A five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court will start hearing the case on the validity of linking Aadhaar to two essential services—banking and mobile telephony—from the last week of November. It’s in fact due to the reluctance of the government’s law officer to give to the court in writing that the citizen will not be coerced to provide their Aadhaar details, including biometrics, that the three-member Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra deemed it fit to set a bigger bench.
The basic issue the court will examine is whether the citizen’s right to privacy gets compromised by this policy. Since its conception, the government—to be seen as a continuum here—has been shifting its goalpost on Aadhaar: the phenomenon known as policy creep. First Aadhaar was to be a tool for efficient, targeted subsidies, minus corruption.
A noble intention, no doubt. But its ambit widened slowly, over sundry functions, till it covered the entire population. It gradually got converted into a citizenship document, gaining primacy over the passport and the voter card. The Aadhaar has not been linked to the voter card yet—politicians of all hues are likely to come together to not allow that! Any transparency mechanism that does not make itself transparent—and disclose why and what it is about—remains suspect.
The constant change of stance and deadlines has left citizens utterly confused. Banks blocked even senior citizens living off their pensions and remittances from children from accounts not linked to Aadhaar. Outstation students faced trouble too. Not to mention poor villagers whose ration got suspended because the biometrics did not match. This logistical nightmare the citizens were subjected to is over and above the breaching of the privacy clause that the highest courts must deliberate on. Should a private mobile operator, domestic or foreign, be allowed to have the biometrics and all other teeny-weeny details—a full anatomy of the Indian citizenry—at its fingertips? That’s no longer even between the state and its people.