Aadhaar scheme contradicts the role of the state as the custodian of the citizens' fundamental right of privacy. Where every basic facility is linked to Aadhaar and one can not live in society without an Aadhaar number, the switching off of Aadhaar completely destroys the individual. Divan said the Constitution balances rights of an individual against the State and "Aadhaar completely upsets this balance and skews the relationship". Pointing out that there is no accountability on the agency collecting the biometric data, he contended that the handling of sensitive personal information by the UIDAI is, therefore, manifestly arbitrary and opaque, and consequently ultra-vires the Constitution. All rights, he said, have now been made conditional on a "compulsory barter". "Section 57 of the Act of 2016 could give rise to a surveillance society".

"Once Speaker says that it is a money Bill, then the court should not question the wisdom of the Speaker", said Chief Justice Misra.

Divan, who argued through the day and would continue his submissions on Thursday, said "a person can not avail of a welfare scheme, if the finger prints do not match the templates set by the UIDAI".

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