NEW DELHI: Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday rejected suggestions that the Supreme Court verdict on privacy was a setback and said the Modi government has viewed the right to privacy as a fundamental right.
Addressing a press conference here after the Supreme Court held that the right to privacy is a fundamental right and an integral part of the right to life and liberty, Prasad said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had articulated the government's view on the right to privacy while moving the Aadhaar bill for passage in Parliament in 2016.
He attacked the Congress for accusing the government of curbing individual rights and said the opposition party had not enacted any legislation regarding getting information under the Aadhaar framework.
"The government clearly saw the right of privacy as a fundamental right," Prasad said.
Asked if it was a setback, Prasad said "Not the least".
"...Whether it was Arun Jaitley's observation or Attorney General's arguments, both have been upheld by the court," he said.
"The government welcomes the view of the Supreme Court, which is consistent with all the necessary safeguards that the government has been ensuring in its legislative proposals which had been approved by Parliament," Prasad said.
He said Jaitley while moving the Aadhaar Bill had clearly stated "Is privacy a fundamental right or not? The present Bill pre-supposes and is based on the premise and that it is too late in date to contend that privacy is not a fundamental right".
"So, I do accept that probably privacy is a fundamental right. Now, where do you fit privacy as a fundamental right? It is contended and broadly it is now accepted that privacy is a part of the individual liberty. So when Article 21 says, no person shall be deprived of his Right to Life and Liberty without procedure established by law, then let us assume that privacy is a part of liberty and no person shall be deprived of his privacy without procedure as established by law," Prasad said quoting Jaitley.
He said the right to privacy was not an absolute right and was subject to reasonable restrictions as applicable to the right to liberty, freedom and free speech.
The Minister said the essence of the apex court judgment is a "wider affirmation" of the remarks made by Jaitley.
Prasad, who is also IT and Communications Minister, said the government was keen on robust data protection laws and has appointed an expert committee to suggest a draft Data Protection Bill and to identify key data protection issues.
"Robust data protection regime is needed to balance individual interests and state interests," he said.
Attacking the Congress, Prasad said the previous UPA government was seeking data under Aadhaar without formulating a law and the National Democratic Alliance government had brought the legislation after coming to power.
Prasad said the government cannot give permission for release of data except in compelling circumstances for which there is a strict laid down procedure.
"The Congress has been attacking us from morning. The Left has also joined it. What has been the Congress record in protection of individual liberty," Prasad asked.
He said individual liberty and media freedom had been severely curtailed during the internal Emergency imposed by the Congress in 1975.
Prasad also referred to Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi's remarks that the apex court decision marks a major blow to fascist forces and said the Congress leader does not do his homework properly.
He said about 30 crore Jan Dhan accounts have been opened which have been linked to Aadhaar and also mobile numbers.
Prasad said the poor were getting subsidies directly in their account and a saving of about Rs 57,000 crore had been made over the last three years. He said the amount used to be pocketed by middle men. "The poor are very happy with this as the (subsidy) amount is directly going to their account."
Asked about the impact of the judgment on section 377 of IPC, which criminalises gay sex, Prasad said he will speak on the issue in due course.