Do You Need Aadhaar Card? Govt Says Yes, Supreme Court Says No

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How many IDs must one have before the Indian authorities are appeased? My apologies to Bob Dylan, but the Supreme Court's ruling on Aadhaar Card once again highlights how we tend to lose our vision and put in efforts where it is not needed.

Only yesterday, the apex court ruled that the Aadhaar Card is not mandatory to get government benefits and services. The interim order was passed after a retired judge of the Karnataka High Court filed public interest litigation (PIL) as some of the state governments like Maharashtra are mandating the Aadhaar Card as a compulsory requirement without the Parliamentary sanction.

The National Identity Authority of India Bill was introduced in 2010 but it was rejected by the Parliamentary Standing Committee a year later. Till date, our understanding has been that Aadhaar is voluntary in nature and has a different purpose altogether. So the sudden attempt at the Orwellian-style imposition is a bit scary. After all, many of us already have Voter ID cards, PAN cards, passports and driving licences. So why do we need yet another compulsory validation? Aadhaar should be the prerogative of the under-served India living on the edge while the rest of the country can adopt it at its own pace. The macro vision should not be lost either - we need a nationwide social security network and unique identity numbers must be generated to leverage its benefits.

Launched by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the chief purpose of the Aadhaar scheme is to ensure a broad economic inclusion, not enjoyed by millions. Considering the vast Indian population outside the immediate administrative radar and living below the poverty line, it makes sense to have an all-purpose identity proof - a pass key to the direct benefits transfer (DBT) scheme. According to the central government, Aadhaar has been launched to "promote inclusion and benefits of the marginalised sections of the society that has no formal identity proof" and Aadhaar-enabled service delivery is linked to various government schemes such as scholarship, pension, janani suraksha yojana , payment of social security benefits, distribution of LPG subsidy and more. But we have not progressed very far as things can only move slowly in a vast and thickly populated country like India. Once the permanent enrolment centres come up all over the country, the 'inclusion' will happen fast.

But there is another hitch. The Supreme Court is of the opinion that the use of Aadhaar should not be made mandatory as illegal immigrants may leverage it to legitimise their status. Here is one observation, though. Aadhaar is just an identity proof, not a citizenship proof like a Voter ID card. So when the Aadhaar mapping is completed, a second and more stringent level of scrutiny should weed out that problem.

However, one must remember that the consent of an individual is indispensable for Aadhaar. Unlike a Voter ID or a PAN card, one is under no legal obligation to get an Aadhaar Card. Therefore, the sudden and forceful implementation may actually violate one's Fundamental Rights. Also, a lot of people don't want to opt for it as they are not too sure if their biometric data (required for Aadhaar Card) will be secure with third party service providers. So the best way ahead will be priority-based adoption and gradual inclusion of the entire country. But how long it will take to reach that goal is anybody's guess.
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