However well-intentioned the government’s move may be, the contradictory positions taken by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the attorney general, on the Aadhaar card are quite startling. While Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi argued before the Supreme Court Tuesday that the Centre had every right to make the card mandatory, the UIDAI website clearly says “Every resident is entitled to voluntarily obtain an Aadhaar number”.
On Wednesday, senior advocate Shyam Divan, representing one of the petitioners challenging the Centre's move to link PAN with Aadhaar, argued that while “AG' s client (UIDAI) is publicising that it is voluntary but he is arguing it is compulsory.”
Soon after the Kargil war in 1999, the Kargil Review Committee report strongly recommended a national identity card, particularly for those living in the border areas. This was endorsed by a Group of Ministers led by L K Advani, which announced in 2003 that a “multi-purpose identity card” would soon be rolled out.
The UIDAI was formally launched in 2009 by the UPA government, and was tasked with documenting every Indian. But when the government tried to link Aadhaar to welfare schemes, the courts objected. In 2014, the BJP came to power and disbanded the Cabinet Committee on Aadhaar. But it changed track soon after the government was briefed about its benefits.
Since early 2016, despite reservations expressed by the Opposition and the courts over massive data leaks and privacy issues, the Centre has moved to make Aadhaar mandatory for a rapidly growing list of schemes. Even as the AG argued before the Supreme Court that the card will help prevent tax fraud and terrorism, among other things, a report on Wednesday said the Aadhaar data of as many as 13.5 crore card holders have already been leaked. The government should address these security concerns before insisting on making the card mandatory. Because the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.