Aadhaar Day 7: “It is the global businesses that need Aadhaar, not the poor,” says Kapil Sibal

On Tuesday, the hearing in the string of writ petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Aadhaar Act of 2016 resumed before the five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, senior advocate Shyam Diwan, appearing on behalf of one of the petitioners, drew the attention of the bench to the instances of starvation deaths in Jharkhand on account of failure of Aadhaar authentication.

Justice Chandrachud brought to notice the affidavit describing how Aadhaar acts as an instrument of exclusion in respect of leprosy patients who have either no or distorted fingerprints. To this Mr Divan responded highlighting the concerns regarding exclusion of a life of dignity and death.

In a democracy, only one means of identification cannot be compulsory imposed on all citizens,” he said.

Citing the example of the Point of Sale (PoS) machine which functions on memory even upon disconnection of the internet, Mr. Divan stated that Aadhaar has minimal contribution in weeding out identity fraud. There were other more secure means of plugging leakages in social security schemes, he argued. Justice Chandrachud concurred with this statement.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal referred to a news report in the Indian Express revealing manifold instances of exclusion in Delhi alone, adding, “It is the global businesses that need Aadhaar, not the poor.”

Mr. Divan indicated that the Aadhaar scheme did not envisage the possibility of an ‘opt-out’, stating that giving citizens who have enrolled an option to opt out was essential for information self-determination.

Moving on, Mr. Diwan read out portions from the affidavit of a technology expert who, having examined several enrolment agencies, affirmed that these agencies retain the sensitive biometric and demographic data of the citizens, to the ignorance of the UIDAI.

Further, Mr. Diwan drew the attention of the bench to the recent Aadhaar-based scams in Surat and Kanpur pertaining to PDS and fake enrolment respectively.

He again relied on a reply to a RTI query revealing as many as as 6 crores 23 lakhs Authentication failures by reason of biometric duplication.

Finally, he referred to Mahatma Gandhi’s protest against the Transvaal law mandating Indians in the region to compulsorily register themselves, being subject to physical examination and parting with finger prints. Summing up his concerns as being in regard to, one, individual autonomy; two, constitutional trust; three, surveillance and the right to privacy; four, rule of law; and five, the extent of state domination that would ensue with the Aadhaar scheme being upheld, Mr. Diwan concluded his arguments.